12/28/2008

Small Gifts

Christmas gifts.Image via WikipediaI'll take a break from political stories for a moment to talk about Christmas and how people are capable of incremental change.

This year was my first Christmas away from my family in South Carolina in 42 years. Although our holidays have gotten smaller and smaller as we've aged and grandparents and parents have passed away. No longer did we get together on Christmas day with extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles with the celebration sometimes numbering nearly 100 people. Over the past 15 years our holiday celebration had shrunk to my my sister, her children, Michael and myself. Sometimes my brother and his wife might attend but they were often busy with their own families and his in-laws.

Yet, despite the shrinkage of our family celebration I still felt a bit strange not being with my own family. For the past almost 11 years with Michael in South Carolina and the chill with his father we'd always celebrated with my folks. This year, we're in Arizona and near his family so we'd be spending the holiday with them.

Although I've gotten to know his family much better over the past year and have always had a great relationship with his sister and most of his siblings, I was a bit concerned. Sure, there was a thaw with his dad beginning about two years ago when Michael was diagnosed with cancer and I was sick and awaiting a transplant. But, the steps had been very small. They began with a handshake and his ability to talk to me on the phone for a moment before asking for Michael. Just calling our home was a big step since for the first 8 years of our relationship he refused to call for fear, I assume, of me answering the phone.

But, now I've stayed in his home (albeit in separate bedrooms) during recent visits to Prescott Valley and we've gotten to know each other better. I think in some ways I broke down his stereotypes of what a gay man should be. After all, I used to be a competition marksman for black powder weapons, I am well versed in military history, and I don't lisp and swish.

Yet, I was a bit concerned this year. He is very Catholic and the Pope recently issued another invective against gay people saying we were as much a threat to human survival as Global Warming. How would this latest pronouncement chill the air?

With some trepidation I set off with Michael to Prescott Valley. Yet, all seemed well when we arrived. As always his father rose to shake my hand and we chatted about family stories. His story of meeting and marrying his wife is very similar to my own parents who met after World War II. I shared that with him.

During the weekend he asked for my help a couple times with computer issues even though his Mac loving youngest kids got him a Mac and I know zip about them. Still, with a bit of research I was able to fix his issues for him and he seemed somewhat impressed.

I thought that Christmas night I had made a major error. I was giving Michael's sister a deck of my tarot cards and a box. She has long been interested in Tarot and I've given her some lessons in the past. I had planned to give her the cards after their dad went home for the evening but Michael handed her the package with him sitting directly across. Later, Sandy would laugh and tell me the expression on my face was priceless when I saw the package handed across. Yet, their dad said nothing about the gift. I expected the next morning to hear some disapproving remark but he was as cheerful as ever.

We were leaving on Friday to drive back to Tucson and after a lunch at Applebee's we returned to his house to gather our things and get on the road. As we were saying our goodbyes he gave me a wonderful present.

As always I reached out my hand to shake his. He grasped my hand and pulled me toward him and gave me a hug. My breath caught. I was actually getting a hug from a man who had once considered me the ruin of his son. A man who had rather his own son not attend his 50th wedding anniversary than to bring me along was wrapping me in a warm embrace. A man who for 8 years pretended I did not exist was now welcoming me into his arms.

That was the nicest Christmas gift I have ever received. In that one moment he restored my faith that people can change and grow and that with time and understanding we can heal and come together.
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