'Son I just want to sit here and toast to the rest of your life'. Gareth Thomas’ dad.
Great man, gay man
The quote above is from a BBC news story about Gareth Thomas, but I read a snippet of the story from People section of The Week magazine on my way to London in the weekend.
What caught me about this remarkable man’s story was not so much the struggles with his sexuality but the perceptiveness and acceptance of his parents.
Having earned 100 caps for Welsh rugby, a man’s man, build like a brick house and supposedly the epitome of raging heterosexuality, he was in fact not once that.
As many do, he attempted aversion therapy, got married, lived on the down-low, fought depression and other despairing issues on account of his homosexuality, it almost broke him until he was courageous enough to tell his wife and then his Welsh rugby team mates.
However, it was when he visited his parents having told them three weeks earlier that he was gay that he got home to them and he saw three champagne flutes on the table. His mother said, ‘Fetch the champagne from the fridge.’
He did not know what the celebration was about, but the champagne was poured and it was then that his father, a man of not many words said, “Son I just want to sit here and toast to the rest of your life.”
The Week piece writes it with more emotion, when he was divorced from his wife, he returned to his parents’ home where one day as he laid weeping in his childhood bed, his parents called him downstairs and proposed this toast.
Apparently, they knew he was gay without his having to tell them.
The challenge of parenthood
So many things are heart-warming about this story that should also be a learning moment for parents. Parenthood goes a long way beyond meeting the material needs of a child, food, shelter, clothing, protection and education are not substitutes for getting engaged with the emotional needs of a child.
Most parents have known their children all their lives, yet, many do not understand their children in the first place and others try to mould their children into the lives they failed to attain or achieve.
In the process they destroy the individuality and the personality of the child, undermine the child’s self-esteem by being over-bearing and consequently destroy the creativity of the child, having made a robot of a free moral agent. Some parents might even excuse this as discipline, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It means the world
I commend Gareth Thomas’s parents for helping him on the way to self-realisation and acceptance by first being perceptive, then understanding, then accepting and then celebratory.
It means the world to a child regardless of the age they have reached or the status they have attained when a parent stops trying to impose will and desire on the child, but offers guidance, advice, room to explore, encouragement and acceptance to the child.
Acceptance, especially when it pertains to deep personal and difficult issues as sexuality, but this can extend to career choices, partner choices and any issue that brings the child to crossroads and decision.
The way parents influence the lives of their children is, I dare say, down to what parents decide to do in terms of interacting with their children, being ready to listen and available to communicate.
In some ways, some of what I write about here is indicative of some areas that were open to discussion with my parents and other areas where we never had the rapport for me to approach them with my problems when I most needed help.
There were no open doors much as my parents might have imagined I had free access to them, the questions linger as I have never told them of child sexual abuse that started in our home from the age of 7, the times when I had palpitations as I saw my home from a distance, when failure was a consequence of my not attending class, it was because I was in classes and completely clueless of what was going on in the class.
Where we are
I took religion because I was looking for solutions, yet it brought me into searing conflict with my parents, it became war that led my mother to act abominably in one instance. Though we appear to now maintain a modicum of communication, I do not believe a good deal of me is understood by my parents, we still strive in my dreams.
The damage has been done, as perceptiveness was replaced with the demand for my respect and obedience, they were all-knowing and all-seeing and rarely ever listening.
Yet, again, I still had an enchanted childhood, provision was there, comfort abounded, things and gifts given, no interference with my career choices, an education of class and quality, I can only be thankful for the parents I have. Parenting does not come with a manual. Alas! But love goes a long way, know it, show it and act it out.