As a parent, you learn to let your kid become his or her own person. But what if, in rolling with the punches, you’re hit with something unexpected?
At dinner with my daughter and her partner recently, the subject of gay marriage came up—New York State had just passed legislation not only recognizing same-sex alliances but also making them legal.
Looks were exchanged across the table, until finally Amy announced that she and Victoria were making plans to marry in the fall of 2012. We were delighted; they knew we would be.
Victoria has become like a second daughter and seeing Amy relaxed and happy has been a great source of joy—and relief—for my wife and me.
“Oh, I didn’t know that.” The female voice on the phone a few years ago sounded sad, disappointed, and just a bit critical. The woman, a neighbor, had called in hopes of setting our daughter up with a man she said was an attractive and very eligible lawyer. But …
Well, of course she didn’t know. We don’t “out” Amy often, and usually only on a need-to-know basis. Some people find such news hard to deal with. But we figure that if they care for us, and for our daughter, they’ll come around. We’ve lived with our knowledge for a long time, ever since Amy was a teenager.
I knew it before anyone else, actually. I got up for a bathroom visit early one morning and looked out the window. The street was empty, but suddenly a car pulled up, with my daughter in the passenger seat. I saw her lean over and kiss the young woman behind the wheel before getting out of the car.
My daughter had been with a high-school friend, a poised young woman I’ll call Emma. I knew they were close but had begun to suspect their closeness was less spiritual than physical. Now I was sure of it.
I was similarly sure that my daughter never disliked boys; in fact, her closest school pals always seemed to have been male. Their friendships were never lasting, however, always fading without recriminations.
But when Emma and my daughter split, the emotional backlash was visceral: anguish reigned, as did rage and despair. We contacted a child psychologist whom our daughter willingly visited, and within a few weeks, we began to discern a gradual lifting of the gloom that had overtaken her.
Finally, as a college sophomore, she came out—first to her mother, then me. “I may be bi or maybe gay,” she said, dispassionately. “I know I’m not straight.”
Such news was not unexpected, but, frankly, I didn’t know how to respond. I knew I couldn’t say, “Oh, it’s just a phase you’ll get over.”
I also knew it would have to be dealt with, first and foremost, by us.
My wife said, “We’ll never have grandchildren,” but I found myself thinking, “What about our families?”
My own parents were unyielding in their ideas about sexuality, particularly gender. I knew they’d never understand. And since they lived 3,000 miles away, it seemed OK to keep them innocent. But what about the maternal relatives nearby? Would they be accepting? Over time, it seemed, they were. So it all came down to our own parental concerns.
Of course we wanted our only child to be happy and content, no matter whom she chose as a partner. And, though far from masochistic, we also wanted to do whatever was needed to maintain family ties.
So we endured more than one relationship that seemed dumb or doomed. We were stoics even when a particularly conniving live-in partner was making our daughter’s life nightmarish.
When that relationship ended, our daughter queried us—how had we felt about that young woman? Then, and only then, would we be frank.
“Why didn’t you say something before?” she demanded. I had the wherewithal to say, “It would have been inappropriate. We felt you had to be the judge,” which was accepted as a satisfactory response.
A year or so later, Victoria entered the picture. We could see, from first meeting, that despite an age difference, the chemistry was right. Amy never asked, “What do you think?” She didn’t have to. Our positive feelings were obvious.
Is their relationship permanent? Expressing a mutual desire to marry suggests that it is. But, frankly, what’s important to us is knowing that our daughter is at one with her life.
While it’s true we’ll probably never know the joy of grandparenthood or experience the conventional family rapport, we’ll always affirm that our daughter is part of our lives, just as our lives will also part of her’s—and her spouse’s.
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