I Love You, Mom and Dad

I just returned home to Los Angeles from a week-long vacation to my birth-home, Dallas, Texas.  Although I have lived in LA longer than I lived in Texas, I still consider Dallas to be my home.  I can’t exactly describe why.  Part of it may be my buying into the idea of the Big Texas Ego, but the softer, mushier, part of my heart tells me that it’s because my home is where my birth family lives.  It certainly helps that my parents still live in the home where I grew up.12313602_10153294889491547_5708110910846136622_n.jpgAt my farewell dinner with my folks last night, I sat in gratitude, comfortably stuffed from an amazing meal, and then a curveball was thrown at me.  It was almost as if the TV show Intervention had set up at Kobe Steakhouse in Addison and the camera had begun to roll.  My mother spoke to me on behalf of herself and my dad, expressing how disappointing it is to them that I don’t seem to remember being happy during my childhood…ever.

I emphatically retorted that I do remember times of happiness.  I listed a few great memories, though adding a caveat that basically reiterated my mother’s claim. 

When we exited the restaurant, I pulled my dad aside, knowing he possesses a much better ability to understand me when I speak directly. I told him that no matter what mom said at dinner, he has been a great dad.  Noticing the exchange I was having with my dad, my mom enquired about what we were saying, and I quickly changed the subject because I innately knew that there was a better way to communicate to my mom how much I appreciate her.

I dedicate the next section to my parents and any other parents out there that I may reach who haven’t been honored for their sacrifices and attempts to be good parents.

Mom & Dad,

My first memories of you two are so faint, but inarguably true.  It is more of a feeling than a memory: You were my warm, cozy emotional blanket.  I remember being smothered in hugs and kisses.  It was like I was ready to say “enough already” but quickly flipped to the feeling of “give me more”.  I remember you playing “peek a boo” with me.  It was so exciting to be scared and entertained at the same time.  I remember laughing and smiling … a lot.  It stimulated the incipient actor in me.  I knew if I smiled and laughed, you would return the smiles and giggles and the game was completely addictive and contagious.  Until of course I got tired of it and would suddenly start to cry… and then the kisses and warm embraces calmed me down… at which point I probably crapped in my diaper.

I remember being carried in the air.  You made me fly like a bird and I felt great.  I trusted you. I didn’t question the possibility of being dropped.  Why should I?  You had never let me down. And as the years went by, I continued to have faith that you would be there for me… as you have been.

The following thoughts and memories are in no particular order, just a compilation of spontaneous memories. 

I remember always having your blessings and your praise for every Birthday.  There was never a question that I would receive gifts and a party. 

You trusted me to watch our home with Lara (my sister) when you went out of town. 

You offered your home to me and my friends as a host meeting spot and hangout hub.

I remember the time when I insisted that you let me try out for the play “Grease” at the Dallas Jewish Community Center.  Mom took me to the audition knowing that I like to sing, but I think she may have been a little nervous for me because it was my first audition.  Most of the casting call consisted of people from 16 to about 35 years-old.  I must have been about 13 and the others towered over me.  They all seemed to have brought their music with them.  But I was off-book.  Meaning I didn’t know you were supposed to prepare something to sing.  The director smiled at me with that “how cute” look.  I nervously fumbled through my introduction, then stepped over to have a sidebar discussion with the accompanist lady at the piano.  She asked, “Would you like to sing Happy Birthday”?  I debated to myself for a moment who I would sing “Happy Birthday” to and then noticed the “Annie” score on the piano stand.  Piano lady noticed and reluctantly asked if I knew some “Annie”.  I said, “Maybe.”   It took her a moment to figure out I was referring to the song “Maybe.” “Are you ready Dear?” she asked.  I nodded my head, opened my mouth, and the magic happened.  I not only sang “Maybe,”  but I practically transformed into Annie.  Had my mom not been with me, I surely would have been inundated with adoption offers after the standing ovation.  My mom stood proud, cheering me on with cheerful tears.  I will never forget the look on my mom’s face or the natural high I felt as I shook the room.

I remember the time you guys brought home a ton of jars and cucumbers and said you were going to make pickles.  I was fascinated by the concept that pickles at one time were actually cucumbers- who knew?  I just figured pickles looked a lot like cucumbers.  It was interesting watching you guys adding to the jars the dill weed, pepper, vinegar, and all that other stuff that apparently turns cucumbers into pickles.  I remember being eager to try one.  But I was quickly taught by mom that they needed to absorb the juice for three weeks (or some other incredibly long amount of time.) I remember observing the jars of gestating pickles until I just about forgot that they were there.  And then finally, that day came and we brought a jar into the kitchen, and dad unscrewed the lid off the air-tight jar. The pickles were crispy, perfectly seasoned, and better than any other pickle I had ever tried.  There were still about twenty-nine additional jars in the garage, and they must have lasted us about a year.  The ensuing pickle-bingeing during that time is a faint memory.  However, I will always remember that first jar, and the sadness I felt when we finally shared the last of them.

Mom made the best chocolate-chip cookies and chocolate cake on a regular basis so my friends and I could raid the kitchen when we had sweet-tooth munchies. 

Whenever I would come visit from college, mom always threw together a batch of her homemade Gazpacho – still my favorite food.

I remember feeling jealous that my friends would sit and talk to both of you for great lengths of time.   The initial taint of envy would quickly blossom into pride.  How amazing is it that my friends felt comfortable chatting with you as they did with their own peers?

Then there are the things I took for granted.  I wore the t-shirt you gave me that read “Spoiled Rotten” with pride and didn’t even understand what it meant.  When I turned sixteen, you gave me your navy blue Cadillac, “The Blue Bomber.”  I drove that monster till the wheels practically fell off.  I have great memories of driving my friends around in it,  and we had plenty of laughs about how I had to pin up the lining of the car’s roof with safety pins to keep it from draping below eye-level. 

Then you bought me my first brand new car… a red Chrysler LeBaron convertible.  I was so excited when I finally convinced you to get it for me.  You were both hesitant because you were afraid that a convertible was too dangerous.  Dad was afraid that I would be more likely to get caught speeding in a flashy red car.  I am so grateful you trusted me to drive safely.  I still swear to this day that I only had my arms flapping in the air like wings for about 4 seconds before I was caught by our family friend who reported me.  And dad was right, I did get pulled over quite a bit in that red, flashy car.   

When I came out to you about being gay, I was terrified about letting you down.  You both immediately told me that you loved me… and I believed you.  But your love wasn’t enough to make me love myself.  I chose to share with you my secret and you chose to embrace me regardless of the loss you felt inside.  I thought I was okay with exposing myself to you, Lara, the rest of our network of friends and family… then the entire world.  But I wasn’t okay with myself.  I was scared, lonely, and wanted to escape.  Frankly, I didn’t want to live, but I would have settled for a deep sleep.

So I left you guys while you were there for me.  I chose a path that led somewhere between being a role model and a near-death tunnel of addiction.  Some would say I lived two lives.  I would say I lived many.  The only life I chose to avoid was my own.

This is where I halt the growing sadness of this letter and redirect to the point I’m trying to make.

You never left me, I left you.  While I was off living my life (or lives),  you and dad joined PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays.) You called to inform me that you were meeting many other people that were experiencing similar situations with their own families.  You would tell me the stories of people in your group and how great it felt to reach out to others as they had offered their hearts to you.

I remember coming home and going to services at our temple and not feeling a part of our Jewish community because they only honored heterosexual couples when they became engaged.  I turned to mom and whispered to her “I don’t belong here.”  I saw a side of my mom that night that I had never seen before.  She looked directly into my eyes and said (without whispering) “We are going to change that.” By the next time I came home to Dallas, my parents had started a Jewish PFLAG group at our temple.  Yes, my parents started that! 

Months later, mom sent me a sermon that she heard a Rabbi share in services about the importance of accepting our Jewish LGBT friends and family.  You read it to me over the phone just to make sure I heard the message that you were hearing.  I read the sermon myself years later… Which is when I probably really heard it for the first time.  And I am so proud that my parents were so forward-thinking for that time. 

Seventeen years after I came out, I insisted that you help me mark history by doing an interview with me and allow me post it to youtube.   I wanted to demonstrate four perspectives in our family of my “Coming Out” story.  I think I had put you through the proverbial ringer long enough for you to know that I wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.  I first interviewed dad, who said something that makes me tear up every time I watch it.  “I just don’t understand how parents can just throw their kids away like a piece of tissue.”  It’s extremely powerful to hear and see you say that with rage and tears in your eyes.  Mom baffled me when she said how difficult it is at times knowing that she most likely won’t have grand-children.  Yes mom, it hurts to hear you say that.  But it is honest and it is 100% real. There is no way I would want to trade your painful truth for a fake reality.  Life is too short to pretend and sometimes the truth hurts… but it also sets us free.  And Lara’s interview… there is no one in the world that I love more than my sister.  We are twins that were born two years apart (she’s older.) Thank you mom and dad for giving me my big sis.  The one person that loves me unconditionally, understands me, knows me, and detests me (lovingly, of course.) In the fourth interview, Lara interviewed me… what it was like for me to come out to myself.  Interestingly, I was extremely uncomfortable with my interview.  It is clear now, that I continue to think I know who I am.  But it is even clearer now that there is still plenty of work to do.

Sometimes I think God granted you two gaybies because he knew you would be able to handle it. 

Mom and dad… you have been dealt a difficult hand and turned it into a full house.

Please know that you did a great job raising me and that I will always love and appreciate you. I will continue to be your strongest critic when necessary, and also your most ardent defender. I will continue to do my best to change you, while simultaneously loving you just the way you are.  As long as there are obstacles in my life, I may continue to blame you for some of them. But I will also come running back to you for help when I need it.

When I share about my difficulties publicly, I am honoring the gratitude of my ongoing recovery, and the strength you both instilled in me that has allowed me survive and move through life with a sense of purpose.

Sincerely and Grateful,

Jonathan

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