Friday, March 14, 2014

Dear Anna (Letter #1)

I have no idea when you'll read this.

There are some things you need to know about me.

Right now I want to tell you about our latest attempt to talk to you about my sexual orientation. I want to record this so that you never feel like we were keeping secrets from you or hiding anything from you. I know you, sweet girl, and your personality is so curious, so filled with inquisitive energy, and your trust in us so implicit, that if we wait too long to tell you about the fact that I'm gay--or if you feel like we didn't try--you will feel very betrayed. You will feel like we hid an important truth about you from you, and you would be right. Because for as much as my sexual orientation is about me and my life, my sexual orientation, and the decisions I have made around it, is also about you. Your life literally hinged on the choices and decisions I made around my sexual orientation. Ergo, it is not my truth alone; it is also your truth and your reality. It is as much your story as it is my story, as much your legacy as my own.

That's how families work.

We've always known the importance of this. That's one of the many reasons I decided to come out in the first place. So that, when the time was right, we could talk about my sexual orientation openly, in a context that didn't feel shaming or shrouded in secrecy.

Right now, though, we find ourselves in a space where you aren't developmentally ready to know this very important detail about me and our family.

We've been laying the groundwork.


We've already talked to you about sex, and we have tried to be open with all of your questions. We've also told you about your great-grandpa Lockhart--how he left "Grandma Hart" when mommy was a baby because he was gay and fell in love with other men. You are intrigued about that story, but mostly curious about the ramifications for "Grandma Hart." Your questions about homosexuality itself have been minimal. But you are aware that it exists, and that people in your family history were gay.

On Saturday, Mom and I were excited because we were going to take you to my concert with the Ensign Symphony in which I play the violin. You might not remember this, but we've recently spent several Sunday's listening to Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony (which, interestingly, he wrote in the midst of a deep depression that came on when his marriage to a woman failed due to his homosexuality), and you have been humming that tragically melancholy opening motif lately, and it melts my heart every time you do--I love that you remember it.

So, mommy took you and I planned to meet you and mommy at the concert, and then take you out to dinner.

Earlier that day, though, something interesting happened. You have recently learned how to navigate the Satellite remote, and while you searched for some recorded show or another, you stumbled upon a Vh1 Documentary about our family. You pressed play and were delighted, and kind of bemused, to see yourself and Viva and Tessa and me and mommy on the screen and you asked "Mommy, was this when they came and recorded us with the cameras last year?" and mom said "yes," and then you asked the question that we have been waiting for for many, many months: "What was that show about?"

Mommy and I looked at each other, and then at you, and I said, "Anna, that's a really good question. Why don't we talk about it tonight at dinner, after the concert."

You seemed very content with this answer.

The concert was wonderful. I played my heart out for you, knowing you were watching, and at intermission, you asked me to put you up on the stage there at Benaroya (Nordstrom), and you were thrilled to be up there in your pretty red dress, with your hair up. You looked beautiful up there. I couldn't help but imagine moments in your life when you will be on stage--the moments where you will show us who you are through music or dance or speech or whatever it is you choose to do to enrich your life and the lives of others. Perhaps it won't be a stage where you shine. Perhaps it will be in a gym, or on a field (who am I kidding. You are a Weed. It will not be in a gym or on a field, but if you wanted it to be, we would embrace it--that's the important thing). Perhaps it will be in a classroom or on the Internet. But you will contribute to this world in beautiful ways, and I am so excited to see who you become. Know that whatever you are doing, or whatever hobbies or interests you have at the time you read this, I am proud of you and happy with everything about you. I mean it.

When we asked what you wanted to eat after the concert, your reply was immediate: "Pancakes!" We drove from Seattle back to Covington, and by the time we got to IHOP you had fallen asleep in the back seat. Mommy and I looked at each other. "Are we really going to have this conversation?" she asked.

"I think so. I think she might be telling us she's ready." We clasped each other's hands for a moment before we woke you up. Truth be told, Anna, I was nervous. As a human being, I have some irrational fears, sometimes. Can Anna love me as much as her father if she knows I'm gay? Will she think I'm deficient in some way? Will she like me less, be confused by me, disgusted? Will knowing this about me hurt her in some way?

Suspecting the most of these fears were unfounded, I took a deep breath, and got you out of the car with a prayer in my heart that if it was time for us to tell you, the conversation would unfold naturally and beautifully. You smiled pleasantly when you realized that your fun night hadn't ended. We were seated in a nearly empty restaurant, perfect for in depth conversation. We ordered our food from a funny waitress named Cossette or Carmen or something with a C. She had a loud laugh, and she brought you a free drink because she thought you were cute. And you were, sitting there across from us, laughing, digging into your pancakes with gusto, telling jokes and talking about school in your pretty red dress.

Eventually, your mom and I looked at each other, and then I forced the conversation forward. "Anna, remember how you saw that TV show today? The one with us on it?" You nodded. "We'd like to tell you why we were on TV."

"Okay," you said. Except, instead of sounding curious as you usually do, you seemed… reserved. "Wasn't it about Daddy's blog?" You sounded almost nervous, like you didn't want us to continue. Like you knew enough. "Wasn't it about a post?"

"Yes." We both nodded. "That's right, sweetie," said Mom. "Daddy and I published a blog post a while ago. About us. About our family. It said some really important things. And that's why we were on TV. Because the post talked about some important things about Daddy."

You sat there for a moment, your head cocked to one side. Then you said one word. "Okay." You said it very definitively. Almost forcefully.

It wasn't a prompt for us to move forward. It wasn't "oh yes I am understanding." It was declarative. It said "that is enough. That is all I need to know. That is all I, your curious daughter who eavesdrops on and then interrupts every conversation you have in her presence to ask probing questions about all the juicy details never hesitating to dig as deeply as possible, really want to know about this right now."

Mom and I looked at each other again, and then I took your cue. "So… whenever you want to know about this--about what really happened, and why we were on TV, and this important stuff about me and mom and our family--you can ask us. We will tell you anything. We want you to know whatever you want to know. Whenever you're ready. You can always ask us. About anything."

You smiled and nodded. "Okay, Daddy," you said. Then you took another bite of syrup-drenched pancake.

I'm not sure what this was. I'm not sure if you intuited the seriousness of what we were going to tell you and just sensed that you weren't ready to hear about it yet, or if it was simpler than that. Maybe you were just wanting to enjoy your dinner. Maybe you were tired. Maybe you thought that's all we were offering at that moment. Maybe you didn't understand.

But I have the feeling that this was right. You are a smart, precocious seven-year-old girl who will respond beautifully to the discussion in which we tell you that your dad is a gay man married to a woman and your parents are in a mixed-orienation marriage, and that that's why you were on TV. But right now, today, you are busy being a seven-year-old girl. And that's okay! I know that when you are ready you will let us know in your own way, because you know that your parents are there and listening and willing to talk. And on that day, we will tell you our beautiful story, and you will know more of where you came from.

But until that day, you just continue being the little girl that you are. Be seven! Focus on pancakes with your mom and dad and being lifted on the big stage in a concert hall in your pretty red dress. For you, that's what this night was all about. That's what your life is all about. Revel in it.

You "being seven" at the Rainforest Cafe (we didn't bring a camera the night of the concert because your parents are silly.) 

I love you more than the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky.

Dad.

(This post was, in part, a response to last week's FFAQ question by Gemma, whose winning question asked: Have you given any thought to when/how/what you will tell your girls about your orientation and the choices you have made in that regard?)



32 comments:

  1. Some day your daughter will find you to be absolutely humiliating. It might be over what you wear. Or maybe your hair, or the way you laugh. And she will hate the way that you sit next to her and look panicked while she is driving with a learner's permit. It will be something you couldn't have predicted. But when you try to discuss these deep personal concerns, she will probably roll her eyes and say something like, "Dad, I know that. Now Please don't do that funny laugh when my friends are around, OK?"

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    1. Someday you'll learn to be civil and respectful, anonymous reader ...

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    2. I believe (though I could be wrong) that the point of this comment was to point out that all kids go through a phase where they get some distance from their parents and that it is normal and that they still love their parents. What I got from the comment was not disrespect and but reassurance that Anna will love Josh no matter what, no matter his sexual orientation or if she finds his style of clothes goofy or anything at all.

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    3. Mandy, I think you got it right. Michael, my eyes skipped to your comment after reading the first line of Anonymous's comment and I agreed with you-- until I finished reading Anonymous' comment. The first line of the comment sounded eerily like some of the cruel comments Josh has received on this blog, but the rest of the comment made it clear to me that that wasn't what was intended.

      Anonymous makes a good point that was meant to be reassuring. As a teenager, I may have been embarrassed by things my parents did that I thought were goofy, but I was never ashamed of who my parents were. If Anna ever finds Josh humiliating, it won't be because of his sexual orientation but just because of the annoying (to a teenage girl) things he'll do as a dad. Inside though, she will still be proud of him.

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    4. I agree with the point that all teenagers find their parents embarrassing at times. My daughter and I have a great relationship, but even she has told me, "Mom, sometimes when you think you are being funny, you are embarrassing."

      Love you too, LOL!

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    5. Yup, I agree that Anonymous was just alluding to the fact that parents have a moral obligation to embarrass the heck out of their kids and Josh's sexuality will probably be the least of Anna's worries because of how wisely the whole issue will have been handled.
      Michael, in principal we love antone who jumps to the defence of the lovely Weeds but in this instance methinks you were a little hasty.

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    6. I will give Michael the benefit of the doubt and presume that he read the comment he was responding to. Attacking a comment that you haven't made the effort to read would be rude and foolish, and I would like to believe we are all above that.

      There are parents who would consider it disrespectful and uncivil for their child to be embarrassed by them, or have negative opinions of anything they do, no matter how trivial. These parents would probably consider it disrespectful and uncivil for strangers to assume that their child could possibly be embarrassed by them, even for the silliest of reasons.

      With all due respect to Michael, I won't hide the fact that I believe that's a sad and unhealthy attitude to have. Parents are human, and a child can love and be proud of their parents while occasionally cringing at their dorky habits. I don't believe Josh is that sort of parent. He clearly respects his daughter as a person, and appreciates her individuality, and it shines through in his post.

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    7. I did read and re-read the first comment, and unfortunately, my own was said in haste. It really did seem like one of those all-too-common attacks Josh gets here.

      The thing is, I have a friend who has become cynical and antagonistic towards his parents. Whether they are somehow encouraging that by their own behavior, I don't know - but I felt that same kind of hates-everything vibe in the comment.

      I apologize if anyone is bothered. Anonymous ought to have been more specific in the fact that he was addressing a simple fact of teenage human development rather than launching a vitriolic diatribe against Josh, and I ought to have not said words. :/

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  2. Josh, your life is an inspiration. Never. Stop. Writing. No matter what people comment.

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  3. Those sweet girls are so lucky to have you both.

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  4. "Who am I kidding. You are a Weed. You will not shine in the gym or on the field..." busted a gut! My family is the same way. Loved the entire message too, of course.

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  5. Beautiful post Josh! Your authenticity is inspiring. Wise parenting too! ;)

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  6. My Dad's heartfelt comment to me when I was 3 was,"Never be a boy, Tammy. Always be a girl." Next life, I'm coming back as one of your kids!

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  7. LOL "K Mom and Dad. I'm good. I really do care more about this pancake kthbxbai."

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  8. I love that you have such an open relationship with your daughters! I can feel the love radiating from this post. One concern did pop up to me, and I don't know if you've already considered it or not, but just in case you haven't: Have you considered the effect that some of the stories Anna's heard about other failed mixed-orientation relationships might have an effect on how she receives the news that you are gay? I mean, personally (and maybe Anna and I are nothing alike, but) if I heard of nothing but gay dads leaving their families, and I found out my dad was gay, I honestly would be petrified that he would suddenly leave us too. I don't think I'd be disgusted with him or embarrassed by him, I'd just be afraid he'd leave us like all the other gay dads I'd heard about :( I know you would never ever ever do that, but kids' perceptions and expectations of the world and the future come from the stories they are told. I'm not saying don't tell her, definitely tell her, when she's ready, but I also don't want you to get blindsided either :<

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  9. This is excellent. What a wonderful example of reading your children and talking to them when they're ready to hear things.

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing this with us and her. Thank you for helping us understand our world better through your family. I hope someday no conversations of what your orientation is will be needed. I don't tell my kids I'm heterosexual. Homosexual parents shouldn't either. I hope for a world that we understand, love and accept one another for who we are and be grown up enough that we don't need these conversations.

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  11. Weed, life is messy and complicated and so are people. For your daughter to understand this at a young age is a gift. It won't always be easy, but it will give her some insight into human nature and I believe that she will grow up to be kinder and less judgemental as a result. And I believe she will grow up knowing that her parents loved her and her sisters above all. What's more important than that?
    BQ

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    1. Also, I ate there at Rainforest in Seattle a few years ago and I tried to duplicate the jicima salad but was never able to. My google searches did lead me to the expression "gayer than a jicima salad". Just thought I'd share.
      BQ

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  12. I love that you & Lolly are so open with your daughters - I think that's very important. And it sounds like you read her cues beautifully. Good work!

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  13. First of all, I can't believe I missed that tender moment at the concert when you put your daughter on stage! I am so sad about that!

    You are such a good father (like how I'm doing the 2 second judging/assuming thing?). I'm impressed at your ability to talk about tough subjects. The words just stick in my throat and don't come out at all the way I plan them to (I mean, that actually has nothing do to with the topic, I just always end up sounding yodaish when I talk). I love that there are no secrets, I hate secrets. Way to go.

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  14. I cried. In the past I've read posts here that have received many comments about how people were touched and had teared-up, but never before have I myself cried at one of your posts, Josh. You and Lolly are such beautiful, strong, parents, who are so incredibly in-tune with your children. That's so important. That's everything. Knowing them.

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  15. I LOVE your blog. It's changing how I feel about people who don't share my feelings and perceptions. Your openness gives me an example so I can be more open and transparent.

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  16. You two are literally my parent heroes.

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  17. I love this post. You guys are great parents. I think she will cherish this letter someday.

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  18. you and Lolly are such great parents! Thank you for sharing.

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  19. I love this letter more every time I read it.

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  20. What a lucky girl to have such a dad.

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  21. I know this comment is pretty late and off the topic. I wonder if you might have time to give your opinion of this.

    http://www.stephenmeasure.com/news/2014/07/22/on-words/

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