Friday, June 16, 2006

My Dad, My Mission, and Other Stuff

Foxx recently wrote a post about his dad, and I felt inspired to write some words about my own father. I know one of the theories about what causes homosexuality has to do with a boy's relationship (or lack thereof) with his dad. Whether this theory is valid or not, I'd like to share what my relationship with my dad was.

I loved my dad very much. He was kind and affectionate, a hard worker, a devoted family man, a man with a strong testimony of the church, a good example to others, and very loyal and honest. He was also very quiet and unassuming. And it wasn't really until he died that I realized I didn't really know very much about him. I mean to say, I didn't know who he was inside, what he thought or felt, or even much about his history. I can tell you a whole bunch of stories about my mom that she has told me about her childhood, adolescence, early married years, etc., but my dad didn't talk a whole lot, and so I only know about him more through what my mom has told me rather than what he told me himself.

One of my traits that I picked up from my dad was that he often kept everything bottled up inside. If he was angry or upset or unhappy, he never really made it known. He just kept it to himself. Like me, too, he wasn't a very emotional man. You rarely ever saw him cry or get upset, but boy, when he did, watch out! I can literally count on my right hand the number of times I saw my dad get really angry, and all three of those times his anger was justified. One of those times he slapped me, and looking back I deserved it. I was being mouthy and selfish, and he slapped me, and I was much more shocked than anything because I had never seen my dad so angry, and I quickly realized I had crossed a line. But for the most part, my dad was a very quiet meek and mannered guy. I literally cannot remember ever seeing my parents fight. I recall a couple of times when they disagreed on something, but they always did it in such a calm, reasonable way.

In the last years of his life my dad suffered a series of strokes that turned him into a much different person than the dad I grew up with. I really think the strokes were due to his always keeping everything bottled up inside. I think it was his body's way of dealing with it. Emotionally, my dad became a very different person as a result of the strokes. He could no longer control his emotions. If something made him cry, he would sob uncontrollably. If something made him laugh, he would laugh really hard and drool because he couldn't control his saliva. At first, it was very disconcerting to see my dad act in this manner because it wasn't the dad I was used to, and I admit (I was in my late teens) I didn't want to be around him. At the time, I was very bitter that God had struck my dad down with this disease and was scared of this "new dad."

I remember one time my mom and dad were driving me to college, and I was talking about how upset I was that my dad had to deal with these strokes, and my dad said, in actuality, the strokes were a blessing because it allowed to him to leave a job he didn't like (which I had never really known until then) and collect disability. He said it gave him more time to be with his family (because my dad was kind of a workaholic), too. It put things in a new perspective for me.

As I continued college, my dad's strokes got worse. His speech and balance were seriously impaired, and he couldn't walk very well. Although his mind was perfectly functional, his sense of time was impaired. For example, you would ask him what he was watching on TV, and he would give you the answer ten minutes later. He would be right, but there was a delay.

It was frustrating to see my dad's health deteriorate, but I realized it could have been worse. I began to appreciate the dad I had rather than lament the dad I had lost. And, frankly, there were many things I liked about the "new dad." I liked that he was more emotional, that he actually had feelings he wasn't trying to hide. I liked that he was around more.

I remember during my bitter phase I had a dream that I was in a car, and my dad was pounding on the windows trying to get in, and I was scared, so I took off, and my dad was running behind me, and I kept driving, and he clutched his heart and collapsed, and I just kept going. I woke up, very disturbed because I thought to myself, "I would never leave my dad to die like that," and then I realized that emotionally I was abandoning him just as surely as I was physically abandoning him in my dream.

My dad was an active member of the LDS Church as long as I knew him and was very devoted and loyal. At this time in my life (when my dad was having his health problems), I was inactive and actually quite bitter towards the church because I was dealing with my homosexual issues. I was somewhat estranged from my family.

In August of 1991, I had an experience which I've already alluded to here which changed the course of my life drastically. I became active in the Church and served a mission. By the time I had my farewell (that's a church meeting to send off a missionary for all of you who don't know Mormon-speak), my dad's speech was severely impaired, but I asked him to speak at the meeting. He (with the help of my mom) dictated and typed his talk. At the meeting, he was so emotional, he was unable to get through the talk, so I read it, and my dad, weeping, said, "Thank you." It was a spiritual experience that I can't really explain here.

One thing that has always made me proud was that my dad got to see me become active again and serve a mission before he died. And I did it on my terms. I didn't serve a mission because I was expected to (as many missionaries do), but because I really wanted to. The icing on the cake was that my dad got to see me do it.

When my family saw me off at the airport, I gave my dad a hug and felt the distinct impression that I would not see my dad in this life again, which at the time I shrugged off because he was actually doing better at that particular moment. But, sure enough, five months later my dad became very ill, and a month after that he died of pneumonia. In a way, I was glad I didn't have to be there to witness the suffering and decay. People always ask me if it was hard to stay on my mission when my dad was so ill, but I think I actually got off easier than the family members who remained at home.

Shortly before my dad died, I composed a song which I sent him and he heard. It's not a very well crafted song lyrically, but it was what I felt at the time, and I think it gets to the heart of who my dad was. It's called "Matchless Hero."

"Knights who fight dragons,
Soldiers who fight wars,
Explorers who tread jungles and such
Have nothing to boast of;
They've nothing on
The hero that I love so much.
Men who climb mountains
Or cross the stormy seas,
Men who lift tremendous weights
With the greatest of ease;
There is no comparison
Among any of these.
My hero matches them all.
The others fall.

My dear hero,
How I miss you.
You and I are worlds away.
Did you know that
You're my hero.
It's the "verité."
You never did anything especially noteworthy.
Your name was never in the news.
Flocks of people never hounded you for your autograph.
You never sang the blues.
You never won a Nobel Peace Prize,
A Grammy, or a medal of gold.
You never appeared on Johnny Carson.
You never fought blizzards of cold.
You were never on the front lines of Vietnam.
You were never Prince Charming at the ball.
You were never ruler of the universe,
But your my greatest hero of all.

I love you,
Not for your massive feats,
But for the simple things you did.
You climbed the highest mountains.
You waged the strongest wars.
You won the greatest battles.
For you, Dad, my heart soars.
Your courage, your endurance,
Your patience through the pain
Have shown me the example.
Of you I can't complain.
For you're my admiration.
Now all is said and done.
I love you, my father.
Your son."

I guess my point is this: my dad was a simple, average man. But he was a good man, and he taught me a lot of good principles and gave me a lot of love. Because I'm an actor, I always compare my dad to the "behind-the-scenes" guys. They don't get the kudos the actors get, but they're just as important to the success of the show. That's kind of who my dad was. He was back in the shadows, but his influence on my life has been remarkable. I owe much to him, and I am grateful for him.

It's weird, though, when I came back home from my mission 17 months after he died, I never really felt like I really mourned his death. It's like, he was there when I left, and when I came back, he wasn't. It seemed unreal. The only moment I really mourned was on my mission in church one Sunday after bearing my testimony and talking about my father, I cried and continued crying after I sat down. A friend put his hand on my shoulder, and I closed my eyes and would have swore that my dad's hand was on my shoulder as well. I like to believe it was.

Now and then, when I hear a country song, I get a little misty for my dad. But I know I'll see him again when this life is through.

Speaking of my mission, I served in France, and a friend who still lives there and I have remained close. After telling him about Jonah and me, he responded with a very nice letter a couple of months ago which I wanted to share. I've translated it from its original French, so if some of the structure seems odd, that's why.

He writes:

Dear Cody,

I was touched to learn that you had feelings for someone and that it was mutual. Even if I can't truly put myself in your place, I can feel the dilemma that you face. I can just understand you and appreciate you without giving you advice, for whatever your position or decision is, that can lead to frustration, guilt, or simply uneasiness. I'm not certain what God truly thinks about this subject. If this man sincerely loves you, if it's mutual, if you are attracted to one another, and if you bring each other happiness, I suppose that it's still love, right? God knows it, too. I have no desire to encourage you to transgress a rule of the Church, but I find it sad to let a love story pass one by. Certain people assume more or less this reality. Maybe I've already told you this, but I have a French friend who lives in the U.S. He is a member of the Church, he has been married and has four children. After his divorce, he met another man and they decided to live together. That isn't to say that things are necessarily easy, but he seems to be happy in his situation. Faithfulness and honesty seem to me to be the essential elements in a relationship, maybe even more than sexual orientation. And yet, you also know that I am totally heterosexual and that I'm really attached to the principles of the Church even if I no longer practice my religion. But life teaches me to be more tolerant. Besides, it was in a Priesthood meeting that I was taught that it was simply preferable to seek to understand rather than to judge. I now try to put this commonplace phrase into practice even if it is difficult, knowing at the same time that one cannot tolerate everything. Therefore I can only tell you what I've already told you: you are my friend, and my only wish is for you to be happy, whatever your situation, so long as you aren't doing evil to your fellow man. If you think that it's more important to follow the rules of the Church for your development, that's okay, too. Dear Cody, I hope that you are doing well in spite of your last letter. I wish you a lot of courage and wisdom and as always, much passion for what you love to do.


Your friend,


Wise words from a good friend.

Jonah and I are doing well. We are separated due to work conditions, but we talk to each other often. He sent me flowers for my opening night. People asked me who they were from, and I just said, "a friend." I later told Jonah I felt bad that I wasn't brave enough to shout our love from the rooftops (as I felt like doing). He said it was okay, that I'm going through a lot of new experiences now, and that he's been there himself and knows exactly how it is. "Besides," he said, "it's nobody's business anyway." He's an incredibly patient, understanding, and thoughtful guy.

I've been feeling really troubled by the incident at BYU recently which you can read about here. I mean, the Church is clear on its policies, and Mr. Nielsen surely had to know what was coming, but it still bothers me. We're taught so much about free agency, but you can't make choices if you don't have them, and I've always felt that BYU works really hard at only allowing one viewpoint to exist, and I find many of the people in Utah County to be some of the most narrow-minded hypocrites I've known in my life. I understand that their our consequences for our choices, and unfortunately for Mr. Nielsen, his choice led to his dismissal. I know BYU is, and always has been, different from other colleges, but I think the university setting should be a safe haven for the free exchange of ideas. I realize that isn't what BYU is. I guess if a person is going to criticize their boss in a public forum, they're going to have to risk losing their job, but it still troubles me.

I still maintain that I believe the Church is true, but I also will say the leaders of the Church do not know how to deal with the issue of homosexuality. They try their best, I think, and do so in a well-intentioned way, but they really don't know how to handle the problem that is before them. I don't know the answers, either, but it's frustrating for so many of us to be told to do certain things and to do them and still be right where we've always been. Only God knows our hearts and can truly understand what we're going through.

Whew! That's a lot of thoughts. Hope I didn't bore any of you to death.

1 comment:

Beck said...

I'm not bored at all! Thank you for a wonderful entry. I don't comment much, but I follow along and am inspired by you.

Your tender story of your father has brought tears to my eyes. I thank you for sharing that experience in your blog.

Your frustration and feeling about BYU are also recognized, and resonate with me. It's very disturbing. Where is the concept of "free agency"? (even though I very well understand the job requirements and limitations of a BYU professor in the public light).

Thanks for being out there and know that I'm following along with anticipation.