When first I see him, my breathing goes shallow and quick. My pulse revs. My hands turn rubbery.
I’m on MySpace or Facebook and I’ve just seen his photo. It's no bigger than a postage stamp but its impact on me is billboard-sized—one of those roadside signs with a picture so arresting it causes traffic accidents.
I click on the word “profile” beside his name. Nothing. Click. Nothing. Click. Nothing. Clicklicklicklicklick. Nothing. I am a stranger to social networking sites. Several eternities pass before I learn I must create an account if I want to view his profile. Fine. Sign me up.
I make up a first and last name, try to enter my real firstname.lastname@example.org address. It goes in and through as email@example.com. Fine. I’ll rename the company if I have to. Just let me see his profile. Let me see if there’s anything more to see.
He’s posted seven photos of himself. Two show a sandy-haired young man in a red argyle sweater, blue-gray eyes, slight smile. His hair is still curly, I see. His face still mingles considered seriousness with an earnest eager-to-please look. In one photo he leans against a tree. In another he looks directly into the camera. The caption: “Yah, my high school graduation pictures. I look like a dork.” In the other photos he holds a guitar. Stands on a backyard stage, in front of a microphone. Caption: “I play in a Christian rock band.”
My son plays in a rock band! I had no idea.
Four years after his mother and I separated, a few days after he turned 10, he terminated contact with me. “Dad, I don’t want to see or talk to you. Don’t think that anyone else has influenced me to make this decision. I came up with it on my own.”
Except for the two photos of him my mother has sitting out, I’d hardly know what he looks like nowadays. I could easily pass him on the street, not recognize him. These seven photos are the heart’s feast.
They've nourished me for four years now.
This past week I make another of my periodic visits to Facebook. I poke around, find a teeny photo of another of my three sons. He looks to have grown tall, lost weight. He’s dressed all in black—black fedora, too—with a red tie and white boutonniere, hands in pockets, stands beside a young woman, hair piled atop her head, red dress, plunging neckline. His senior prom photo? I can only surmise.
It’s been four years since I saw him and his twin brother. Just before they turned 14 they met with a judge, asked that visitation with me be terminated. I arrived at their mother’s home to pick them up for their birthday party, found the restraining order taped to the door.
Some days it sucks being a homosexual father in rural Indiana.
I look at this small photo, let sadness wash over me. I keep learning to acknowledge, accept and feel my feelings. No sense running from them. No use trying to hide. Buried, they only rot to rise like zombies unbidden and at inopportune times.
Instead, I open myself to my emotions, open wider yet to let them wash over, through, past. Sadness keeps coming, sometimes like waves pounding the coast. I imagine myself as a rock, deeply rooted in living earth. Waves of sorrow, rage and fear may wash over it, but the rock remains.
My feelings are not me. No emotion, no judge, no other person can determine who I am at core.
This essay appeared in The Letter mid-month online issue, June 2009.