Thoughts Turning Toward Home
I’ve been reading an excellent novel my son recommended, A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin. The book has bent my thoughts toward family. My father turned 93 in January. Dad held exactly four pastorates in his long career, each roughly twice as long as the one before. He was a pastor’s pastor.
I saw my father as deeply good, though never as a powerful man. He was too kind to be seen as powerful. When he was well into his 80s I asked his opinion about the afterlife. He answered, “Well, I hope God lets me into heaven.” I assured him, “Dad, if you aren’t getting into heaven, I don’t think there’s much hope for any of us.” Though he feared God as the ultimate disciplinarian, Dad was invariably gracious toward others.
The last time I visited my father was on his 90th birthday. It was one of the final times I traveled as Paul. I had already lost my job, though I had not informed him. When I told my father a few months later that I was transgender, he said, “This doesn’t change how we feel about you one tiny bit.” Once he began to understand what that meant, his struggle became monumental.
Having lived his entire existence in the evangelical subculture, Dad has never been well versed in the ways of the world. After my revelation, I imagine he called his two physician friends. Being men of my father’s generation, they themselves probably did not understand much about what it means to be transgender, but I am sure they were gentle and supportive.
Once my mother began to understand what I was telling her, she demanded that her subject behave properly. She had a tendency to overestimate her power. When Mom realized I was definitely transitioning, she thought she could keep my transition a secret. She is unaware of the reach of social media.
My mother gave me my intelligence, quite a generous gift really. She ingrained in me a love of books and kept close watch over my studies. Mom had a quick sense of humor, though she rarely gave herself permission to use it. I am afraid she was hindered by her religion, her geography and her times. I have compassion for my mother. I always looked like her. Now I really look like her. I don’t mind.
After a few tense years of precious little contact other than the occasional letter, I called my father on his birthday. It took him a few minutes to understand with whom he was speaking. He said, “You don’t sound the same.” I replied, “No Dad, I don’t. I’m Paula now, and Paula does not sound like Paul.” Dad mused, “Well, I suppose that would be true.” I was sitting alone in a nearly empty Marriott Hotel restaurant in Phoenix and my tears dropped onto the linen tablecloth.
I am going to visit my parents next month. I will also meet my brother for the first time. The writer Mitch Albom said, “Sticking with your family is what makes it a family.”
The Bible does not tell us much about the family of Jesus. We know on one occasion his siblings were more than a little embarrassed and tried to bring him home. He probably always seemed “other” to them. As far as we know, Mary was the only one who stayed close all the way through the crucifixion. When Jesus motioned to John and said to his mother, “Behold your son,” he might as well have been saying, “Well, now maybe you can have a son you can understand.”
I had hoped to hold off transitioning until my parents were gone. I wanted to spare them the pain. But in these life and death matters we do not always have good choices.
In case you are curious, unless I choose to show it to them, my parents will not read this post. They do not go online, nor does anyone read my blog to them. Most of their friends do not approve of me. I am an outsider and there are limits to fundamentalist generosity. I hold no animosity.
I hope my visit with my parents goes well. No one said this would be an easy journey.