Pastor Michael’s had told me to stop talking to my son. After the eighteen years I had raised him, I was too let it all go. I should have told that minister to go to hell but then again I had fears that that was where Henry was heading. It’s what I had believed and debated for most of my life. Never in the many days of my life had I entertained the idea that my son would one day take me aside after a long winded sermon and declare that he had a boyfriend. He must have seen the doubt in my eyes, but he continued to tell me that he had indeed engaged with this other young man. A young man who I had assumed was a good friend of his. This young man was a star player on the high school football team, so I naturally assumed that homosexuality would be the last thing on his agenda.
I went to Michael’s with this new revelation. I wanted to know what to do, I wanted to know if God would judge me for my son’s sins. I wanted to know if there was anyway to rescue the boy from himself and his choice to engage in the deplorable. He was sitting behind his desk and staring hard at me, and he told me the worst. He told me that it was indeed my fault. My faith was being tested, and my faith had been weak. In the years that my son was under my supervision and guidance I had failed to inform him the truth of Christ, and the cost of unfathomable sin. It wasn’t a conversation I thought I had to have with Henry. I replayed the warning signs in my head, thought about all of the overnight visits him and his friend Devin had eagerly put together. That wasn’t warning enough though. My own childhood played in my head and I had myself spent many nights hanging out with good friends and stripping down to nothing in order to keep our clothes dry to swim in the creek. There was nothing gay about that.
Michael’s counseled me on several visits. Told me my faith would be rewarded if I just studied the scripture, got more involved with the church. I did just what he said. My son was condemned to hellfire and brimstone. An eternity of torturous torment for this dive into debauchery. I attended our Wednesday night classes, and made Henry go to his youth group which did not take much convincing. He was unashamed of what he was doing, he gladly interacted with the people he’d known since childhood but it was only because they were none the wiser. My child had confided in me, his father, but not into his good friends on those late nights.
I sat Henry down one afternoon after hours of meditation. I sat him down after tithing to my limit, and praying in protest to have my seed reap some sort of result. That the lord God might come down and shift my son’s understanding of just what he was. It was time. I swore I could see the change over my boy. The same boy who had accompanied me on fishing vacations, and hours long sessions of mosquito infested lagoons, and bayous. The same boy who had helped me gut and skin my hunting prizes so that I could more quickly prepare the meats. It was the same boy who sat with me at his mother’s side when she succumbed to cancer and adamantly prayed for her to be saved. She wasn’t.
“Are you done experimenting?” That’s what I asked him. Like a fool.
“I’m not. Dad, I’m gay.” He told me. There was a hurt in his eyes that I mistook for fear.
Then I said, “Can you not be?” He stood up from the table then and went into his room and barely spoke to me for a week.
Pastor Michael’s called me into his office after I had missed our weekly meeting. I had missed out of panic. My son was not repenting. My son was lost to me. I didn’t want to hear what Michael’s might tell me to do next. I followed his invitation and when he shut the door behind me the weight was heavy on my mind. I knew what he was going to tell me when I told him that Henry still persisted in his lifestyle.
“You need him to move out. You can’t have the poison inside of your house. Your soul is tainted by this tolerance. You can’t even save your son because you are too close to him. It’s hard love John. Hard love. It’ll hurt but he will see why you would do it. He will come back to you like the prodigal son. He will struggle but if it’s God’s will through his struggles he will see that you were right.” He sat back in his chair and gave me the look of an authoritarian, and he repeated one last time, “Hard love.”
Henry had graduated only a month before he made his announcement. He was enjoying his summer, taking it easy. He was jobless. He had prospects for college, and he used my car when I wasn’t using it. He was not ready to be on his own. Despite all that the minister’s words rang even more true to me then. Henry would repent because he had nothing, he would struggle hard quickly and he would walk back into my life and he would tell me, “Dad, oh Dad you were right. I’m sorry.” Then the son I thought I lost would be back.
“Are you serious?”
“It’s wrong Henry. I can’t have that here. We were raised as God fearing people.” I tried to hide my heartbreak, and in turn exposed a secret anger. My tone was harsher than I’d hoped, but I didn’t know any other way to get it across. I thought about the letter would come in the mail that Henry was failing a class here or there. I thought about the harsh tones I had to adopt in order to emphasis that he needed to shape up in order to have a future. The tone I used then was in order to save his life. It had to be harsher.
“I thought we were raised as God loving people. Dad, forgiveness and all that bullshit.” He through back not shame, but bitterness. I had cut into his being harder than I realized. The devil I figured had more of a hold on him than I thought.
“Some things are just unnatural. I’m sorry, I do this for your own good.” When I said the words it had the feeling of the knife that had already snuck in, the silent sort of knife that cuts clean and cuts deepest so that the victim is already bled out before they even realize the wound was hurting. Henry had been prepared for this, he was bleeding out but he was not going down easy. Hard love, I scoff at the idea now. Love is not hard. This was not a lesson that needed to be taught.
“My own good?” He gnashed his teeth. “How is that? What about school? Let alone how am I supposed to eat, where do I sleep. You think you’re saving me but more than likely you know where I will go. Ill just stay with him.”
“Do his parents know?” I asked him.
Henry froze. It was clear to me they didn’t. I was such a fool to not realize what that meant in that moment. When I should have seen how much it meant to him to be able to confide in me, I just gathered the knowledge up for ammunition.
“You won’t be able to then will you.” There are some fears. Certain panics that lend themselves to being tainted by anger and even hate. I had allowed my paranoia to do that to my thinking. “Stop what you’re doing and you can stay. Otherwise where will you go?”
He had no more words then, and I thought I had won.
He went up to his room. There was a certain stomp in his step. I figured the temper tantrum of a child. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen it before. It was for his own good. Hard love, lesson learned. I cleared up the dining room table from our dinner just an hour earlier. Each plate was lighter in my hand than the last, the relief I’d felt in getting through to my boy was fascinating. The stack mine as well have been weightless, for the weight on my shoulders. I said a silent prayer over the collecting suds and scrubbed the plates and pans and put them away.
Henry’s footsteps more somberly above my head. The sound travelling from his room to the bathroom beside my own bedroom. Back and forth. He was struggling with his decision to serve God, to return to the righteous path. He paced from one end to the other because the battle of his soul had just begun. I had known the pastor had been right. I would call Michael’s first thing in the morning, and I would tell him the good news. I would tell him his counsel was sound. That at least, was what I had planned on doing.
When I heard the unquestionable sound of a my twelve gauge go off above my head I let slip a drinking glass from my hand and it shattered in a collective crash from all of its bits. I moved from my place upon the kitchen floor and with the uncharacteristic speed I ran up the stairs. Images of torn deer carcasses littered with buckshot that surrounded a chunk of a mutilated gash were the only images that sat upon my mind and when I opened his bedroom door there is no amount of garish description to match the guilt that grind its teeth upon my being.
When the funeral was done and after I had heard the lies out of Michael’s mouth about my son’s devotion to the church and how his soul would be welcomed into Christs arms, I wanted to strangle him. He had left out my sons homosexual partnership. He had left out the full life he could have lived. The person he could have become. The minister was fine with perpetrating a lie in order to save face. It wasn’t his face he was saving, it was my own. Somehow the man thought by saying what he could about my son’s salvation would put me at ease. It only infuriated me. I had taken my perfect boy and reduced his existence to simply the importance of what happened when he died. It was as though I was led to believe, and I allowed myself to believe that what he did with his life was meaningless unless it was focused on God and free of sin. What had been the point of all of those late school nights of frantically perfecting his homework, of applying to colleges, of making friends, of teaching him how to hunt, and fish. What was the point of all of those lessons, if his life did not matter.
I have since sought forgiveness for murdering my son. I probably won’t get it. Pastor Michael’s said in less cruel terms that my son was lost, and when I debated what he had said at the funeral, he said it was only for my grief. I have not been back since. I befriended others in this gay community, sought out people who were cast aside by their families for what they were born into. I have devoted my life from allowing all that potential to go to waste, because of a basic misunderstanding of human life. I have been given numerous surrogate son’s attempting to deal with their support systems being torn from beneath their feet. I realized my son had chosen me as his confidant. His father, his family, he trusted me as he had trusted every other aspect of his life for guidance. What had I done but tell him his existence was pointless and wrong. I remember being told that I should hate the sin but not the sinner. The statement had a ring of truth to hit before my son left me, but it now perplexed me. We are our sins, our sins are in our marrow and to hate the sins that are our life blood is to hate us.
These lost boys looked to me as the repented sinner. As a man who has seen the light, for life and love is more important than death and hopelessness.