Steve Hollonzine’s parents saw him on television, marching in a funeral procession for Harvey Milk, the San Francisco city supervisor who had been killed in cold blood just a few days before. It’s what spurred the terrible phone call that shattered their family.
“Are you a sodomite?” his parents demanded to know. All he could do, at 19 years old, was answer truthfully, that yes, he was gay. It was, if you were to ask the Hollonzines, the second great tragedy of their lives. The first occurring a generation earlier when they watched nearly their entire extended and immediate family get murdered in Auschwitz.
Of course, there is a big difference between these two things, namely that one is not a tragedy at all. But there was another difference at play as well: Steve had no control over his sexual orientation; his parents had full control what they did next after they found out.
“Either you get on the next plane home with us,” they told their son, who as it happened was also sick with a brain tumor, “or we no longer have a son.”
It’s difficult to imagine it–after all that tragedy, and in the midst of an already terminal tragedy, they would choose to thrust their son away. They chose to let something come between them and their boy. The victims of so much terrible persecution, they turned around and inflicted the same kind of alienating destruction on the person they promised to love and care for unconditionally…at his most vulnerable moment.
Now, the point of this email is not to judge a terrible choice made in ignorance over forty years ago. It is to remind you of your obligations, to remind you of what is actually important in this life. There is almost nothing our children can do that would warrant that kind of ultimatum—least of all something in their private, personal life.
You don’t need to understand (though you should try). You don’t need to approve (though again, this is not something to withhold). But you have to love them. You have to be there for them. Nothing else is more important. And nothing else is more tragic than failing at this.