College changes a person. I was an undergraduate and graduate student for 13 years and I’ve been a faculty member in colleges, universities and seminaries for over 17 years and I’m not sure what it is that brings about the change. I’d like to say the change occurs is the mysterious alchemy that takes place between teacher and student in the classroom over a semester. But, perhaps, transformations happen in the dorm room, fraternity or sorority, in the middle of the hallways and kitchens where people gather informally to discuss the “buzz” about a class or issue on campus. Then again, it could be at a big sports event, musical performance or off-campus party that the real magic takes place and lives are forever changed. Somewhere, somehow, with someone, the change occurs, in which a new perception of life appears over the horizon and the person is never the same.
This is what happened to my son after his first semester in college. He is a changed person. And, I’m not the only one who observed it. So did his girlfriend, his mom, my partner and his sister. The community of love noticed it. Note of the change came when my partner and I picked my son up from college. We drove all the way to Miami, Fla., on a Saturday in mid-December to gather my son and his belongings as he makes a move to a new school in the spring. On the way back home on Sunday, with a 12-hour ride before us, there was time for us to talk about his first semester experience, otherwise known as “the good, the bad, and the ugly” (with apologies to Clint Eastwood). It was during one of the lulls of traveling that we talked about the changes in his life, from his perspective. He said that having a gay dad wasn’t that big a deal anymore. I was driving at the time and about slammed on the brakes or drove off the road in amazement. This from the young man who, during high school, made it very clear that he didn’t want anyone knowing that he had a gay dad with a partner. It was because of Parker’s vote of “no” that I did not run for a place on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Community School board. It was because of his desire to keep knowledge of my being gay hidden that I tried to keep a low profile when it came to his school events, usually sitting in the back row of sporting events or other ceremonies.
In hindsight, the change was evident when he introduced us to his college friends around the dorm when he was moving out. He hugged me openly, in public, when he came out of the dorm. We met his roommate, his friends across the hall, and the Resident Assistant, without him blinking an eye. “This is my dad, Brett. This is his partner, Dean.” He said it just that easily and naturally. We piled his stuff into the rented SUV for our long excursion back and waved goodbye to his friends. And, off we went, homeward bound to North Carolina. But, the young man who left us four months earlier was not the same. Something happened. Someone changed.
In the Christian scriptures, there is the story of the Prodigal or Lost Son. It is a family system story of reconciliation among many conflicting parties. In a nut shell, a parent celebrates the return of the young child who went his own way, sowing his “wild oats,” coming home finally, seeking reconciliation with those who stayed home, namely the other child and parent (Luke 15:11-32). While my daughter found it easier to acknowledge that she had a gay dad, my son’s journey in conceding that his dad is gay has been longer and far more, well, interesting. I can empathize with my biblical forbear, who rejoiced at this unexpected homecoming. I shall savor the day I could hear and see the simple, public recognition of father and son, parent and child, with “Yeah, that’s my dad and his partner, Brett and Dean.” Such sweet words are truly a gift in this holiday season. : :