Our Family Matters Blog


Mark Zmuda, 1983, and Me

Dear Mom,

I’m going to take you for a little walk down memory lane back to the year 1983. Ronald Reagan was president (I know…deep breath), in September I started my sophomore year at St. Joe’s, and you were teaching high school English.  That fall I was cast in Annie, my first play at Mt. St. Mary’s, and with my new friends Sue and Denise and Jim and Anthony, I started attending the all-ages Sunday night disco dances at that nightclub near the University of Buffalo.  In my preppy button down shirts and corduroy pants, I danced to “Lucky Star,”  “Come On Eileen” and “Karma Chameleon” and I thought to myself that I might be gay.  I was terrified.

It was during those early and mid-80s that you proudly told me that you were watching MTV to “keep up on the videos.”  Did I laugh out loud? You, an old geezer in my eyes at 40, what could you possibly know about Madonna, Dexy’s Midnight Runners or Culture Club?  Now, some thirty years later, I am teaching high school English and getting ready to parent two teens of my own.  Driving to and from work, I tune in to top 40 radio stations, and listen with interest when Isabella tells me about new singers and groups she likes.  I get it now. An old geezer myself, I spend the day working with teens and nights with a tween, and in an effort to seem not so much like a dinosaur, I too am trying to keep up.

In the fall of 2008 my students first told me about a local rapper named Macklemore.  This was years before he burst onto the national scene, and although I took note of the name, I didn’t bother to track down any of his music.  It was October of that year that you and dad came to Seattle to stay with the kids while Patrick and I got legally married in California.  Of course it was also the year that, just weeks after signing our papers, voters in California passed Proposition 8 reversing the law that allowed us to get married.  That same night, Obama was elected president.

When I was at St. Joe’s, I did not know, or know of, one openly gay or lesbian adult.  There were no politicians, Hollywood stars, or sports figures, no teachers, doctors or lawyers who confidently and unequivocally came out publically and said “I am gay.”  The good Christian Brothers at Joes taught us that homosexuality was a sin, an abomination. Looking around, I was convinced that if I wanted to fall in love, get married, and have kids, I best not be gay.  And so I prayed, and tried, and hoped for it not to be true about me, because boy, did I want the spouse and the family of my own.

Today, there are some lucky young teens who attend Eastside Catholic High School, just outside of Seattle. They have a wonderful role model in Mark Zmuda. News reports have detailed his popularity as both an educator and coach; his sexual orientation seemed to have been, in the best possible way, an afterthought.  Having found the love of his life, he took advantage of Washington’s marriage equality law and tied the knot this past summer.  I cannot imagine what that must have been like for a pimply young sophomore boy or girl to find out. “It’s possible,” she must have thought.  “Love can happen for me,” he probably said to himself, “regardless of which sex I fall in love with.”

The world has changed so much for LGBT and questioning youth since 1983, and thank God for that.   It has even changed since 2008.  Prior to his re-election in 2012, Obama stunned the country by proclaiming his support for marriage equality, after saying during the 2008 campaign that, due to his religious beliefs, he could not.  Macklemore and Ryan Lewis rose to national and international fame, and their song “Same Love” became the anthem for the marriage equality movement across the nation. On the night of Obama’s re-election, you and I chatted on the phone (me shaking and near tears), incredulous about the impending victory for marriage equality in Washington, Maryland, and Maine and the defeat of the same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota.  Then came another elated call this last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and denied standing to the proponents of Prop 8, effectively overturning the law.

The gains are tremendous and stunning, and more and more young people will wake up day after day believing that a future of love happiness and (possibly) kids is in their future.  They will be spared some of the turmoil and indecision and pain I faced. Maybe I should reconsider my disbelief of miracles.

Zmuda spoke to the media about feeling overwhelmed by the support he received from the Eastside community, and in particular the vocal and persistent support he received from students.  After the 2012 election, more than a few of my students congratulated me on the victory, and several pressed me repeatedly for details on Patrick and my plans to get married.  I shared, tentatively at first, as I knew that a number of these students (all girls, truth be told) were a part of a Christian youth group.  As a recovering Catholic and a skeptic of organized religious organizations (particularly those, like the one my students belong to, that appear to be conservative and evangelical), I had a preconceived idea of what these young women believed, and was taken aback by their interest and support. When I finally had the courage to thank them and ask how their religious views impacted their enthusiasm for same-sex marriage, they boldly dismissed me with “Oh, we don’t care about that.”

My students, not unlike Zmuda’s at Eastside Catholic, give me hope for a better, more accepting future for those who identify as LGBT or those who are questioning.  I can’t help thinking that these students, Zmuda’s and mine, are carrying out the true message of the Bible.  This is, at least to some extent, what society and religion in 2014 looks like. It’s a far cry from 1983. Thank God.

Love Christopher

How to Live with Extended Family for a Week

Dear Christopher,

For the first time in years you guys were here for the holidays.  A whole week together with you both and with the children.  I was very excited to celebrate Christmas on our home turf.  All the years we were with you in Seattle were great.  I love your Seattle family.  Doug and Paul always make us feel welcome.  The Christmas Eve celebration with the twelve fish dishes is nothing short of outstanding.  But Christmas at home is very special to me.  Aunt Judy and I often talk about the days when you and your brother were young and those big Christmas celebrations with the grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Your cousin Lillian says she misses it terribly.  Yes, I know, I know.  Back then Aunt Judy and I did our share of complaining about all the work we had to do.  But truth be told, we miss those times now.

When your grandmother was alive I always felt bad leaving her on the holiday.  Yet I wanted very much to spend time with you and Patrick.  I wanted so much to be part of your children’s memories of Christmas.  What a treat it was to watch them run down the stairs on Christmas morning to open their presents.  Then we adults could laze about over coffee and pancakes and chat and eat cookies. But having the holiday in our home really was a thrill. I was so excited about that.  Kept telling my friends that the kids were coming here for the first time in years. (Yes, you are still my kid). I even got a real tree.  Bought lights and decorations because I had jettisoned the old ones after so many years away. Like celebrations of old Aunt Judy baked what seemed like endless cookies.  I planned a couple of big gatherings at our home.  We had some celebratory cocktails together, just the four of us, after the kids went to bed.  It was a great holiday from my perspective, despite frigid weather and a cancelled return flight to Seattle.  I was worried that staying an extra day and scrambling to find another flight back home would put you all off Christmas back east.  But it was fun to have an extra day together.  Those crazy, complicated holiday celebrations of old have a new spin, but thankfully you all got back in time for school and work. I am hoping and planning for next year already.

This time when Aunt Judy and I reminisce about holidays we did not rehash old complaints about the cooking and cleaning to prepare.  We did not talk about how now our family is so small and our celebrations so few. This time we genuinely rejoiced as we realized the joy in approximating those grand old holiday traditions once again.

Love MOM

Home for the Holidays

Dear Mom,

For the last four or five years, I have enjoyed spending the Christmas holidays at home in Seattle.  You remember how the month of December can go: a mad rush of shopping, baking, wrapping gifts, and social events, so I didn’t miss not having to pack and worry about the stress of traveling back East with two young kids.  Those few Christmases we spent in Buffalo and on Long Island when Isabella was young were stressful.  Traveling cross-country with an infant and then toddler was not easy, and as new dads we were floundering a bit, especially me, as we struggled to figure out what the hell to DO.  All I wanted to do was try to get Isabella to take a nap and sleep through the night so that I could do the same.  All that it seemed that anyone else wanted to do was hold, tickle, and sing to her.  It was exhausting.  I was exhausted.

So these last several years were much less taxing.  I enjoyed not leaving Seattle, and am glad that while both kids were young they woke up on Christmas morning in their own bed, with our tree, and a day full of putting together Legos and puzzles and playing games in our own house. We settled into our lovely Christmas Eve tradition with Doug and Paul and our extended Seattle family. When you and dad visited, Christmas day was low-key and relaxing. There was a year that you didn’t visit and we took the kids up to the pass to go skiing, returning home to leftovers for dinner. It felt like we were creating new traditions.

I will admit, though, that I have been dreaming of those white Christmases of my youth.  It’s true that the weather here in Seattle doesn’t feel, most years, like Christmas. But there are other, deeper, ways that Christmas is just not quite the same. While the world turned white and frigid and foreboding outside, as an extended family we always found ways to come together, have some great meals, and renew our connections with one another. As a kid, I looked forward to seeing our cousins who we never saw enough of the rest of the year.  There was the traditional Polish wegelia, Gram’s lavish Christmas eve feast, then the large gatherings we hosted on Christmas day, where you and Dad and Aunt Judy seemed to be in constant motion preparing, serving, and cleaning up from a huge spread, all while Mark and I rehearsed that year’s original play in the basement with our cousins. We even managed to connect with the neighbors, taking pains to analyze the year’s snowfall and then make our plans for the day after Christmas, when we would shovel off the backyard, hose it down and skate.

Now, with the kids a bit older, and Jordan easily persuaded that Santa would find him in New York, we decided this would be the year to give the east coast another try for the holidays. Travel with the kids is not so stressful anymore; lots of trips when they were young did pay off in that they are seasoned pros, but also thank you portable screen devices. Accepting the challenge of a two-city, two-family two-week trip in the middle of winter does still have its challenges. Many of our friends here thought we had lost our minds.  And after the first few days on Long Island, I think both Patrick and I thought they might have been right. Within the first 24 hours of our arrival, we had brunch at Krista’s, a trip into the city for a Broadway musical and dinner, and then right on into shopping and cooking for Christmas eve dinner.  Looking forward to two weeks of that—planning, shopping, cooking, sightseeing, and most of all visits with friends and family—was overwhelming. What had we done? Why had we done it? This wouldn’t be relaxing.  Patrick said he was resenting the trip by day two, when it dawned on him that his vacation from work would not provide an opportunity to relax and recharge.

What neither of us expected was how much fun it would be. Instead of succumbing to the exhaustion, we managed to find a groove and just go with it all. Embrace the chaos.  Give in to the insanity.  Eat another cookie, another great meal, and have a cocktail. Thanks to kind, adoring grandparents (and again those screens!), we were able to sleep in most mornings. We actually did feel, if not relaxed and recharged, at least no worse for the wear.

After 20 years in Seattle, two things stand out: the East coast, with its bone-cold, snowy winters (and hot, humid summers) is still a part of my blood, and I will still feel a deep, enduring connection with my family there, despite the distance. We returned to Seattle revived and fulfilled. We missed out on our tradition for Christmas Eve with our Seattle family, but will see them often in the weeks to come.  We can’t live both here and there, and the fact that we feel like we miss out on family one way or another is a very, very fortunate gift to open for the new year.

Love Christopher