Becky and I have been married for over 30 years, and we have seven children. A few years ago, as we were raising our family in the Church, we were going along thinking everything was just fine. Then Xian, our middle son, came home from college on a Christmas break and sent my wife and me the following private Facebook message:
“Hey, I’m not going to beat around the bush too much. I’m just going to tell you something that I’m sure you already know. Or it has at least crossed your mind plenty of times. I’m gay. I’m sure this isn’t the best news a parent could hear, but I feel like it’s not right for me to not talk to you about something that’s very real to me. I want you to know I’m still very much the same weird Xian, haha. I love you so much, and you’re the best parents a kid could ask for. This is why it’s taken me so long to tell you. I’m fine with the pain it can bring me, at times, but I just didn’t want to hurt you because you don’t deserve it. Once again, I love you very much. I want to keep this brief because I’m sure you’d rather talk in person and I’m 100% fine with that. I haven’t told anyone before, ever. I wanted you two to be the first to know.”
I read it and said to myself, “No, I didn’t know that and I didn’t think it, either. Why would I ever think that?” The fact that he came out and told us in a message on Facebook was mindboggling to me.
But looking back, that was one of the most ingenious things he could’ve done.
Because it gave me time to take it in and to react without him there, to get rid of my anger. I probably would have said some things to him that I would have regretted.
Then I went to Becky, who was in the next room, to see if she’d gotten the same Facebook message.
I was so angry. I couldn’t figure out why Xian would choose something like being gay because, at the time, I assumed people chose it.
And I said some mean things. I’m glad Becky was the only one who heard them.
By the time Xian got back to our house that night, I’d gone to sleep. Becky was awake though, so she talked to him. When she came back into the room I said, “Where have you been?”
“I was down talking to Xian.”
“Okay, how did that go?”
“It went well.”
So I got up to go talk to him and Becky said, “Be kind. Please be kind.” It’s sad that she even had to tell me that. I went downstairs and gave Xian a big hug. Then I just said, “I love you.”
Xian really appreciated it. Then he commented, “Dad, you know you’ve said some really mean things over the years.” He was right. In my mind, I figured gay people had chosen it. And if they’d chosen it, then they deserved whatever negativity I could give them.
I didn’t even know what to say back to him. All I could come up with was, “Hey, let’s get some sleep and we’ll talk later.” Xian went back to college and I decided I’d try to “fix” him. I would read everything I could find about the topic from a Church point of view and send it to Xian to read. Then he’d send me something else, written more from his perspective.
I remained pretty closed-minded. I kept hoping, so badly, it would go away, like it was just a phase he was going through.
After a couple of years like that, Xian was back home from college again and said, “Dad, I thought we were gonna talk. I mean, really talk.”
I came right back with, “All right, let's talk.” I started letting him have all of the ammunition I’d saved up. “Xian, why would you choose this? Why?” And he just looked at me and chuckled. Not an in-your-face kind of laugh. Just a chuckle. I’m sure he’d heard that so many times, it seemed ridiculous.
Then he said, “Dad, I didn’t choose this. Why would anyone choose this?”
That’s when it hit me. All the pain and suffering from all the jokes I’d told him, all the mean comments, all the times that I said something snide about somebody else to the whole family with him sitting there thinking, “My dad has no idea that he’s talking about me.” All those times just came flooding back to me. The pain my son had gone through.
That was an about-face for me. And that’s when inspiration came flooding in.
I remembered a story I’d heard years before. A sportswriter was assigned to cover the Olympics—the rowing, canoeing, and kayaking. He interviewed one of the team captains and asked, “What about the wind? What about the rain? What about the wake from the other boats?”
The team captain kept answering, “That’s outside my boat.” When the journalist asked what he meant by that, he said, “Those are things I can’t control. So it doesn’t do me any good to worry about them. I focus on the things that are in my boat.”
So while I was sitting there talking to Xian, I realized I’d been trying to “fix” him, and that wasn’t my job.
It wasn’t in my boat. I also realized I’d been judgmental. But as Christians, we believe Christ is to be the judge. So I put that in Christ’s boat instead. What I was left with, in my boat, was to love.
All of my kids need my love—the love of a father. None of them should be shunned.
And my faith in the gospel doesn’t need to be shunned, either. Becky and I both love the gospel, and I’m so glad to be married to a woman who believes the same thing I do. Some people think that because we love our gay son, then we must have distanced ourselves from the Church.
Actually, living the gospel is the best thing we can do for our family.
I told Xian we’d never leave the Church for him, and he said he wouldn’t expect us to.
Loving unconditionally doesn’t mean leaving the Church because of what a child might be going through. Becky and I listen to our Church leaders at conference, and we’re grateful this topic is being addressed. It’s good to see them moving in a direction where we can talk openly and compassionately about it.