A series by Jewish moms and dads with LGBTQ children.
When a child comes out, a coming out process begins for the entire family. In honor of Mother’s and Father’s Day, we bring you our third post in a series by parent leaders of Keshet’s Parent & Family Connection. The Connection is a confidential peer support program for parents and family members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews. We celebrate the support and love that these parents give their LGBTQ children – and the support they now offer other parents. This week’s post is by Carole Lukoff, mother of a gay son and a long-time Jewish professional in the suburbs of Philadelphia. You can read the previous posts in this series: one, by a mother of a queer daughter in Colorado, here, one by an Orthodox parent from Baltimore, MD, here, and a celebration of Mother’s Day/Mothers’ Day here.
When my youngest son Eric was in third grade, our local National Public Radio station asked our family to be part of a documentary entitled “Family Stories.” In short, the program, produced in the early 1990s, focused on different kinds of families and the many similarities and the not so many differences among them. Included in the mix were interracial, interfaith, same-sex and the – so to speak – traditional family (that was us). We were the quintessential Cleaver family (you know, that 1950s-style wife, husband, and two kids “Leave it to Beaver” television family). My husband and I were the Ward and June look-alikes, our oldest son Brian was a dead ringer for Wally and our youngest son Eric rivaled the happy-go-lucky Beaver… at least that’s how it seemed.
Fast forward to June 2003. 17-year-old “Beaver” gathered his brother and my husband and me and explained that he had something to tell us… that when he was twelve years old, he thought he could live a lie. He knew then that he was gay, but felt that life as a straight person would be so much easier. At seventeen he knew that he could not live like that, and that being gay is not a choice. Being gay was who he was and he was finally comfortable with that. He said he loved us all and he knew now that for us to truly be a family we needed to be honest and accepting of each other. In that instant “Beaver” stepped out of the closet and “Ward and June” stepped in.
My initial reaction combined feelings of love, pride, and respect for Eric, along with a feeling of despair and guilt as a parent. I was so grateful that Eric felt comfortable coming out to us, but at the same time I experienced a sense of grief for the hopes and dreams I had for him that now would change. At the time, change just did not seem like a good thing. Upon reflection, though, throughout the past ten years, my husband and I realize that Eric’s – and our – eventual coming out was a process, a journey and a learning curve that actually began way before our debut in the “Family Stories” documentary and continues today.
A few years ago, when Eric was managing a local political campaign, he moved back home for six months. When the election was over, Eric decided to move to the West Coast and set out for his new adventure. That evening, after he had departed, I found the following note which he had left for my husband and me:
I know I don’t have to, but I thank you both so much for everything over the past several months. I am grateful to know that I can always go home again. Not everyone is so lucky.
To me, that message held a myriad of meanings. In reality, my husband and I are the lucky ones. Through the support of extended family, friends and groups such as the Keshet Parent and Family Connections, the concept of our ideal family has changed. For the past five years, my husband and I have enjoyed a mini-support group that we formed with another set of parents in our synagogue community who also have a gay son. This group has been a place to help each other sort out many thoughts and feelings about having gay children. We have all become good friends and look forward to our continuing relationship and special bond both inside and outside our synagogue community. We are so grateful for the love, joy and acceptance that our family shares together today.