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.
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.
Even among conservative scholars and fundamentalists there's sometimes a diversity. If Randall Terry really wrestled with and researched this issue, he might find there's a minister who's close to his theology who also has a loving and accepting approach to gays and lesbians. I would want him to go on a search to see if there's a way to love and accept his son and forgive his son for embarrassing him.
That's the dialogue families have to go through-how do we accept that we disagree? Yet we've been put together for a reason. It's no accident that God has sent gay and lesbian children to some of the most prominent conservatives of our time. What can Randall Terry learn about how the Cheneys are being loving or less than loving to their daughter, or what Newt Gingrich did right or wrong in his treatment of his sister? Does he want to interpret Jesus' teachings as one of love or rejection?
Can you push the anger back in the box once it's out?
The fact is that everybody's ego and embarrassment are painful, but the relationship between a father and a son is bigger than ego and embarrassment. Our kids are supposed to embarrass us a little bit. It's harder for a public figure than for those of us in private life. A lot of us go through embarrassment because of the things our kids say and do.
I worked for 20 years as a dialogue facilitator for the National Conference of Christians and Jews. We were always dealing with situations where people with good hearts and intentions disagreed about issues. The goal of dialogue is to stop ourselves from demonizing the other person-and finding a way to appreciate the goodness and the life path of this person who's doing it differently from us.
That's different from political activism-which is about changing policies and votes. Family dialogue is about finding a way to talk about painful or difficult issues without destroying our relationship.
How about the idea that Randall will no longer let Jamiel in the house because he's worried about confidentiality?
It's OK if the father and son make some agreements with each other, even agreements in writing-about how to carry on a private dialogue that doesn't include gossiping or attacking the other person in public. And to also accept that it may take months or years before they do rebuild their trust for each other.
When you demonize the other side, the dialogue's over.