Our Family Matters Blog


An Open Letter to Matthew Dooley

NOTE: On March 6th, Matt Dooley, a senior at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the ND tennis team, came out publicly in an essay published on Outsports.com. Instead of writing to Mom this week, I decided to write to Matt instead.

Dear Matt,

You don’t know me from a hole in the wall, and the first time I heard about you was in an article published on Huffington Post earlier this month.

IMG_0022Despite the fact that we have never met, I feel like I do know you. You grew up in a traditional, Catholic home, just like I did. You realized you were gay in middle school but felt compelled to hide it for many years, just like me. You were driven by internalized homophobia and shame to attempt suicide, and although I did not attempt it, the thought was never far from my mind.

In your essay published on Outsports.com, you write beautifully about the darkness and pain of coming to terms with something about yourself that you wished desperately not to be true. You described Notre Dame as “a pressure cooker for someone struggling with his sexual orientation,” a place where you grew to believe that your true, immutable self was “wrong, undeserving of respect.”

I recognized those feelings from my own experiences in Catholic schools, from first grade through fifth, and then again in high school and at John Carroll University in Cleveland. The Catholic Church I grew up in bestowed a strong foundation in life, encouraged me to be gracious, kind, giving, and loving, and was intimately bound up in the life of my extended family. Yet it also taught me that I was a sinner because of an intrinsic, irreversible part of who I am, and hearing that message in church and in school caused me a great deal of pain.

You are 22, and at 46 I am old enough to be your father. I teach high school students who are just four or five years younger than you, and I marvel at how different their experience is from my own high school experience. I know that many more young people today are comfortable with their sexual orientation than I was, or my friends were, when we were in high school. Although not naïve, I am consistently started with the amount of normalcy that seems to come with being gay today, and on the one hand I feel an abiding sense of hope for you and your generation.

That is why I find the fact that I identify so clearly with you remarkably disturbing. Your essay was a reminder that all is not okay, and that as a society we still have a long way to go. We still live in a society that, all too often, finds fault with those who identify as anything outside the heterosexual norm. So many in the Catholic Church still, despite the Pope’s recent overtures to the contrary, preach and practice intolerance. Young gay men and women still contemplate, and unfortunately attempt, suicide. I am desperate for more change.

Your experience does, however, reinforce the hope that I feel for the future. Just like you, I was most terrified to admit I was gay, and horrified that I would have to share this news with family and friends. Your family, and your friends, responded like my own: with open arms, acceptance, and unconditional love. You are out at school and on your team, and finding support and encouragement from an unlikely place: conservative, Catholic ND (I know its particular conservatism well, by the way; my dad and brother are alums, and I visited South Bend often).

Deciding to be out, not just to your teammates but in the national press as well, is incredibly brave. I am thrilled that most of the feedback you have gotten is positive; this is a harbinger of better times to come for LGBT folks. It is also a testament to who you are as an honest, authentic, courageous individual that those closest to you would respond with love and support. I remember how important it was to hear the words that your teammate Greg said when you came out to him: “This doesn’t change anything.” It may not change anything for others, but we know that just hearing those words helps us feel more comfortable in our own skin, decreases our shame,  and enables us to be more authentic each day.

I take great comfort in the fact that I can be open and out in my everyday life. Not only do my colleagues and supervisors at the public high school where I teach know I’m gay, but the students do as well. I married the love of my life in a public ceremony in front of a huge gathering of family and friends.   My husband and I are present and involved at the elementary school our two children attend (we adopted, but there are so many avenues for you to pursue if and when you are ready for kids).

My hope for us and our world is simple: that those we come in contact with—be it a kid reading about you in the press or a future patient at your medical practice, some kid in one of my classes or a parent at my kids’ school—get to know us for all of who we are, and think to themselves: “Wow. What a great guy.”

And that’s that.

Best wishes for a full and fantastic future,


Gender Roles in the Family

photo 3In the 70’s when Dad and I were raising kids, gender stereotyping was rigid to say the least.  Of course we were the products of very conservative families.  There were strong societal pressures for women to be superb housewives. As you know my mother was a devoted housewife.  Her white whites and clean corners were her pride. Dinners were on the table promptly at 5:15 when her husband came home.

I was trying to break away from that life, but the old messages were deeply ingrained.  Though Dad and I tried to share household tasks, for a long time I would tell him not to spill the beans to my family. He wasn’t allowed to vacuum whenever Ma or Pa happened to stop by. The first time he ironed his own shirt I closed the drapes. When the truth came out, he was praised for ‘helping’ me around the house. I inwardly seethed.

As you remember Dad’s mother worked all her life, but she too was proud of her housecleaning skills. She often talked of washing walls and ironing the linens for the carefully organized closets. Both grandmas had such high standards of both house cleaning and food preparation, I knew I could not measure up. Consequently family gatherings at our home were always stressful.  I tried to spiff things up as well as prepare the meals, making myself half crazed in the process. But failure seemed ever present. The mothers were critical in one-way or another.  Food choices not quite right. Or not prepared properly. Tablecloth not well ironed.  Oven not sparkling clean. I regret my worry over such trivialities. But those were the pressures I felt.

Today the pressures are different. A new book, All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior, discusses this. She claims now parents have this pressure to provide not only for all the material needs of their children but the psychological ones as well.  It’s an impossible standard. But societal pressures are strong.

In the 70’s and 80’s the winds of change brought heightened consciousness of women’s lack of power.  I was enough of a feminist to be appalled at Barbie.  I bristled at the suggestion that women were only interested in make-up and shopping.  Fast forward to the 21st century.  I buy my granddaughters Barbies.  I take them shopping and am glad to do so.  Mostly because it gives me time alone with them.  I even take them to stores I would not be caught dead in when I was younger.  A tween girls store like Justice would have appalled me.  It still sort of does.  The sparkled and frilly clothes along with the crazy abundance of make up items encourage young girls to focus too much on personal appearance.

Though I worry about that, time to just hang out with my girls outweighs my feminist concerns.  I try to tell them how beautiful they are as they are without all the frills. But again, those societal forces beyond us are powerful.

A Note from Dad

I just read your latest installment and I never want to be an editor for any content that you or mom write. Whatever you feel or felt growing up is there and I know that you would never intentionally hurt either of us. I think that what the two of you are doing is fantastic and I only hope that it does get to be the basis for a book.
Please remember that today is a much different time than the 1960’s or 70’s. What did I know about “gender” roles having one brother and no sisters? What did mom know about boys having just one sister?
We certainly didn’t think much about gender as we tried to raise happy kids while both working to be able to give you and Mark some things we didn’t have growing up.Son, as you struggled in high school and college I struggled with my inability to say to you “Is there anything you want to talk with me about?”  If I didn’t know for sure that you were gay or at least wondering, I certainly had my suspicions. To this day I am sorry that I was not more open to you back then. If anything, I was afraid for what that might mean for you. The AIDS epidemic was a concern and certainly society’s view of gays was a problem. I apologize for never being the one to openly discuss this with you.I love you dearly and there was never a time that I didn’t.


CRD & Mom and Dad
Linda, Christopher & Bob on the Washington coast, Summer 1994 (shortly after Christopher came out).