Loving Our Gay Son, Exactly the Way God Made Him

Ryan and father.ggnoads

A loving open letter from Rob Robertson, an evangelical Christian whose gay son died of a drug overdose, to his son, whom he loved completely — just because he breathed.

Our blog was created to tell the story…our story…of how God taught us, conservative, evangelical parents, how to TRULY love our gay son. My husband, Rob, wrote this letter to Ryan as part of our expanded “Just Because He Breathes” presentation for Exodus International. The video below was shown in our presentation, after Rob read the letter below: 

Dear Ryan,

I miss you so much. I don’t really know how heaven works because you might already know everything I’m about to say but just in case you don’t there’s some things I want you to know.  I love you so much and it hurts so bad that you were not here last weekend to celebrate Riley’s wedding with us. We all missed you so much. Riley and Abby left an empty place for you, and Lindsey was the only bridesmaid who walked unescorted down the aisle, because you should have been with her. Even though the day would have been difficult for you in some aspects, you would have been so proud of your brother. And I know that you would just ADORE Abby. Your handsome face and easy laugh would have made the day complete for me.

That said, I am not angry that you relapsed on that day In late June 2009. I know you did not intend to let things get out of hand like they did. In fact I would not be bitter or angry even if you had taken your life.  I have nothing but compassion and respect for how well and how long you battled your difficulties. Only now by reading your journals, do I more fully realize how much pain and difficulty you were facing. Whenever I feel like I need a good cry, all I have to do is to pull them out and it puts me in touch with the deep pain you were in…and how, as your earthly father, I let you down in many ways.

Ryan gravestone ggnoadsI am so very, very sorry for the things that I did to contribute to your despair. I so desperately wish that I had known back then what I do know now. I thought I was so right when you first came out to us. Little did I know how much I had to learn. Please forgive me for letting fear control my decisions and the way I responded to you, instead of faith. I should have trusted God, who loves you so much more – and better – than I do, and who never stopped chasing after you.

I so regret how slow I was to truly understand and love you without any conditions.

But you always had such grace for me. You were so patient with us while we learned what really mattered.

Thank you for trusting us with your deepest thoughts and fears and sharing so much of your experience as a gay teen, and a gay young adult, attempting to reconcile his faith with his sexuality. Thank you for all your letters and emails; the ones that made us laugh and the ones that made us cry. Your handwritten letters are priceless to me.

I so wish that I could introduce you to some of my dearest friends now, men and women who love Jesus with their whole hearts. They have helped me to understand that gay is not a deal breaker for God…that gay and Christian can co-exist, and that God isn’t wringing His hands over this issue. He is way bigger than this. I know that God did not reject or abandon you, or anyone else.

I wish I could take you to dinner tonight and tell you all the ways that your life…and even your death…blesses ours every day. We have learned so very much from you. God, through you, has opened up a whole new world for mom and I.

I wish we could make that snowboarding trip to Mount Baker that we had planned.

I wish you could see how we’re still using the zip line you designed. I will never forget the joy on your face as you concocted yet another way to creatively fly across our back yard.

I wish I could take you backpacking again, and that we could talk and talk and talk as we hiked.

I wish you were here to have backyard bonfires, and to come up with ever increasingly crazy ways to alarm our neighbors.

I wish you could call and tell me all about it when you met a guy you were interested in…and that I could meet him, too.

I wish that we could have a barbeque on your roof, with the view of the Space Needle that we loved so much.

I wish we could ride down the driveway together…one of us on my rip stick and one on my long board…and that we could teach each other new tricks as we laughed and crashed.

I wish you were here to help me hunt the raccoons that threaten to eat our Janie cat…I will NEVER forget the time you pegged that one 30 ft up in the tree in our front yard, and then 20 seconds later, got the second one on your first try.

I wish you could cook your specialty eggs in our kitchen, adding that fire sauce, while you sang funny songs and worship songs and whatever else came to mind. I miss your voice.

I wish you were here in the audience, sitting with Larissa and Cam and Lindsey and Grandma Pat and Uncle Ronny and Uncle Don and all our new friends from Biola Queers, who I know you would love so much.

I wish I could hold you again.

I love you, Ryan.

I miss you. Oh, how I miss you.

I am so very, very proud of you.

I am sorry for EVER wanting you to be anyone other than who God made you to be. I am so very sorry for all the things I said that caused you to feel that I would love you more if you were straight.

I know now that you were EXACTLY who God intended…and that you were BEAUTIFUL.

You were, and will always be, my beautiful, beautiful boy…

We showed this video to accompany the letter during our presentation:

Just because he breathes… from theCollaborate on Vimeo.

Originally appeared on The Robertsons’ blog, Because He Breathes, where you can find more information.

About Rob and Linda Robertson

Rob Robertson is the father of four adult children and has been married for almost 30 years to his best friend, Linda. He is a Fire Lieutenant in Woodinville, WA, and also serves as their Wellness & Fitness Coordinator. He is currently a happy empty-nester who spends a lot of time cycling around Seattle with his bride in the spring and summer, and snowboarding in the winter. He and Linda lead the Local HIV/AIDS Outreach Team at Overlake Christian Church, which partners with RoseHedge MultiFaith Works in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle.


  1. This broke my heart. I hope that eventually no family will ever have to suffer the way yours has. All my love.

  2. Nathan
    PS — If I had a son whose dignity and humanity were under attack by a powerful institution like the church because of an innate characteristic like sexual orientaiton or skin color, etc. – you are right I would want him to fight back.

  3. Sure. If I as a “right wing Christian” wants to educate myself more by interacting and listening to gays, why should I endure yelling, screaming, finger pointing because of the past? I guess what I am saying is that if my son comes out as gay, I know that ultimately he will judge Christianity by how my wife and I respond. I know my son. He hates confrontation. He will also see the hate coming from gays as well as “Christians.” He will know thr truth that labels stink and not All “right wing Christians” are bigots.

    • Nathan,
      You should not endure yelling and screaming. I do not know any gay people who do that. If you do you should not put up with it.
      Also – its not the past, as you put it, but the past and the present. Christianity is a belief system just like Islam. It is no more or less true. I look forward to the day when people stop clinging to christianity or other organized religions. More people need to think for themselves.
      As a gay person who is exposed to the misinformation, dogma, bigotry, ignorance, personal attacks and oppression spread by right wing christians or muslims – your son might have to learn to become confrontational. I did – and I am happier and healthier because of it.

  4. I read your letter to your son and it was very sobering to me. As a “right wing conservative Christian” father I was recently encountered by my 13 year old son who believes that he is gay. We talked about a lot of things the other day and I asked him to give me a number between 1 through 10. 1 being gay and 10 being straight, he told me he is a 3. My reaction is that I told him that I love him. He is caring, sensitive and is effeminate and that is okay. I realize that I do not want to pray that he becomes straight but that he keeps Christ first in his life. Since we spoke my wife and I encouraged him to communicate to us whenever. We are more afraid of him taking drugs and alcohol then being gay. I am now of the opinion that if he truly is gay to not hide it to us. He has to make the choice.

    I have read a lot of angry posts against the church and Chrustians. It bothers me that so many who spew hate against us are acting like us? I may not always agree with gay rights, but calling names is very counterproductive. It the end it is not about me as a father but about my son! I love him and always will. And if he truly is gay then why would I stop loving and accept his homosexuality?

    • Good for you Nathan. Gay people are born gay. It is no more a religious issue than being left handed is.
      It is a scientific issue and a fact of life. You sound like a great father

    • Nathan,

      As to why some gay rights advocates “spew hate” as you call it – I think it is out of frustration that religion has been used to demonize and lie about gays. Its a way of fighting back. The religious right is to gays what the KKK was to blacks. I think that is the general feeling. What would you do if people used the bible or koran to justify the hatred of white people or of men? What if, in the name of religion, people argued that all straight men were rapists and molested little girls?

  5. I am agonstic – in that I believe that the major religions of today are man made. I am not an Atheist.
    I just watched your NALT video. I thought it was touching. However, I can’t seem to get past the fact that a person can use their religious beliefs to condemn the fact that a small percentage of people are born with an homosexual sexual orientation. I have a lot of bitterness towards conservative religious people because of the damage they have done to young people born gay. The lies, ignorance and outright hate they spread around this issue has caused people, particularly young people, great turmoil and pain, leading some to committ suicide.
    Islam, Christianity, Judiasm, Hinduism, etc – are just BELIEFS – the are based on the culture in which you were born. These beliefs are not fact. A person’s sexual orientation is not a belief – it is a scientific fact. I feel that it is a crime what has been done to gays in the name of religious belief, the isolation, disrespect, and discrimmination.
    It has turned me off to religion – but it has also opened my eyes to the how absurd religion is to begin with.
    I think of conservative evangelicals as being like vampires – they want to live forever so they cling to their beliefs no matter how illogical or ignorant those beliefs are.
    I just can’t get past how awful and immoral that is.

  6. Valter Viglietti says:

    Thank you, and God bless you all.

  7. I am an Atheist, but it warms my heart to know that genuine Christians like you do exist. Despite how certain interpretations of the Bible may have made you feel, you knew that your most important job was to love your son and to make sure he knew how much you loved and supported him. As a mother, I can’t imagine the grief you experienced. I am grateful that you shared your story with the world, because your loving Christian spirit serves as an accurate role model that teaches so much to so many people, including Atheists, about being open-minded and accepting of one of another.

  8. This is a heartbreaking essay, but I’m grateful that you shared it.

  9. In Ryan’s own words, written two weeks before his accidental overdose, he said this:

    “In my mind, it would be a great shame to let you say you have come up short as a father. You are the best damn Father that I know of, and I can guarantee that 99% of the human population would have miserably failed if they tried to walk in your shoes. The responsibility that you have carried in our family has been enormous, and I am at a loss to understand how you are still standing. Well, I do know…it is because of your faith in God.

    You have shown me again and again what it means to be a real man. To love unconditionally, to treat people with dignity and respect, to persevere through seemingly insurmountable tasks, to protect those dear to you, to stand up for your beliefs, to do the right thing even when others disagree, to give your best in everything you do and to trust God above all else. You have always loved me deeply, and have done what you thought was best for me. How could that ever have been a mistake?…” – Excerpt from Ryan’s Father’s Day letter to Rob, June 2009

    Rob…I am so grateful that you have fathered all four of our kids with such wisdom, humility and unselfishness. I can’t wait to keep growing old with you!

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