Longfellow Elementary School once had a classroom with a fireplace. I know that to be true because I spent most of my first grade in that classroom.
I can still remember my very first day sitting at my desk, “Big Chief” tablet and limb-thick pencils in tow. I was scared and unsure of myself. All around the room children were upset and crying. I wanted to go home. To my left, standing in the classroom doorway was my mom with tears in her eyes. She worried that day about her child, just as Lisa and I would worry about ours some thirty years later. Had we prepared them for what they would face in life? Were they ready? Only time would tell.
My parents did a good job preparing me for things I would experience. At all the significant moments in my life, my parents had me prepared. For some of those events it became necessary for them to take time and actually instruct me, sort of childhood in-service lessons. For example, when I began junior high I was required to wear a jock strap in PE class. I had never seen one before and had no idea how they were worn. Had my dad not prepared me for how to properly wear the strange garment, I may have embarrassed myself right out of the seventh grade and into therapy. Come to think about it, some of my poor classmates may have ended up needing counseling all because they had their jocks on backward. They were not prepared.
Some of my preparation for life came by those modeling their lives before me. People, including my parents, friends, and those I admired, became examples for me to emulate. In some cases, those examples were less than positive – leading me to make bad choices. But, there were many examples in my life of how to live that changed me and turned me toward the man I am. They taught me about being a good husband, a good father, a man of God. Many of those I found myself imitating, never knew I was even watching. But, they prepared me for things in my life that no textbook, no Sunday School lesson and no college lecture could ever convey.
Many of the men and women in my life who took time to prepare me for what I would face have passed away. And though their physical presence is no longer, I still feel and experience their influence as I continue on this journey.
Now, for a heartfelt confession. I have faced some things that no one prepared me for. I suppose we all have. Almost three decades ago I was faced with the realization that my brother was a homosexual. Today, the issue of homosexuality has become so commonplace and accepted, it seems strange to admit it was once taboo. After the Aids virus attacked his system and took his life in 1987, I spent the next fifteen years lying about the cause of his death. My parents never could speak the words. None of us were prepared for what we had to face. Things were so much different in the 1980s. It took me time. Let me repeat – it took me time.
The world continues to change. New issues challenge my understanding and acceptance. The transgender debate is the newest hot topic that is building a dividing line between those who accept and those who do not. The issue demands our immediate embrace and acceptance and LGBT advocates monitor our accommodation. Those who do not accept transgenders are labeled bigots. Those who struggle to understand are closed minded. Those who resist on moral principles are religious fanatics.
I was not prepared to deal with my brothers homosexuality and I was not prepared for transgenderism. Over time I developed a healthy, loving understanding of my brothers sexuality. It was not easy and it did not happen over night. The same will be true for whatever new lifestyle choice will demand my acceptance. It will take me time.
The issue of agreeing or disagreeing with a lifestyle choice is not the purpose of this blog. I have been determined to always write truthfully and many have thanked me over the years for my open and honest stories. This is no different. When my brothers sexuality first became known, I was angry with him – to the point that I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Over time, although I disagreed with that lifestyle, I was able to embrace him in love. Perhaps the real challenge for people, if they are anything like me, is that social issues that arise suddenly seem to always demand sudden acceptance. That is the difficult part. Though I may not agree with a lifestyle choice, in time, I may (at least) learn to love and understand. I just need some time. Don’t call me a bigot, don’t call me fascist or closed minded – please. Just give me some time. I was not prepared.
In conclusion, embracing the ever-changing social mores is (for me) like putting on a jock strap for the first time. Initially, it is strange and uncomfortable – an unpleasant experience. Over time I will feel a little more comfortable, but probably never wear one again – nor understand how or why anyone would.
And had someone not shown me how to wear that thing – I may still be trying to figure it out.