One of the more vulnerable moments of Pete Buttigieg’s pioneering campaign for president (as a front-running, openly gay man) came in South Carolina. At a town hall, Mayor Pete talked about what it was like to be young and struggle with this identity, this part of his sexuality. His answer should be read by every father out there:
When I was younger, I would have done anything to not be gay. When I began to halfway realize what it meant that I felt the way I did about people I saw in the hallway at school or the dining hall at college, it launched in me something I can only describe as a kind of war. And if that war had been settled on the terms I would have wished for when I was 15 or 20 or frankly even 25, I would not be standing here. If you had offered me a pill to make me straight, I would have swallowed it before you had time to give me a sip of water. It’s a hard thing to think about now. It’s hard to face the truth that there were times in my life when, if you had shown me exactly what it was inside me that made me gay, I would have cut it out with a knife.
We’ve talked before about things that you’d never want your kids to feel, and that paragraph belongs at the top of your list. Whatever your religion, whatever your politics, whatever plans or hopes you have for your kids, no father ever wants to hear that their kid would like to cut a part of themselves out. No one wants to hear that their son or their daughter is at war with themselves.
Because what you want for them is to be happy, to know that they are good, that you love them, that you’re proud of them, that whatever happens—whatever choices they make—they’ll always be your child. Of course, much of the shame and doubt that Pete felt had nothing to do with his parents and everything to do with the time and culture he was growing up in, but nevertheless.
It’s your job to mitigate that, to compensate for it. To make sure your kids know that there isn’t a part of them that you’d not be okay with, that you would want them to change if they could. Your job is to teach and prove to them today and every day, as Mr. Rogers famously did, that they make the world better just by being themselves and that you love them just the way they are.