Dad's Story #1
By James Surles
I would like to say that I have known my son was gay since he was a very small boy and that I have supported him in his difficult journey from the very beginning……I would like to say that. But, unfortunately, I cannot.
Because this is my story, I feel like I must begin long before my son came out to his mother and me. From the time our children were born, and Tony has three siblings, two sisters and a twin brother, we were in church several times a week, mostly whenever the doors to our various Southern Baptist churches were open. Our family was heavily involved in each church to which we belonged; I held positions of Sunday School teacher, ordained deacon, Training Union Director, church Treasurer, pastoral search committee member; Tony’s mother was right behind me helping with whatever position I held besides serving as church organist at one time; we both were choir members at nearly every church we joined while we were being transferred from city to city and our children were always heavily involved with the various youth organizations and witnessing programs of each church.
This information is in no way an attempt to “blow my own horn”. Rather it is an attempt, feeble as it may sound, to suggest how devoted to our churches I had become over the years. Some would say I was brain-washed, others, perhaps, dedicated. To me it was simply the culmination of the way I was raised to believe. Follow the leader! You see, my mother and Father were Southern Baptists, my grand-parents were Southern Baptist and the greatest majority of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends were all Southern Baptists.
Got the picture? Then on with my story! In 1986, when Tony was 26 years old, he told his mother that he was gay. He wanted her to tell me…..he knew me well and suspected how I would react………and I did! Oh, don’t get me wrong. I did not rant and rave at Tony; I accepted the revelation with a calm exterior, all the while lamenting how this exposure was going to affect me!
Not one time during the next 24 hours did I consider how Tony must have felt as he was going through his puberty knowing he was gay. Not one time did I think how he felt having to repress this and hold it from the very ones that loved him most. Not one time did I think about his potential danger from a society that condones persecution, both verbally and physically. And there was no way I could even consider his exposure to the potentially life-ending disease of HIV/AIDS. And you want to know why I never considered these potentially emotional cripplers to him? Because I was too concerned about myself!
Sad but true! My greatest concern, at this time when I should have had my arms around him telling him how much I loved him and affirming that he was a good person and full of value to me and the rest of his family, I thought about what my friends and extended family members, my fellow church members, would think when they learned one of their own had a gay son! How could I face them; what would I say? After all the positions I had held what would happen now?
My pride and my misdirected affections clouded my priority, my son. After I had had sufficient time to feel sorry for myself, to bemoan my situation, yes, sadly, I said my situation, I suddenly realized that my thinking was absurd! I had been by Tony’s side at our family table when we read scripture and answered his questions; I had been alongside him when he made his profession of faith; I was there to dry him when he was baptized. This young man I knew was as spiritually alive as I was so how could this revelation have changed any of that?
I went to Tony and apologized for the way I had handled things. I told him that I finally allowed myself to see that he was the same person today that he was before he came out to us. I told him that I knew him well enough to realize that what I had heard, and taught to others, over the years in our church had to be wrong.
It has been a journey. Tony’s mother and I immediately sought the help of other parents who had gone through a coming out process with their children. It was a new love I had with my son, one that surpassed the first 25 years. As I said, it was a journey; I stayed “in the closet” at work and with friends for some time. But, through the counsel of PFLAG members and the examples that they, and others, set for me over the next couple of years I began to fully appreciate that Tony’s revelation about his orientation allowed me to expose other prejudices in my life. His coming out to us forced me to examine myself and to see the things in my life that I had covered over with prideful arrogance, much of it due to the surrendering of my thought processes to early teachings of the church, much of which I feel was a self-serving survival technique.
But, then, that’s a whole other story!