Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflections on Fatherhood After Coming Out

I published the following post on Father's Day five years ago, eight months after I had begun the process of coming out. The words I wrote then still resonate with me today, and I thought perhaps they might with others as well.

It is impossible to truly love others when you hate yourself. 

This is one of the great realizations to which I have come since beginning my journey out of the closet eight months ago. 

I thought I loved my children. There is no question that I did love them to the extent I was capable of doing so. But it was a stilted love, a love that was handicapped by shackles forged in the furnace of child abuse to be sure; but even more significantly, it was a love that was constrained and deformed by the self-hatred that filtered every emotion, contaminated every thought, and caused virtually every effort to love freely and authentically to be stillborn.

When one is incapable of living authentically, one settles for the next best thing: a role played to perfection. But playing this role requires almost unimaginable effort, moment after moment, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. And, paradox of paradoxes, the effort to successfully fulfill this role creates a poison that slowly, inexorably and with deadly results, both feeds the self-hatred that created the role in the first place and contaminates the relationships with those who are the imagined beneficiaries of this role-playing.

The tragedy of it all is that one doesn’t realize – Dorian Gray-like – until it is perhaps too late, that one has totally missed the mark: blinded by a perverse sense of self-righteousness, believing that the role one is playing represents the height of self-sacrifice, the success one mistakenly believes that he is achieving in playing this role prevents one from seeing the hideousness that has grown, mold-like, behind the mask.

There have been times, during these past eight months, when I have harbored more than a small amount of bitterness toward the LDS Church. To be sure, I cannot blame the Church for the emotional and psychological deformities that were the legacy of child abuse. I also cannot blame the Church for instilling the self-hatred that helped create the false persona that transformed role into reality. 

I do, however, blame the Church for encasing that self-hatred in the tomb that became my life, for encouraging the role I assumed, for clothing it in a mantle of righteousness, for fostering an environment where perception is far more important than reality and, most of all, for the hideous deception that living a lie would bring happiness to me and, by extension, to those I love.

I now look back on my early years as a father and shudder. I have realized, since coming out, that not only did the role I was playing inhibit me from forming truly authentic and loving relationships with my children, I also did permanent harm to them by passing on to them the intense shame that burned deep within me.

A couple of months ago, I read an article in entitled “Passing On the Shame,” by Michael Farnworth, former professor of Family Psychology at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). Though Farnworth was writing about a more generic type of shame, the effects that he described in his article of passing on this shame to his children cut me to the bone:
“My early parenting years reeked of immaturity and manipulation. I unwittingly subjected my children to emotional, psychological and spiritual bullying that wounded their vulnerable souls. I made them strangers in their own lives as they bartered parts of themselves trying to please me. I passed my own childhood shame on to them. I was devastated when I finally awoke from my cultural trance and realized what I had been doing ... 
“[Shaming is] a look, a tone, a name, a tease, a rebuke, a challenge, or a question that subtly implies: What is wrong with you? Shaming incubates fear of not being good enough, of being unworthy to be embraced and loved by others. It is a sense of being flawed and inwardly broken … 
“Despite my multiple apologies, the damage I did to them was irretrievable. I could not erase the numerous times I had made them feel wrong so that I could feel right. I could not return to them their sense of courage after having forced them, by fear, into acceptable human packages of behavior.”
Words cannot express the degree to which I bitterly regret the effects that my stilted role-playing and my shame had on my children. My only defense is that it was not conscious or intentional. Beyond this, however, I stand naked, exposed to the full import of the consequences of who I was:  “Despite my multiple apologies, the damage I did to [my children] [is] irretrievable.” 

Coming out has already blessed me to see all of what I have just described. It has also given me the opportunity to break out of my “role” and to start living an authentic life. I now have the opportunity to try, despite various types of obstacles, to form more authentic relationships with each of my children, to love them genuinely, free from the toxins of self-hatred and a belief-system that places form over substance.

In so doing, I am very conscious of the fact that I cannot do this on my own; in particular, I cannot unilaterally heal that which has been broken in my relationships with my children. 

Some members of the LDS Church are wont to talk about “applying the Atonement.” I have never understood this phrase and frankly despise it; in my mind, it reduces the Atonement to some sort of mathematical formula in which Christ becomes frankly (and paradoxically) irrelevant.

What I need, what I believe I have been offered, is Grace. In this regard, I am reminded of a scripture that my oldest daughter read in stake conference when she was six years old:  “We love him because he first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. It is impossible to love when filled with self-hate. Grace must first consume that self-hate, and only then can authentic love flow.

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life… Grace strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. 
“Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you… Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.’”
-   Paul Tillich, Protestant theologian

My hope on this Fathers’ Day weekend is that the Grace that has enabled me to accept myself will now bless my relationships with my children so that what is misunderstood may be understood, what is hurt may be healed, and what is broken may be made whole.

Postscript: I am very grateful to say that, during the past five years, my children and I have been abundantly blessed by Grace and authenticity, and none of us will ever go back to the closets we used to live in. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Of Grief and Vulnerability

I was already feeling extremely vulnerable. It's been three months. I thought the grief was, well, manageable. But then it came back with a vengeance. I missed Mark terribly. I miss him terribly. I think perhaps it is because I have the kids now on our "staycation." For the past four years, Mark and I have taken our four youngest children somewhere on a family vacation. In 2012, it was Yellowstone. Then, following Mark's diagnosis, we went to Disneyland. The following year, it was southern Utah and Moab. Then, last year, sensing it would be our last vacation together, we took them to Maui. And what a memorable trip that was.

This year, I thought it best to just stay home and do things locally. A wise decision. I really wasn't prepared for the grief that has come these past few days. I thought that I had dealt with it. But it came nonetheless. I have keenly sensed Mark's absence. After all, he had come into my life and into the lives of my children only months after I'd separated from my ex-wife. 

Then, on top of this, came the unspeakable horror of Orlando. And a deep vulnerability - no doubt felt by countless other gay men - was ripped open. Grief upon grief. A recognition that our protections are so precarious, so thin - both from society and from ourselves. I don't think that I am alone in feeling that all the insecurities, all the fear, all the condemnation, all the self-loathing I've ever felt ever since I was a boy have come seething forth in the wake of this tragedy. The grief, the vulnerability, is palpable.

Tonight, I am striving to be grateful for all that I have. My family. My friends. The love that I have shared and share. But it is difficult to stay the tears of loss and of grief. Tomorrow, with the dawn, I pray the tears of gratitude will take their place.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art

I took the above photo on Thursday last week. On Friday, the weather had descended from overcast to pure crap. So it was a perfect day to go to the museum.

I have to admit that I was a bit trepidatious. I had a whole afternoon to, um, kill; I wondered how long I'd last at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As it turned out, I was surprised. I enjoyed myself. Perhaps part of it was because I was by myself and I didn't have to worry about how someone I was with might be reacting to what I was seeing. It was just me, myself and I.

This was by itself a source of, well, "unknown-ness." I wrote yesterday about how I felt "hollow" when I was at Independence Historical Park. I had felt very alone there. I was reminded of when I traveled to Europe for the first time in the spring of 1982. I journeyed with a college friend (who was studying in Paris) to Rome, Florence and Switzerland, then headed by myself to London. I had planned to spend several days there, then head north to Scotland. But I found, upon arrival in London, that I felt so utterly alone that I decided to cancel the rest of my trip and fly back to the States the very next day.

Me in St. Peter's Square, Rome, 1982

I was therefore surprised when I didn't feel this sense of "alone-ness" when I started meandering through the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I instead found myself actually enjoying the experience as I wandered from room to room in the "European Art" section of the museum.

Part of this was attributable, I think, to a game I had devised for myself when Mark and I toured the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last fall (which I wrote about here): I focused on paintings of men. It was fun ... and fascinating.

The above picture is of Jacopino del Conte's "Portrait of a Gentleman." One of the things I found fascinating as I strolled from painting to painting in the European section was noticing the dress of the subjects. This gentleman's dress is not remarkable, but I found his gaze - and his fingers - interesting.

The next two paintings pictured are by Simon Vouet, a French artist who is credited with helping to bring the Italian baroque to France. He painted the following two paintings while in Rome in the 1620's. The first is of the evangelist, Saint Luke. I found the depiction utterly fascinating. This guy looks like a hipster who could (but for the dress, perhaps) work for Apple, Google or Twitter. He is so ... young and ... those eyes - disengaged? And I don't know what was with his hands. I'm sure an art historian could explain it.

The next painting by Vouet was of John the Evangelist. I wasn't totally surprised to see him depicted as even younger. Much younger. This is the disciple whom Jesus loved. And he is depicted as almost a boy. Yet perplexed, worried, concerned. With the same enigmatic hand gesture. I found myself wondering about Vouet's model for this portrait. A young Roman boy. Who was he?

Now, for something completely different. I was captivated by the portrait of Benjamin Franklin pictured below, which was painted by a woman, Anne-Rosalie Bocquet Filleul, in the late 1770's when Franklin was in Paris representing the interests of the young United States of America. I thought it the most human of any portrait of this much-lionized man that I had ever seen. The sculpture of a presumably older Franklin was also interesting.

Continuing with the "man theme," I thought this portrait by Charles Willson Peale also very interesting. Colonel Cadwalader had, I thought, a penetrating gaze, and I wondered what he looked like without his wig. I also wondered whether it was fashionable in those days for handsome men to have pot guts.

I was interested in the sculpture picture below because it is of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most famous sculptors and architects of the Roman baroque period. I had been privileged to see some of his work during several trips to Rome over the years, such as his fountain in Piazza Navonna (pictured below) that I photographed during our visit last fall.

And, speaking of our trip to Europe last fall, I adored the following two paintings of the city I fell in love with - Venice. The first is The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day by Canaletto, which shows the Doge's palace and St. Mark's Campanile (bell tower). The second, by Francesco Guardi, is of the Grand Canal and features San Simone Piccolo and Santa Lucia. It immediately reminded me of my favorite photo that I took in Venice (taken from a different angle), pictured below the photograph of the painting.

Another aspect of the Philadelphia Museum that I enjoyed were the many rooms (including wood paneling, stone work, etc.) that had been transplanted from places in England, France, Germany, Japan, China and elsewhere. Although I haven't been to a lot of museums across America, I had never seen anything like this. It gave a real feeling of being in Europe or Asia.

Several rooms from British country houses

A twelfth-century fountain from a French abbey

Ceiling from a 15th-century Chinese monastery

So, an interesting afternoon. I left the museum feeling enriched, and I'm sure some of this feeling was  attributable to the fact that I knew I was going to blog about the experience. This made me look for things, notice things, appreciate things that I might not have otherwise. This is one of the reasons I decided to continue blogging: doing do forces me to look more carefully at life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Philadelphia Walkabout

I got back Monday night from a trip to North Carolina and Philadelphia. I went to Durham for a long overdue visit with my sister and her husband, then traveled to Philly for a visit with friends Tom and his husband, Michael. Mark and I first met Tom on our Corsican cycling tour in September 2012 then joined him and others for our second tour from Geneva to Nice in September 2014.

Martha and me

Martha and her husband, Koen

The last time Mark and I visited Martha was two years ago when we went to witness her receive her doctorate from the University of North Carolina. It was an amazingly fun weekend. Here, we're pictured with our daughter, Rachel, who came down from Philadelphia (where she was working at the time) for the weekend.

After several days in North Carolina, I headed for Philly. My first day there was spent walking around the city under overcast skies while Tom and Michael were busy at work. What follows are images from that day. 

The lead photo, by the way, is of a sculpture in the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Tom had told me to take the train from the airport to the station, then walk through the hall "past the black angel" where I would find a taxi to his home. I had no idea what the "black angel" would look like, but I was so taken aback by the beauty of it that I had to take a picture. "The Angel of the Resurrection" commemorates the 1307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in World War II. It was the first instance of something I would experience over the next few days - the beauty of public sculpture that, living in Salt Lake, I am not often exposed to.

The Rodin Museum

Logan Square and Reading Terminal Market

There are sculptures of three recumbent Native Americans in the fountains on Logan Square, each representing one of the three rivers of Philadelphia. This powerfully-built brave represents the Delaware.

The new Mormon temple visible past the fountains and sculptures of Logan Square.

I walked through Terminal Market. I resisted the Amish donuts, pies and other baked goods, the chocolate-covered pretzels and a myriad of other temptations and settled for a chicken gyro for lunch.

Independence Historical Park

As I approached Independence Historical Park, I had many thoughts running through my mind. I thought about how my dad, step-mother, sister Martha and I had visited this spot on 4 July 1976 - the Bicentennial. How we had seen the Liberty Bell, how we had seen President Ford speak (all we could really see from our vantage point was his bald head), how I - like millions of other school children - had been taught to revere these hallowed places. 

I thought about how I had once loved American history, but how that love had been largely lost over the years for a number of reasons. How things were not as simple as they had been presented to us as school children. How I was surrounded by scores of modern school children who were being taught the same myths that I had been taught. I thought of my own children and wondered whether I would feel differently if my younger children were there with me. I thought of how I had taken my three older children to Gettysburg, Williamsburg, and Washington, DC in 2005 and how much fun we had had on that trip.


But time had marched on. And what I felt that day in Philadelphia last week was a sense of hollowness. On the mall in front of the visitors' center, a small group of people were giving speeches and prayers to mark a national day of prayer. They all sound so angry, I thought. And somehow it all seemed so hollow. 

I noticed and catalogued all these thoughts and feelings ... and walked on. There was nothing for me there that day. Perhaps some other day.*

Me (God, what socks), Martha and Dad (what a leisure suit!) on the same spot,
4 July 1976. What a 70's moment!

* While I was in Philly, I read an advertisement in the New York Times Book Review for a new book entitled Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution. I started reading it yesterday. In his introduction, the author, Nathaniel Philbrick, writes about the man who served as secretary of the Continental Congress for 15 years who wrote a memoir about his experience. Some years later, this man destroyed his yet-unpublished manuscript, feeling that the myth that had arisen around the Revolution was too powerful and too well accepted to allow for the truth of what had actually happened. "Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men," he wrote. "Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations." Perhaps, I thought as I read this, there was yet room for a resurrection of my love of American history.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A New Journey ... A New Blog

Five and a half years ago, I began a journey that took me out of the closet, marriage and Mormonism.  Four and a half years ago, I began another journey when I met Mark, the man who would become my husband - a man who I fully expected to spend the rest of my life with. But 18 months into our relationship, he was diagnosed with inoperable advanced stage prostate cancer. A little over two months ago, he died.

Now, I find myself once again embarking on another journey. When I came out, I started blogging under a pseudonym, Invictus Pilgrim. When I met Mark, I closed that blog and began blogging a few months later on Nuovo Uomo. For four years, I wrote about our journey together. When Mark died, I thought for a time I would leave blogging behind me. But the urge to write reasserted itself, and after thinking about it for several weeks, I decided to start this new blog to chronicle my new journey. I don't know how often I'll write; I'm not going to put any pressure on myself.

I chose the title From Here to There to reflect the fact that I don't know where my new journey will take me. Of course, there are constants, especially my relationships with my children. But for the first time in over 30 years, I find myself living alone. Among other things, I face a new opportunity for self-discovery, which is both enticing and somewhat terrifying at times. I hope to find love again, yet I don't know where or when it will be found.

I have learned enough these past two months to know that I must be patient, that I must acknowledge feelings of loss, disorientation and fear without letting them overwhelm me, and that I mustn't "try for an outcome." In this regard, I have had opportunity during these past weeks to reflect upon a quote by John Tarrant that was used in our commitment ceremony in August 2013. It was so appropriate for Mark and I then, and it is appropriate for me now.

"Love is fundamentally honest. It doesn't try for an outcome;
it doesn't wish it had a different moment from the one it 
has now or different people from the ones it is with.
Love trusts that it is not separate from the world
because it is the world."

And so, the next journey begins.