How a Family Counselor Would Help Jamiel and Randall

An interview with Leonard Felder, psychologist and author of 'When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People'

BY: Interview by Wendy Schuman

Do you think Randall Terry's response was appropriate to what his son did? Or could he have handled things a better way?

It's a sad story-and I'm not going to judge the father or the son. I can give guidelines on how families can do this in a less painful way. The critical issue is that both these people love each other, and their love and desire to have an ongoing friendship and supportive relationship is so clear from both of their stories.

It is?

Sure. The son talks about how important his father's approval was, and how he was willing to hide an important part of himself in order to not upset his father. The father talks about how dedicated he had been to his son-the fact that they've had years of enjoying each other's company and appreciating each other's gifts. The son loves his father's charm and sense of humor, the father loves the son's musical talents and personality. If they want that to continue, they have to work that out in a very safe setting with a counselor who'll respect their confidentiality.

Can they return to confidentiality and cordiality after they've been so public in their denunciation of each other?

They can go back. The first issue is: If a child raised in a fundamentalist home wants to come out and express his sexuality, he needs to appreciate that it might take years, decades, or forever for his family members to understand or accept that. So if a child says "I'm bringing my lover home for Christmas dinner, accept him or else," that will probably cause World War III in the family. But if you say to your parent, "I need to stop hiding and your love and camaraderie are very important to me-let's stay in dialogue for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years and find a way to love each other, even though we totally disagree about something very important," that has the potential for peace. And many families are able to be civil to each other and supportive to one another even when they vehemently disagree about crucial issues.

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