We were sitting at the bar of our favorite restaurant, awaiting friends to join us for dinner. The young man behind the ancient wooden countertop told us it was his first weekend there as a bartender, so please bear with him.
Now, we are at the stage of life where it’s hard to tell how old a young person is. Early 20s? Late 20s? Early 30s? They all look the same (read: real young) to us. We asked him if he had just turned old enough to bartend.
“No,” he replied. “I’ve actually been working in restaurants here in P-Town for 10 years and was a bartender elsewhere for 3 years.”
Working 10 years already? Looking at his young face, the math did not compute. We asked him how that could be possible.
He sighed. “When I was 14 years old, living in a small town in New Hampshire, I came out to my parents. I told them that I knew I was gay – always had known, really – and I wanted to share it with them. Long story short: they told me that it was unacceptable, against God’s will and everything they believe in. I should pray hard and change my ways. If that didn’t happen, I simply couldn’t stay with them.”
“That week,” he continued, “I packed my bags and took a bus to Provincetown, where I heard they would take in guys like me. When I arrived at the P-Town bus station, there was a large sign advising homeless youths to call a number to receive shelter and support. I guess I wasn’t the first kid to be in this position.”
“I called the number and they put me up with Bill, who had volunteered to take in stray cats like me. As it turned out, Bill became my foster father and I have been living with him for the past 10 years. He had two demands: I had to finish high school and I had to work to earn my keep.”
We were stunned, horrified, saddened. What parents would banish their 14 year old son from their home? And, for what? A sexual orientation he was born with and had as much ability to change as his being lefthanded? And he seemed such a nice, sweet kid.
Our bartender, on the other hand, was cheerful as he poured our wine. Maybe he had told the story so often it had lost its emotional weight. Or could he really have come to terms with his heartbreaking past?
We asked him if he had any contact with his parents. “Funny you should ask. Last week I went home for the first time since I was banished. It was great seeing my brother and two sisters. Of course, my parents didn’t really talk to me; they don’t want to know about how I’m living my life and certainly not about my boyfriend. But, to their credit, at least they let me in the door.”
I couldn’t resist, “Aren’t you just so angry at your parents. I have to say, I don’t hear it in your voice, but it was such an unfair and cruel thing for your parents to have done to you.”
“Sure, on some level. But I’ve also come to forgive them, at least partly. I’ve decided that they have about as much ability to change who and what they are as I do to change who and what I am. We’ll probably never have a great relationship – maybe not one at all to speak of – but hating them for how they have treated me just doesn’t help. I like who I am now, what I have become, and my life. Maybe they deserve at least a little credit for that.”
Again, we were stunned, but this time at the level of maturity and wisdom of this young man – a poster boy for resilience in the face of adversity.
We raised our glasses of wine. “God bless P-Town.”
“Amen!” he agreed, as he moved on to other customers.
I’m convinced that a lot of short and long term parent-child grief emanates from parents who can not accept who and what their child is: not smart enough… not good-looking…too active…too shy…too intense…too laid back…developmental challenges…
I’m going to defer my usual “Dr. P’s comments” and brilliant suggestions for another blog, and let you ponder this common dilemma: how can you as a parent best handle it when your child has certain traits that just don’t fit into your image of the perfect child? When the child you love isn’t always the child you like?