Fathering My Son, Fathering Myself
June 14, 2014
by Jeff Frye
I am blessed to be a father, A Gay Father. I have been given the honor of stewardship of a biological miracle, Noah, whose name in Hebrew means “God’s Gift, God’s Peace, Rest, and Comfort.” I have been a father for sixteen mind-expanding years.
I worried about becoming a father when I heard the news from his mother. I worried that I would be inadequate in raising this boy who would become a man. My biggest fear was that my sexual orientation would be transferred to him. For that reason, for many years, I had hoped that fatherhood would pass over me: how could I possibly bring a child into the world to suffer emotionally as I had? I could see no good coming from being a gay father, because being a gay child was painful, and unpredictably difficult.
Being a gay child to a straight father was perplexing and challenging. Words like shame and misfit come to my mind to describe my own attempts at bonding with this mysterious man called father. The dialogue that is so prevalent on Facebook, Youtube, and the like today was not even technologically possible during my childhood. We processed things in silence and innuendo then, resulting in suffering and fear. At best, we worked through patchwork attempts at solving the riddle of how a gay boy could live in a straight father’s world.
I would love to share that it was of no consequence. But that would not be true. it was hard, and many times it was hell. I was the lightning rod of angry outbursts and hatred that I had never understood or deserved. Of my early father/son memories, the one that stands out most is this: the first person to ever call me a “fag” was my father. I was 10 years old, in the fourth grade. The unspoken enmity between my father and me continued through my teen years until I could leave for college.
As I grew into the idea of becoming a father to this beautiful son over whom I had been given charge, I knew that I was going to be called to double duty: to father him, this tabula rasa, and father myself, this withdrawn, shadowy self covered in emotional and physical bruises and scars. A generation of hate would have to die away; a progeny of hope and love would have to grow through me. I adopted the slogan, “it stops with me.” It became my personal mantra, a constant reminder that I was doing the bidding of generations to come.
My Comfort and I weathered the storms of divorce and broken family together. He was my 8 year-old constant companion and true-blue friend. When I met my husband, Rick, in 2006, Noah embraced him. While Noah did not have the vocabulary for this additional dad around the house (nor did I), he adapted quickly and loving referred to Rick as “Thing.” I was his favorite Dad, and Rick was his favorite “Thing.” He still jokingly refers to Rick as “Thing” instead of step-dad, as Rick is now known.
We have shared many amusing moments over the years in this father-son teacher-student relationship. In 2007, during a ride through the country to our home, Noah, this time in the role of God’s Wisdom, felt it very important to share with us a secret he had kept. While stopped at an intersection, he quietly said, in a concerned voice, “Dad, I just wanted you and Rick to know that you are gay.” I asked him, “What makes you think that?” He said, “Because you are two men that love each other.” That was good enough wisdom for me.
From that point on, Noah became my abiding Rest. He embraced our family, encouraged participation at school over the years, and beamed proudly when we visited him during band concerts during 5th and 6th grades, science projects during the 7th and 8th grades, and during the uncharted year of the 9th grade, working through his new diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Our most recent school visit continues to teach others about widening their understanding about what it means to be gay fathers. Rick and I reported to the school office for a parent-teacher staff meeting. We were met with the usual smiles, as we are well known there. The secretary called the staff and said, “Hi, this is Julie. I wanted you to know that Noah’s…uh…uh…(I prompted her by saying, “‘Parents’ is fine”)…uh…Mr. Frye and Rick are here to see you.” Another learning moment means another step ahead.
Fathering myself has been an ongoing and difficult task. I have had to untangle distorted messages about myself learned at a time when I lacked the full capacity to understand myself, or my father. Many times, the messages I shared with Noah were originally designed for me through self-talk and reflection. And I was wise to listen in.
From birth through the age of 12, when our nighttime routine grew up, Noah went to bed hearing these words from me: “I want you to know that there is nothing that you could ever do or say that would make me not love you. I am so proud of you, and am so glad that God sent you to live with me so I could love you and take care of you… I am so very proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself.” He still hears that from me daily.
And, in turn, in times of personal despair, Noah, my great Peace, sits by my side, sometimes holding my hand, or among the Legos and iPads, repeating those words verbatim to me. And in those heaven-imbued moments, I know deep in my heart, that the generation of hatred has stopped with me… and that generations ahead will look back to my Gift From God and call his name blessed.