14-year-old Jared Karol didn’t understand when his father told him he was gay. Now grown up, he hopes his own children won’t go through the same thing.
My father told me he was gay when I was 14 years old and it changed my life forever.
I lived in San Diego with my mom. My dad lived in San Francisco. I hadn’t known that I had known any gay people until that point in my life. No one had bothered to expose me to any positive information about gay people. No one shared gay history with me or read any books about gay people to me.
When I was growing up, homosexuality was something you just didn’t talk about. The exception was when my friends and I didn’t like something and would exclaim, “That’s so gay!” Discovering my dad was gay at the age when every boy is most homophobic wasn’t easy. I was forced to decide if being gay was bad or good. Not an easy question for a 14-year-old boy with no accessible resources for answers. And the fact that I framed my dilemma in such black and white terms was indicative of the environment I was in at the time.
It didn’t have to be that way though. Information didn’t have to be withheld from me. I didn’t have to be kept ignorant of the world. Contrary to the popular cliché, ignorance is not bliss. But ignorance is powerful. The power of ignorance breeds fear, and the power of fear can dictate one’s viewpoints and shape one’s belief systems.
It took me many, many years to figure out I didn’t want fear and ignorance shaping my belief systems. And as for fear and ignorance being at the root of my kids’ belief systems? That’s not really an option.
My kids never met their grandpa. He died almost 10 years before they were born. I sometimes wonder what their relationships would have been like. I think about the positive influences my dad would have had on my kids, as they begin to form and shape their own beliefs about the world. Not just because he was gay, but being gay contributed to how he saw the world around him, how he treated people, and what he stood for.
While my kids will never be influenced directly from their grandpa, they will feel his indirect influence through me.
My personal journey to accept my dad’s homosexuality is a topic for another post (or twenty). Not only did I come to accept my dad was gay, I openly celebrate it and actively embrace it. My views of the world are largely shaped by what I learned from my dad, the experiences that he shared with me, and the experiences we shared together.
Two-year olds are sponges, soaking up whatever they see and hear. When the sponge is wrung out, their language, behavior, and attitudes are what emerge. My kids are learning everyday from a variety of sources, and while I cannot monitor and control all the sources of information that cross their path, I can and will play a major role in the dissemination of information they receive.
I sit in the big comfy chair with one of my kids on either side of me. We are reading, as we often do. I flip through the pages of Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman, and as I read the words, my kids give commentary: “Two daddies! Boy has two daddies! Daddy help paint. Papa play catch.” In the pile of books on the table waiting to be read are Mommy, Mama and Me by the same author, and several Todd Parr books about different types of families. They know all these books and they love them all.
My kids don’t know their grandpa. They don’t know that he was gay. They don’t even know what gay means because no one has told them. There will come a time, well before they’re 14, when they will know what being gay means. But now, at their age, it is not that time.
What is important and relevant for them is the truth.
And that is some families have two daddies. Others two mommies. Some families only have one parent, some families are the same color, some families are a different color. This is not gay propaganda or a gay agenda, and this is not liberalism. This is an honest and open approach to instill an appreciation for the different types of families they will see on a regular basis as they grow up.
By celebrating these truths, I am giving my kids a foundation on which they can build a more sophisticated understanding of the world as they grow older. The kids I raise will not be ignorant, and they will not be fearful. The kids I raise will be powerful. And their power will emerge from knowledge and appreciation and love.
And that, my friends, is so not gay.
—Photo Paul W. Frields/Flickr