For years I thought my dad was ashamed of my sexuality. I came out to him when I was sixteen and we never really talked about it again. I translated his avoidance of the topic as disappointment. He was never abusive or mean, he just never said anything. Sure, he'd come to the mandatory parent stuff like school plays, choir concerts, and fundraisers but I knew he would rather be somewhere else (like a my football game or baseball game - sorry Dad).
Nearly fifteen years after I came out we were sitting in a restaurant. I'm not sure what brought us there but I do remember feeling agitated that day. Somehow the conversation took a turn and I said, "Listen, I know that you've always been disappointed that I was gay..." and before I could get another word out, my dad slammed his hands on the table. This really startled me. It wasn't so much the sound it made but more that my dad was pretty reserved and never made a scene in public, I wasn't expecting that reaction. A nerve had been hit.
"I've never been ashamed of you. I wish you could hear how I talk about you to my colleagues and friends. If I'm guilty of anything it's that I wasn't always great at communicating my feelings. When you came out of the closet, I was scared. I didn't know anything about the gay community except what I saw in the news, and at that time it was mostly about AIDS. I was terrified that my teenage son was going to be in danger or get sick. I didn't know how to process that, so I guess I avoided thinking about it. I'm sorry you took that as me being ashamed of you. I couldn't be happier to be your dad."
It's funny how your entire past can change in a flash. Suddenly, I recognized all the efforts my dad made to be a part of my life. He was always in attendance whenever I was performing or doing something with the arts. He made sure I had clothes to wear, food to eat, and a safe place to sleep. He even cried before he drove away, leaving me in my dorm-room at college. With one shift of perception, I had a completely new dad. All the years of resentment and hurt vanished. He wasn't ashamed, he just wasn't the best verbal communicator. He showed his love by providing for me, and he did a pretty great job.
One important step in true forgiveness is the willingness to take 100% responsibility for our own healing and peace of mind. My dad never hurt me, he was doing his best with the skills he had. I hurt myself by projecting my own shame onto him. What I thought he did to me he never did. I did that. I'm not in denial that he avoided the subject, but it wasn't out of resentment, it was because he didn't know what to say. When I stopped placing my own interpretation on what happened, I found freedom... and the relationship with my dad that I always wanted.
This picture is of Chris and Me with our dads, Steve & Rex at our wedding. My dad continues to support us to this day. And I'm proud to be his son.
Jesse Brune-Horan is a Spiritual teacher and happy living expert. He's the co-founder & Spiritual director of Inspire Spiritual Community, a non-profit organization supporting the LGBTQ+ community. He's the host of the podcast "LGBTQ+ and Spiritual", and co-host of the lifestyle series "Super Easy with Jesse and Alison." He lives and Loves in Los Angeles with his husband Christopher and their family.