Why you should care
Because it’s a story straight from the horse’s mouth: a parent who lived the journey from ignorance to love-is-blind fatherhood.
I am a barber in the Bay Area — some would say a popular barber, with a revolving door of clients — but to me, I’m an overseer of life. A listener, if you will, of those who wish to express themselves openly while in my chair. I call it “The Chair of Truth.” And I’m often blown away by the things I hear from that chair. A few weeks ago, a man came into the shop with seemingly the weight of the world upon his shoulders. He appeared to have been drinking heavily and had a lot on his mind.
While he was waiting on his cut, he’d overheard a conversation between myself and a couple other clients. When he sat down he said: “So, I understand that you’ve got a gay son. So do I. And unlike you, I can’t fathom the thought of my son being gay.” I was taken aback by what I had just heard and at the time could not quite understand the reasoning behind what he had just told me.
So, what does your Bible tell you about using drugs, and smoking crack and all the other negatives you’re doing in your life?
“Yes, I do have a gay son, and I love him no less,” I said as I placed my left hand on his right shoulder, while reaching for a pair of clippers with my right hand.
Immediately he grew angry and I could see his face tighten up, as he replied, “I want nothing to do with his ass. It’s ungodly and I don’t want it around me.”
I could smell the liquor as it reeked stronger with each and every word he spoke. But I could not let it go.
“Why are you so mad? What have gay people ever done to you?” I asked.
“The Bible speaks against it!” he shouted.
Quickly I responded by asking what I felt was only fair. “So, what does your Bible tell you about using drugs, and smoking crack and all the other negatives you’re doing in your life? Not one sin’s wager is higher than the other. Has God turned his back on you, like you’re choosing to turn your back on your son?” I asked.
I couldn’t help but remember my own early days, before I’d accepted my son. I too must have sounded undeniably stupid, not knowing that each word I spoke on the subject was empty, thoughtless.
What I do know is that love knows no sexuality, and it frowns on the self-righteous.
I remembered a time about 12 summers ago, when my then 16-year-old son was planning to visit me for a few weeks. I was so excited, so ready to see him after some time.
I was standing in the airport near the gate waiting for my son. As soon as he appeared, I could see: His walk was different, so too his mannerisms, for they were now much more in tune with the life he had come to know. Minutes before, when I was leaving my home to pick him up, I was one of the most homophobic men I knew. But within seconds, I transformed from a shallow, emotionally impotent human being to a father of a gay son.
I can’t explain it. I don’t know where, nor do I know how, the ignorance just went. With each step he took toward me, a piece of the callousness that had built up over the years against such a life seemed to somehow dissipate. It was as if God knew that all the things I had said over time were just words. And a heart that was once full of dislike toward people I knew nothing of was being dismantled by a simple smile. That is fatherhood.
Before I knew my son was gay, I knew that on some level, one day I might be confronted with a possibility like this one. But it’s always easier to think of something happening down the street. When it came knocking at my front door, I had to ask myself: Could I love my son? Would I accept his living a life that society views as unfit and improper? But of course, there was no point in asking the question at all. There was nothing I could do to stop it, to undo it or to make it go away.
What I do know is that love knows no sexuality, and it frowns on the self-righteous. Our children may never be who we thought they would be. But we can be, as parents, more than we thought we could be. Somewhere out there, there are children who are afraid to speak, who are lost in the midst of their sorrows; drifting in the midst of their possibilities, starving for affection; swimming, hoping feverishly for a connection in a sea filled with tides of imperfection.
So they swim. Lost, because we as a society have made them feel less than perfect. The closed-minded will never see past themselves. The pretentious are forever unaware of their self-inflicted emptiness.
The man in my chair was mad about something else, just as I had once been. One day, he might share with me, from that same chair of truth, what exactly he was so angry about. Today wasn’t that day: I was only trimming his beard, and there wasn’t time for everything. Not that day.
This OZY encore was originally published Oct. 13, 2014.