Warren Perry is a teacher and coach, Southerner and Yankee, sinner and saint living in the tension in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CoachPerry03 or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ah, February. It’s the shortest month of the year. Christmas is far behind us and spring is still too far away. And of course there’s Cupid’s big day that you either love or hate.
For single people, Valentine’s Day can be a frustrating reminder of being alone or a commercialized excuse to buy Hallmark cards for your loved one. But no matter what your opinion of this month’s big holiday is, I want to suggest a bigger perspective on love.
In my experiences with gay and lesbian adults, I often find the most intriguing of conversations come when we touch on the topic of love. But I’m not necessarily talking about the love between partners. There is a deeper, older love that every person in this world experiences at some level- whether deep or shallow- and this affection determines a very large part of the way we see ourselves, others, and the world we live in.
It’s the love from our family. Similar to the subject of church, many of us are sensitive to the influence our parents and siblings had, and still have, on us and our sexuality. It shouldn’t be an issue of concern, yet somehow it is. Many of us, particularly men, have wrestled with our relationships with our fathers, struggling to grasp our identity as men under their guidance to seasons apart from their support. Whether it was our delayed coming out experiences, or tense relationships during adolescence, many of us in the LGBT community can relate to the rest of the world in being anxious about vulnerability and intimacy in relationships.
While I had my share of struggles with my family growing up, I am very thankful for the relationships I have with them today. I only have one brother, but because I grew up in a small town with a large extended family, all my cousins felt like siblings. What’s more, my aunts and uncles served as parent figures for me growing up. My conservative Christian upbringing did help hold me in the closet until I was 28, but I have since worked through any residue from resentment or bitter feelings. And a couple summers ago, I received what would be the ultimate affirmation from my own father.
The note was short and came via email. My dad and I had our ups and downs over my first 20 years, but our current relationship is better than ever. During my college years, I especially paid attention to the effects my dad had on me growing up and as I was becoming my own man. There were tears of frustration, of loss, and of joy. No relationship with parents is perfect. Indeed, parenting is one of the toughest responsibilities a human can take on. But the father‐son dynamic is a sensitive, special, even nuclear situation that took on new meaning with this email.
One summer afternoon in 2011, I came home early from work to get ready for a long run when I happened to check my Gmail account. A note from my dad was nothing surprising; in fact, he often sends me ridiculous videos of redneck hunting trips or outlandish visits to Wal‐Mart. But the title this one carried immediately shook me to my core:
For those not near the gay and lesbian community, this stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.” In an attempt to better understand their oldest son and their new roles in parenting a gay man, my parents watched some movies that touched on the subject of sexuality. My dad and I had rarely talked about my sexuality since I came out, but apparently he had researched this organization after the movies. The email he sent on this subject was only a couple of brief paragraphs, but each sentence carried with it the weight of a loving father entering the foreign world of his son.
Basically, my dad was telling me how much he loved me, how much he accepted and approved of the man I am, and how he truly wants to support me as a man who is gay and Christian. For my dad, this was a huge step outside his comfort zone. I have recently realized that my obsession with clear, consistent communication comes largely from the lack of such a voice during my youth. There, in those words, my father was narrating the story of his own discovery and acceptance of me as being gay. He knew I was attracted to guys when I was 17, but as men of his generation so often do, he was hesitant to engage in such an uncomfortable conversation on such an awkward topic. There, in those words, he not just told me of his affection and affirmation‐ he showed me. He had sought out a PFLAG meeting 2 hours away, attended a session with other parents and friends of the gay community, and confronted the silence that has subconsciously plagued me and millions of other gay sons.
My father loves me. And he accepts me for who I am.
As tears welled up in my eyes, I reflected on the significance of those words. My earthly father was expressing his deepest thoughts toward me, and in this situation, the words of my heavenly Father were being echoed in tangible form. And what was my response? I wanted to shout it on top of my apartment, letting my neighborhood know that my Dad is for me. Not against me. Not even neutral. But for me, this was a new, vivid picture of the Gospel to me. Due to a heritage of being dismissed by the Church itself, the gay community has often rejected evangelical Gospel. Why should we go out and tell people about Jesus? What could possibly motivate us to speak out on such a volatile issue? Well, in those written words, I quickly realized the power of such News. A Father’s love for his child. The unconditional love that leads Him to die for this child. A death of the status quo, that which the world thinks is right or normal. Jesus used common language and everyday situations to challenge the norms of society. He brought love and acceptance to populations that most desperately needed it, and were most aware of their need for it. In turn, these people welled up with special delight that granted them Life in the fullest.
That’s what my dad granted me that day. It echoed the love and life God the Father spoke over Jesus in Matthew 3:17, where the He verbally affirms the Son: And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” My father had blessed me abundantly over the course of my life, but in this special situation‐ the reality that I daily live in as a gay Christian‐ the words of acceptance, even affirmation, rang loudest of all. A Father’s voice blessing his son.
So in this month, when we all turn to our significant other, perhaps the deep love the Father adorns us with precludes any affection we have- or do not have- in this season. And even those experiencing strained relationships with family along with those blessed with harmonious balances in their homes can all take a moment to find a glimpse of the Gospel love our heavenly Parent has for us. Oh that all of us could experience such beautiful grace like this every season of love and joy.