Monday, July 11, 2011

Gaining Respect (A Conversation with Dad)

I am Michael Rohrer. I am a Rohrer. The only son of Gary Rohrer; a man for whom I didn’t know so much respect was possible.

Courage

Use your words. Choose them wisely. Actions may speak louder than words, but how often do we hear, “Do what I say, not what I do?” Words are used to communicate and our ability to communicate is a gift that we should all cherish. I have never been more proud of that gift than I was on Friday. That was the day that I took another courageous step towards having the relationship with my dad that I have craved my entire life.

On October 26, 2009, I came out to my dad. I wrote a blog about it so I won’t rehash those details here. What I hoped I would gain from that moment was a better relationship with him.

Our relationship has never been easy. It’s delicate at best. He’s a hunter and a fisherman; I’m in the creative arts. That’s enough said right there to know that we have nothing in common. That didn’t stop my desire for wanting a better relationship with him – to move beyond the pleasantries of birthday or father’s day conversations. Coming out to him did help to weaken the wall that had calcified between us. In some areas is probably started to crumble, but it was still there.

So here I am nearly two years later still craving. I have since realized that the craving is a need for confirmation of acceptance. Basically, I needed to tell my dad that I felt like I was an embarrassment to him and that I feared he wasn’t proud to have me as his son. That day came on Friday.

It didn’t take long after he answered the phone for me to launch head first into the reason for my call. I told him that I had been uncomfortable in his presence growing up. I told him that at family gatherings I hung out with the women in the kitchen because I couldn’t bear being in the room with the men; the talk of hunting and lures and deer stands and killing, etc. was not my cup of tea. Honestly, I didn’t know how to talk about it and I was scared to death that my secret was going to be discovered. Of course that secret was that I was gay. I have no secret to be discovered anymore. That’s what helped make this conversation possible. I told him that I had been afraid of him. A child should not be afraid of a parent. Parents are there to protect and love their children. I was so afraid of my sexual feelings and his feelings towards me as his child that I lived in a place of fear. Fear sucks!

He listened to me. He heard me. I in turn listened and heard him. We got a great many things off our chest.

Education

My dad took a second to make sure that things he was about to say fell in line with us bearing our souls and emptying the weight of our hearts. I acknowledged that as the truth and encouraged him to speak.

That is when my dad boldly asked me questions about my life that: a.) I couldn’t believe he would want to know the answers to and: b.) He wasn’t mortified to actually ask. I was so proud of him for asking me that I was bursting. I was smiling from ear to ear. I laughed. I was shocked, surprised and happy that he’d brought them up. I was honest with him. I told him I had indeed had sex with a woman before, but it wasn’t what I desired. I told him I had indeed had sex with a man (more than one actually) and that I‘d even had a relationship with a man. It was brutally honest. Not the gory details, but honest nonetheless.

Here is a man that cares so much about what other people think about him that I’ve carried the guilt of being an embarrassment to him because I’m gay for years. My being gay is not a reflection on him. He did nothing wrong. I am who I am. That didn’t stop him from saying he wished that he hadn’t been a punk kid who was still running around with his friends when I was born. He was 19-years old. He had just graduated from high school. Okay so he wasn’t there for me. That would not have changed the outcome of my life. I was gay then and I’m gay now. I can’t and won’t blame him for being a 19-year old father. Mistakes happened. The pregnancy may have been a mistake, but I am not a mistake. I am exactly who I was born to be.

I used to love to play in my mom’s shoes as a child. He said he has often wondered if he had taken that shoe out of my hand and replaced it with a bb gun would things have been different? I assured him they wouldn’t have been different. I am gay and no amount of his taking me hunting or replacing my favorite pair of my mom’s shoes (that I loved) with a bb gun was going to change that. I’ve heard multiple times in my life how my grandmother didn’t want me playing in the dirt. I told him that no amount of playing in the dirt would have changed the feelings that I felt as soon as I was old enough to understand what I was feeling.

Here’s what I learned. My dad carries around the regret and pain of his absence from my early childhood. He carries around guilt that he caused me to be gay. I don’t know what it’s like to live with that kind of sadness and regret. I don’t know how to convey to him that he needs to let that go. He’s nearly 60-years old. He’s had 40 years to ingrain that regret into his head and heart. My wish for him is that he realizes he did nothing wrong.

I’ve never stopped to see his side of things. How selfish is that? What helped me see it is that just as much as I don’t want to talk of hunting, he doesn’t want to talk of acting or musicals. It was an Aha! moment in true Oprah fashion. I had only been seeing my side of things. I thought that since I was his child he should care about the things I did in my life. However, I didn’t care about the things he did in his life. How could I ask so much of him without giving anything in return? I actually got that. It’s okay that we have nothing in common. It’s okay. I heard him and for the first time I understood.

Education is a two way street. Teachers stand before us and give the information, but we as the student have to listen and absorb. My father and I each played the role of teacher and student during that phone call.

Progress

Dad told me that the day I called him to tell him I was gay there was something he didn’t tell me. He said he had taken it upon himself to lift my name up to God – to say my name in prayer everyday asking God to help me. When I heard that I was astonished. I let him finish and then gave him my thoughts. I had been struggling for weeks to find the words to tell him I was gay. That particular day, I was in the shower composing words for an email to him when suddenly I had to get out and dry off and call him. I picked up my phone and found his name in the address book. I was shaking. I looked at his name and held the phone to my chest right over my heart. I took a deep breath and pressed “send.” He answered. The rest is history.

I told him God works in mysterious ways. We don’t know why he does what he does. Dad didn’t get what he was expecting from that phone call, but I now know that my urge to tell him was so strong because I was being lifted up. God knows what you need. God knew that we needed to break down our barriers and that I needed to be honest with him.

My dad is a good man. He’s an honest man. He’s proud and he’s caring. I found more respect for him on Friday than I knew possible. He does not agree with homosexuality. He lives his life by God’s word. I understand that. I just know, and hope I conveyed to him, that my life was never a choice. It’s all I’ve ever felt. I am created by God.

I never want to bring shame on him. I won’t hide who I am though. Those years are in the past. We’re older and wiser now. I have to be my authentic self.

The years of placing blame are in the past. The only person to blame is staring back from the mirror. If we don’t do the things that we want to do in our lives it’s our own fault. Friday was a major step, and a victory, for two men long stalled on the road of life.

We’re never too old to learn. My father is nearly 60-years old and I’m 40. We had a breakthrough, years in the making, and it will change our lives forever.

He may not understand why I’m gay, and he may not agree with it, but he respects me as a person and loves me as a son. That’s a pretty big man.

Before we hung up the phone he said, “Hey, we’ve just had a conversation.” I laughed and answered in the affirmative. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. We had segued from past mistakes and hurts to an honest conversation that both of us were interested in. That’s progress.