Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Love Letter to Christopher

by Rev. Stephen Parelli
December 2, 1010. 
Bronx, NY. 

Today, I found Christopher’s “My Life" posted on his Facebook "Notes." I gave it a very careful first reading and then I read it a second time. I ingested every word as if he was right here speaking to me personally.

Christopher was a huge part of my daily life until age ten; you see, I'm his father. Christopher turned ten in June of 1997 and in October of the same year, I left. There was no discussion prior to leaving; nothing to prepare the family; no plans as to how father-children would be able to see each other after the separation. Nothing. One day I was there; the next day I was gone. In a sense, in that the separation was so sudden, Christopher's father had died unexpectedly. Actual death, however, would have been perhaps easier on Christopher -- there would have been closure and the full knowledge that his father loved him. But because his father chose to leave, how could his father really love him, having left him and his mother.

Children -- when parents separate -- need to know that the parent is not leaving the child, just the spouse. But, of course, that is not how the child experiences it unless a lot of time is spent together between the leaving parent and the child. (And, of course, even if the child knows the father has not left the child, there is the problem of the young child seeing the mother hurt and suffering – how could the father do that to his mother?)

Unfortunately, though the father sought with all his heart (writing his own pleadings) to obtain child visitation rights -- it just never was granted -- the courts said it was up to the children to decide -- the oldest being 18 and the youngest 12 (Christopher) -- at the time the courts became involved. Post cards I mailed directly to the house were returned. Phone calls home were more often refused. It was a difficult time for everyone . . . the children, the mother and the estranged father. Most every attempt I made to be with the children was refused me.

Time together with Christopher never materialized . . . and it broke my heart as much for him as for myself. I wanted so much to be in his life in a meaningful, qualitative way.
That was 13 years ago. Christopher and I have been separated now for more years than we were originally together.

And boy, did I enjoy those ten years. Christopher was homeschooled until age ten. And we did a LOT together during those years. His dad was a real part of his daily life. And I loved it; and Chris loved it. It was great then. If only the good times as father and son could have been structured into the years that followed the separation. The father did all he could in his power to make that happen. But it didn't. And we have both suffered for it.

Christopher, who was being homeschooled, entered elementary school (at age ten) for the first time in September and I separated in October. I've often been ill-at-heart imagining how horrific it must have been for Chris to be entering schooling for the first time -- a private, Christian day school -- only to lose his father the very next month. A lot of changes for any child to handle. I've thought of him as being all day in school wondering about his dad; will his dad be home when he returns home from school, etc.  And, of couse, his father was not at home. The hope throughout the school day, the pain of reality at the end of day. The new found hope the next school day, the new fresh blow of pain at the end of the day. It had to be excruciating. Christopher had to be traumatized. How could he even think in school?

I sought the courts and the mediator for counseling for Christopher and for his father/mother. To be in counseling together. I was driving to western NJ from NYC to schedule these sessions. They never materialized. Christopher never got the professional counseling I was requesting and arranging for. There was no cooperation on the other end.

Requests I made to see the children were being refused on many levels -- grandparents, mother, the church youth counselor (who testified in court that “the children don’t want to see their father” -- no recommendation from the church that they should attempt to be with their father, even through counseling) -- and the children themselves were refusing to be with their father. I knew there was a conflict of interest within each child -- to want to see the father but not want to see the father -- family members vocally maintaining the unworthiness of the father -- the father being gay and living with his significant other. The children were caught in the middle, although to this day they claim "we are making our own choice in not spending time with you." How does a 12 year old make that choice on his own --- or does he have to be "carefully taught" (from the musical South Pacific, or in this case, "subtlety taught" being 12 and not a 5 year old for whom “carefully taught” may apply more accurately).

His dad, a former pastor of a Baptist church that he was pastoring right up until the day he left his family, had moved to NYC where he immediately began working -- only about two weeks after arriving -- doing marketing, cold calling -- knowing he had to get work as fast as he could in order to send home what little money he might be making -- about $200 per week then, if I recall correctly.

Happily, his father is still living with his lover. 13 years now. Something right in all of this. Married in 2008 in California. It has been the life that his father has always dreamed of. A life of love with another man. I know that may sound strange to Christopher; but it is what all human beings long for, I believe: which is to know another and to be known for who we really are -- love. And that packaging, i.e., who we really are, comes differently per the person -- we are all unique; but to be loved and to love, that part of being human is universal. Love is what makes us human and what allows us to really relate to others.

The love I have with my spouse is not less or more than the love I have for my children; it is a different kind of love; but it is all love.

The love I have for Christopher is deep, abiding, fatherly and ever present. I think of him often. I desire his success -- which means I desire for him what he desires for himself, his passions, his hopes, his wishes. And I bless him in his calling to do much in film making. I bless him that he may make the world a better place because he makes films – whatever kind of films: for fun, for knowledge, for activism, for entertainment – to bring happiness into this world. In all of this, I give him my blessings.

And, too, I respect his choices and decisions -- and part of that respect is to respect how he feels and what he believes is best for him in either developing or not developing a relationship with his father, as difficult as that might be for me to accept. But I bless him in his decision and in his timing.

The years of hurt that he has felt are/is immense -- and he can point it all back to that one single day when he came home, and without any kind of warning and without any kind of support in place, his father was suddenly gone: no good-byes, no stated plans of when he would see his son in the future, no written letters, no personal sign of love found, only his silent departure. Just gone. The father who played, sang, hiked, took him to sports, swam, camped, Disney Word, sightseeing (not so much fun), learned violin together (a little testy here), and of course -- the father who preached from the pulpit - - - and now this! Gone!

The Christopher I know was a happy, huggable boy with whom I wrestled, played tricks on, read to and watched most- all-of his soccer games, if not all of them. He was the best-fun-loving son a father could have. And you should see how cute he looked all dressed up on Sunday mornings. He loved his dad, you could see it. (Oh, and don’t forget how you learned to read and write the Greek alphabet – you were great at that – and but a child!)

Little did he or I know that my life was riding fast the rails of a train-wreck in the making. Everything was in place for sure disaster. And that disaster inevitably came. I am a gay man who was trying to live the heterosexual life. It doesn't work for 99% of us. And those who claim it works -- I've seen the holes in their stories. The odds were against me. I was 17 years into my marriage when I left; Chris was ten years old.

The love that I had for Christopher then, is the love I have for him now, and have always had, even though I was, for a time prior to the separation and following, dysfunctional. I was depressed. I was lost. I was finding my way. I was not fully present. I did space out at times and this was very difficult for the children to experience. They never knew their father this way.

As I sit here today, and read Christopher’s “My Life” on his Facebook note, no friend of his can read it with any more interest, love and a sense of investment than I do. That is simply the claim that most parents can make –though I would never deny the bond or place that friends can have. The hope that I keep alive within me is that Christopher will forgive me for the hurt my separation caused him and will strive for a day when we can, by God’s grace, renew what we had when father and son were happy in relationship together so many years ago. Damn, those were sweet days. To be now his father again, and to love the child in the man, and the man as he is. That can be. We can wish it so; we can work it so. Life is too short for it to be otherwise.

From the father who never really left you, although it doesn’t feel like that,


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