Occasionally at BPP we make things personal. Our hope is that revealing some of our own struggles and triumphs will resonate with and inspire you. Cheryl submitted this essay to the Gay Dad Project, an online resource for families in which one parent has come out as LGBTQ. The Gay Dad Project provides a safe space for families to tell their stories, connect and raise awareness. We decided her essay was worth sharing with you too.
I’d Die For Them – A Modern Family’s Tale
It’s easy to say you’d die for your kids. It seems standard to parenting – this unflinching belief that you’d throw yourself between them and the train or the rabid dog, drape your body over them as the tornado touches down, over the grenade as it detonates. We visualize these scenes and marvel at our selfless love. I’d reflexively sacrifice my life for them.
What I marvel at now? How much harder it is to sacrifice my ego. Even for one day. If I died, I wouldn’t have to witness the aftermath. Living, I have to watch the steady impact of how ill-prepared I feel for navigating the four of us through this alternative universe of modern family-ism.
Before J and I married, we had a secret exchange. Facing each other on his twin bed, I learned about his bisexuality, and he learned about my painfully colorful past. We offered each other absolution and acceptance. I fell in love with his jawline and his way of sitting quietly next to me whenever I cried or screamed. We plowed ahead for 13 sweet years, helping each other heal and deprogram the shame we’d been fed a steady diet of since birth. We started to outgrow the construct of our marriage when we had our daughter, and when we had our son two years later, we combusted. I never recovered my desire to be intimate with him after my first pregnancy. I blamed hormones, stress, my history of detaching emotionally, anything I could find to avoid seeing what was slowly changing right in front of me. His lifelong fight to live comfortably in our hetero world and inflate the slight side of himself that was attracted to women was diminishing.
At bedtime, we tell our children, “We love you no matter what.” He sat in duplicity night after night – saying it to our daughter and son, but incapable of saying it to himself. While he silently swallowed back his knowing and his fear, I started having feelings for another man, rendering my explanations for my lack of libido moot. Then there was the night. I walked into the house, took his hand, led him away from the roasted chicken sitting on the table and into our bedroom. I spilled my guts. 48 hours of crying and talking and yelling and silence later, he came out.
I can’t begin to fathom J’s pain, and it’s not mine to share. My grief was rage. My tears were sweat. Buckets of it, spilled on weights at the gym, on the streets of our neighborhood as I ran in the dark watching the houses wake up, on one tiny square of kitchen floor tile as I danced late at night like a rave maniac raising blisters on the soles of my feet. Music blared into my ears, as loud as I could get it. I exponentially worsened the hearing damage inflicted in college when Gibby Haynes came onstage firing blanks from a shotgun. I was trying to move my body away from this new reality and drown out the sound of breaking.
Regarding perspectives, I’m Team Frankl: they’re chosen, and I prefer mine fresh. My ego begged me to make J’s sexuality personal. “See? You knew this risk all along. You signed up to get duped. You’re not woman enough to sustain him.” But it’s not about me. It’s not about him. It’s about freedom. The freedom to choose: live a facade, or acknowledge that something big grew from within us and had to break our construct into a million pieces if any of us were to evolve. How strong is the father of my children? He’s more masculine than many straight men I know, because he had the balls to reveal his true identity to himself, his religion, his family, and in what now feels like a gift, to me. And I got to receive the gift first.
It’s fitting. Our friendship became lust at Six Flags Over Texas. Our split went down roller-coaster style, as we held hands and eye contact, and stepped out over the abyss. We’re slowly guiding two gorgeous little people through what it’s like to live with parents who sometimes have no clue who we are. We narrate as we go, answering their 3 and 5-year-old questions with the constant underscore, “Your parents respect and love each other, and give each other freedom.” We’re fearfully and proudly living as a modern family: divorced part-time housemates/besties/co-parents rotating through the home where our kids live full time and an apartment where we individually live part-time. You’d just have to see it to understand it, but it’s beautiful and it works. We surround ourselves with people who support us. And love those who don’t, but politely remind them where our door is located should they need it.
If we’d give up our lives for our kids, can we give up our egos and our grand plans and our “situations”? Because what are those things anyway? Especially when they’re situated comparatively next to evolution, freedom and love? Give me huge servings of the latter.
Karen vanWisse says
thank you for sharing and for being so courageous. there are so many ways to be a family – thank you for showing us one more.
Thank you, Karen. xo
Chris Frandsen says
What a brave post! and a brave life you both are living!
You are modeling how to live one’s life with love and respect for all and for yourself. I suspect many of us live our lives for others and their expectations of us. Fewer can say that they even know who they are. much less strive to live a conscious life to make that person happy.
Thank you for sharing your journey.