If you read my book, To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason, you know that my biological father abandoned my mother when he heard she was pregnant—an act that painted much of my human and religious experience with a tone of pain and need.
You also would know that his reappearance in my life when I was 32 sent me into a downward spiral to the darkest season of my life—that I barely escaped—and not without a deep scar.
My father appeared in my life while I was at the peak of my Christian ministry, preaching the gospel to thousands around the world. He was now serving as a deacon in the Assemblies of God Church, and told me that it was “meant to be” that we both had “found our way into the arms of The Lord.” He was proud. But he doesn’t know about the ghosts that brought me to him, and he doesn’t know about the devastation that took place afterwards.
And that’s where his part in the book ends.
Fast-forward five years when he calls me again. I have since left religion and left Los Angeles. I moved to Utah and accepted my identity as a gay man. I was gay-bashed by zealot Mormons and moved back to California. I finished my book, came out to the world and moved to Pennsylvania. He says he lost my phone number.
As I mentioned in the book, he had said that we couldn’t fix the past, but that we could create a new future. I wanted to believe it. After five years, forgive me – I have stopped holding my breath. But here he is again, as if nothing had happened. At first I let him ramble. He tells me about his job and the many intricacies of managing logistics in the current economy. I talk about the East Coast and its beautiful trees and crazy weather. It’s a friendly chat.
He has called me now three times since then. I talk to him with respect, but I don’t allow myself to dream of a happy ending where we win the trophy in the father-son tournament—a single medal around both our necks. During our most recent conversation, feeling more comfortable, he mentioned the election and the nature of modern America:
“They want to destroy the model of the traditional family unit with an unnatural model against the will of God.”
And I hear key terms I’ve heard before:
“between a man and a woman,” “what our God has created,” “their social evolution.”
Is this the time to drop the bomb?
“Your boy, that you left as a fetus, found when he was a Christian rock star, and disappeared again from his life, is no longer a holy-roller, and he likes boys.”
I’m sitting in my Jeep in my work parking lot on a cold evening, and it doesn’t feel like the right time. But I know if he keeps calling, I’ll eventually have to tell him about me. How will I do it? Will he disappear again? It didn’t work out so good the first two times. Is this a true test for him of his desire to be in my life? Should I care?
A boy needs his father—this much is true. And we’ve had never an opportunity to build family memories before a big disagreement came between us. In his mind, because we are both Christians, we have been part of the same family all along, and he wants to start building those memories with a strong Christian foundation. In my mind, I’m thinking,
“Fool, you have no idea what hell I had to leave behind to be where I am today.”
It makes me think of the millions of people who are afraid to question their faith publicly, knowing very well that their family and friends will question their allegiance to them. We heard Ted Cruz say during the current presidential campaign,
“I am a Christian first. American second…”
And that is a reality for billions of people around the world. They are religious first, human second, and that includes being a citizen of a nation and even a member of a family. God is first—you attack that rock, and you are cast away and going down alone in flames. So people keep their secrets and their questions hidden from their loved ones and even from themselves (like I did), to maintain an illusion of peace.
In the process of leaving religion, I didn’t sleep or eat well for months, I couldn’t work out. I couldn’t go out in public. I almost jumped off the seventh floor of a Hawaiian balcony and checked myself in for a 5150 (an involuntary psychiatric hold to preserve my wellbeing). And here I am on the phone with the guy who gave me life who is preaching havoc against the man he doesn’t know I am today. What would you do?
As I make my choice, I don’t think only about my needs, but I think of you. You who hide in the shadows, in the closet, behind the pulpit, so people don’t know that you are different, for fear of isolation and retaliation. I think of you, who march for pride and recognition hoping one day all of humanity will accept your worth simply because you exist. I think of you, the freethinker, who wept when you realized that two of each animal in a boat during a world-flood was too much of a fantasy and that Jesus didn’t walk on water. I think of you, who wait patiently to let your family know that Reason has had its moment and that you are no longer a victim of oppressive tradition. I think of us, who are free from an anchor of shame and limited thinking, who now seek truth far beyond the stars and deep into the dwelling of human love.
I think. We think. And that is victory enough. We have done our part. America is listening, and so are our family and friends. It’s time to speak up and be counted.