CONVERSATION OF A LIFETIME
From the time I was 5 until I was 16, my family spent every summer in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado – a small town comprised of a few dirt roads dotted with two or three stops signs and a community well, because many homes didn’t have running water. Fishing for trout, catching tadpoles, playing bingo in town on Saturday nights or cards around the kitchen table was pretty much the extent of our entertainment. There was no television, and we were decades away from internet and iPads. While this would constitute torture for some kids, my sisters and I loved Red Feather. Those were magical days, and we knew that even then.
My conversation of a lifetime didn’t happen when I was a child. I was a 41-year old woman. Red Feather was still home, though by then my parents had sold the 600-square foot cabin we grew up in, and built their dream home where they’d retired. Among the upgrades, like running water, was a dining room table where this conversation took place. I still recall exactly where I was sitting – between my parents – and the way the sunlight lingered on that long autumn day when I asked my parents to attend my wedding. For many people, this is would be a joyous occasion, but my heart was racing and I was filled with trepidation. I was inviting my folks to my wedding to another woman and well...there is a backstory.
10 years earlier, after a particularly lousy round of golf, I finally told my dad that I am gay. His initial response was that I was brave and that he now understood why I had not golfed well that day. A few days later, he presented me with several sheets of ledger paper where he had listed many things that he thought had contributed to my gayness. Being allowed to play sports, wear shorts, and fishing in Red Feather in the summer to name a few, had all conspired together to make me gay.
I’d never actually had the gay conversation with my mom. She’d been away at the time and it would be a few months before I saw her. Visits over the next 6 or 7 months were filled with icy and awkward conversations about riveting topics like the weather. It was a challenging time, but when the ice thawed, they treated my partner with kindness and respect. That was the last time I spoke about being gay. To be honest, after the conversation with Dad, to whom I felt closer, I hadn’t wanted to bring it up again. Until now.
As we finished dinner at the table, I took a deep breath and told my parents I had something to ask them. As soon as the words left my lips, tears began to roll down my face. Without hesitation, my dad and my mom each grab my hands from either side. In that moment, I knew whatever was about to happen, it would be alright. The story gets a little fuzzy for me here, because I started to ramble with a lot of words and tears about how I loved them, and wanted their support for a very important event in my life, and finally “Kim and I are getting married in Kauai and I want you come to my wedding.”
There. It was out. I took a breath and waited for their response. As gentle tears rolled down each other their faces, my mom said they would have to think about it, but they were so glad that I’d asked them. It was a beautiful. My mom is a cautious and stoic woman, and getting on a plan to fly eight hours was a big request, but actually being asked to attend meant the world to her and my dad. I had under estimated them. The next 45 minutes where filled with tears, laughter, questions, and truth-telling. They asked me why I thought I was gay, when I knew I gay, about other woman I had been with, and my friends.
We covered a lot of ground that evening, but for me, the most important thing was that I got to give my mom an apology that I had owed her for a decade, but didn’t know it. In fact, for years I’d believed they owed me an apology for those months of icy silence, never talking with me about something so important to me. Then mom asked, Why did you tell your dad when I wasn’t here?” I have a special closeness with my Dad, and I said, “I just needed to tell him first.” She said she could understand that, but she had been so angry that this news was delivered when they weren’t together. “We are partners, and we needed to be together to support each other in this time.” That had never occurred to me.
I looked at my mom and told her how sorry I was that I hadn’t considered this. My mom let out a big breath, a few more tears, then said “thank you.” I could tell she had been holding this for a long time. Though my parents had been married my whole life, I just hadn’t thought of them as partners who needed each other, supporting each other in good times and bad.
This conversation was so overdue. I thought I was respecting them by not talking about my intimate life and they had so many questions they just didn’t know how to ask. We had gone 10 years with a sheath between us that melted away for good that night. They were my teachers that day, and I am grateful for what it taught me about marriage.
Ultimately, my parents as well as both my sisters and their families attended my wedding in Kauai – which is a very long way from Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.
BY SHARNA FEY