Why does a straight suburban guy get so worked up over gay rights?
My dad is about to enter his fourth marriage, and my mom is currently in her third. Before I continue this column, let me affirm that both of them are stable and loving individuals who simply took a bit longer than others to discover exactly what worked best for them in terms of relationships and love.
Also, I should toss in the very important caveat that my mom has been with her wonderful third husband for nearly 20 years. As such, this column isn’t really about either of my parents — at least not directly — but rather, about my myriad visible examples of adult relationships I witnessed growing up.
In the column below, I include my 20s as a period of growing up.
I hope you’ll play along with me on that particular matter. I still like to think of myself as young.
There’s a shadow figure in the perimeter of my memory.
His name is Don and in my adult mind he’s larger than Paul Bunyan and his crinkly smile is wider than St. Nick’s. He’s a tall tale, an American hero, and a legend amongst men.
None of these things are really true. Don was an English professor at Sacramento State University and as such lived a fairly humble and modest life before a heart attack in the mid 1990s led to his death. A Google search won’t turn up a single thing about him and there are no physical monuments in his name. In 2010, he’s completely irrelevant to most of the world.
And yet Don was the first person to teach me about real commitment in relationships. I can barely remember his physical features, and yet I remain loyal to those I love in life in large measure because of Don.
Unfortunately, I remember merely the shadow of love and very little else.
Don was a gay man and my father’s most significant mentor. He inspired my father; helped my dad expand his own appreciation of literature and writing, and taught him to embrace life to its fullest extent. He advised my father, supported him emotionally, and held him firmly during my dad’s darkest hours.
To this very day, my father speaks of Don as a larger than life individual. My father still has dreams about Don.
When my dad was poor as dirt, it was Don who pitched in and helped buy us kids Christmas presents. I slept in Ninja Turtle sleeping bags and had Star Wars action figures like the rest of the kids on the block thanks to Don. I ripped open shiny tissue paper on Christmas morning because Don had written my dad a holiday check. My Lego men fought ferociously with my brothers’ Lego men because Don had made certain I had Lego men to do battle with in the first place.
Don was the man behind the curtain who made certain that life operated smoothly.
When my dad and his second wife were considering divorce, it was Don who advised my father to “stick it out.” It was Don who reminded my father (repeatedly) that family came first, and that he shouldn’t take his wife or children for granted. It was Don who told my father to “grow a sack” and be the father he had made himself.
It was Don who knew what commitment really meant. I think my dad was still figuring things out.
In the year 2010, I don’t remember Don all that well. In fact, in all honesty, Don is a background note in a rather cacophonous history of people and emotions in my head. He’s an apparition who plays only one small role in my personal journey toward relational understanding.
Still, I continue to encounter gay men and women like Don who seem to know more about love and commitment than many of my straight friends and family. These homosexual individuals – mentors, bosses, colleagues, classmates, friends, and loved ones – show me daily what it means to remain resolutely loyal to another person.
And there’s no way in hell I can ever vote against those who know more about love than my thrice-married parents.