My father was an activist who devoted his life to one principle: that God is love. He once told me that he was a Christian because he was born in a Christian household in a Christian culture and it might have been otherwise if he’d been born in, say, the Middle East. His belief in the power of love was so all inclusive that when I, in 1971, revealed I was a lesbian, he never said one negative word to me.
It was only after his death that I saw his writing, in which he struggled with whether he had somehow been an inadequate father to me and that was why I loved women. As was always true, he chose to examine himself and never the other person, regardless of the hurt they caused him. I’m not advocating this approach entirely; in my life, I have had to learn how to stand up for myself and say no, because I idolized him and wanted to be like him, not realizing there is a price to pay.
Throughout my childhood, his work involved him in many struggles for justice. First, he went to the South to register voters and march for equal rights, at one point arrested and taken to jail. Ultimately he worked to bring equality for LGBT people, realizing that this was just another Civil Rights issue and unequal treatment was not in line with his belief as a Baptist minister; that God loves all his children. He stood up for me countless times, and invited into his home and heart everyone I loved and many others who, without the support of their families, called on him and my mother.
So Sunday morning June 12, when a gunman massacred 49 people and injured scores more, my horror included a horror for him. “I’m sorry, Dad,” I heard myself thinking, “I’m sorry that love has not won entirely. I’m sorry that the work you gave your soul to is not completed. I’m sorry that for every step forward there’s a glaring step back. I’m sorry for this endless circle, in which we continue to work and work and work for justice and peace, yet continue to see such violence and hatred.”
Then there were the comments, virulent comments which I would not have believed were accurate except that there they were, on video, taped for verification, by ministers and other religious leaders, condoning the violence, and going further, saying every LGBT person was an abomination and should be caught, lined up and shot. How do I respond to that? The argument begins in my head, “we are not pedophiles… we are not perverts…” but in the same breath, I hear myself saying, “Just continue to show who you are. Don’t argue.”
How do I honor my father this year? Without him in this world, how do I continue the legacy he left? He once told me that he was raised in the tradition of wretched worm-ism, my grandmother believing we are wretched worms on the earth, all of us, and our job as humans was to be the least bad we could be. This certainly exacted a price in his self esteem, but also propelled him into a life in which he believed every person, even those that might harm us, was, deep down, good. When I was bullied by other children, he communicated to me that we couldn’t know what might have hurt them in life and that I was lucky to live in a loving family. Again, this message is much more useful to me now than it was when I was a child. As a child, I just wanted my parents to fight for me. Yet I see that this basic idea, that but for a turn of the dial we could all become hateful, is the center of my own life.
I am working hard to stay true to his life’s purpose; that we must be the people we’d like to see around us in the world. That we continue to love, even in the midst of hate, that history bends towards justice and that, regardless of how long life is, and how steep the challenges, we never quit trying to do our part.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. And thank you for your loving heart.