Search Results for: How to live

Pants and Comic Books

Dear Christopher,

“Pants and comic books” Sister Catherine roared as she waved the chalkboard pointer over our terror stricken heads. We 50’s girls in our Catholic school were shivering with fear. Sister was furious that those distractions took us away from conjugating Latin verbs. Back then it was not unheard of for a teacher to whack a student. In the Catholic boys’ schools priests were known to beat the stuffing out of recalcitrant boys. Yes, in the bad old 1900s (as your daughter characterizes them) using physical punishment on children was common. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the prevailing belief. My mother was an enthusiastic proponent. Aunt Judy and I knew the wooden spoon on our backsides and even slaps wherever she could reach. She was not alone, since it seemed common in other families as well.

All JoyParenting styles change, thank goodness. In the 70’s when we were raising you kids we certainly did not believe in physical punishment, but on occasion I think we slipped. You can tell us how often. Today parenting styles have changed even more. In Jennifer Senior’s new book All Joy and No Fun she finds today with children coming later in life to middle class parents they are more treasured. They permanently “highjack your heart” (but that was true in the bad old 1900’s too). Now there are so many societal pressures on parents to engage and celebrate children, to make sure they turn out happy and well adjusted. (As if anyone knows for sure how to do it at any time in history.) She calls it “concerted cultivation.” Just a quick glance at the vast number of parenting books in any bookstore can tell us this concern with raising children exactly right. We just had good old Dr. Spock back then.

I can see it in the parenting styles of you and your brother. You both are more active with your children than we ever were. You played with them more when they were younger and you plan more activities together than we ever did. You and Patrick especially work so hard at parenting. Of course your children’s issues surrounding their adoption require more care. However, I can see how being gay dads seems to add tension. Certainly the lack of a mom in the house adds a strain, especially for primary school children where a great deal of discussion involves Mommy. Somewhere I read that being a minority in a culture adds stress to one’s life. I wish it were not so, but I can see that it is. Because of being on the cutting edge of openly gay men raising children you have more pressure than others have.

As a grandmother I worry about all our grandkids. The vast explosion of technology has created a bewildering world for us to navigate. I see how you try to limit the screen time your children have. They know so much about the various media sources that have burgeoned in recent years. It continues to grow exponentially. I worry how this evolving technological revolution will impact your children, will impact you, as they grow older and are less under your protection.

Sr. Catherine could not have imagined what else would prevail for the girls of the 50’s grandkids. Threatening violence and occasionally carrying through mitigated the distractions in her students’ lives. Fear and shame were her very effective tools. Thank goodness that is not the solution today. But I wonder how she would handle students with so many more distractions at their fingertips like texting and video games. In addition parents now must decide how young people should interact with Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram among other media sources. Pants and comic books seem mild in comparison.

Love, Mom



Honoring Mom

Dear Mom,

On Wednesday I got a call from Isabella at school.  She jammed her finger playing tether ball during recess, and told me, in tentative, hushed tones, that she feared it might be broken.  The assistant principal got on the line and said she doubted it was broken, and thought Isabella would be fine to take the bus home.  When she stepped through the door a half hour later, the tears she had obviously been holding inside burst forth, and she crumpled into a heap on my lap.

Isabella, Ma and GrammyLater, after the emergency room visit and the confirmation that there was no broken bone, Isabella asked me if I had ever been rushed to the ER as a kid, and I told her about the time I was playing with Nick Schmitt in our garage on Parkside and fell and hit my nose.  You and dad thought it might be broken, and off to the ER we went.

I think I understand now how you must have felt that day, and many other days before and after: the mix of concern, self-assurance, and helplessness when parenting a child through life’s missteps, challenges, and emergencies, both big and small.

We’re starting to prepare our house to go on the market, and Patrick and I are dealing with some additional stress this spring.   With work and chores and laundry and dinner and lunches and now this moving thing, so often by the end of the day (and by that I mean 6 PM), all I really want to do is sit on the couch in front of the TV with a big glass of wine.  The energy it takes to do bills, plan lessons, grade papers, negotiate care for our kids (and fold laundry) seems overwhelming.  I am yawing just thinking about it all.

I remember as a kid that no matter what I was doing or what you were doing, you would set all your adult responsibilities aside and attend to my needs.  Help me with homework? Check. Listen to me complain about a friend? Check.  Laugh at a joke? Check, check, check.

You have talked about being astounded that parents today feel like they are responsible for fulfilling each of their child’s needs, and have said that when you were raising kids, parents were not held to such high account.  I know as a kid I felt cared for, nurtured, and loved.  It never felt to me that you were not taking care of my every need.  I certainly never felt that you would not drop everything to pay attention to me.

This carried through to adulthood.  You ushered me through some relationship woes with men (what did I know about that at 25 and just out? What did you know CRD and Mom Old Houseabout gay relationships? Yet I spoke, and you listened). You helped Patrick and I navigate the details of our commitment ceremony. Not long after, you assisted two neophyte parents deal with our new little new bundle of responsibilities.  Emblazoned in my memory is the moment you spoke with Patrick’s mom on the phone from Seattle, assuring her that he and I were doing “just a fine job, these two” as new parents.  I felt so proud to have your validation.

Jordan wanted to show me something one night this week. I was cleaning up after dinner, thinking about the house we’re going to sell, the work we have to do, the list of too many things to accomplish prior to bed that night.  My mind wasn’t in the game.  It was far away.

Thankfully, I reminded myself: enjoy this moment. Give him your attention now.  These days will pass.  Some day he will live thousands of miles away and I will long for him to call and share something seemingly small and insignificant, a tiny part of his day that he wants to share with me.

IMG_2929I’m way over here and you’re way over there.  Still thinking of you today, and honoring you, and feeling so lucky to have such a great role model of a caring devoted parent in my life. To nurture, care, encourage, and support are some of the traditional expectations society has for mothers, but they are really expectations for all parents.  I’m going to claim them as a dad, and say thank you mom for teaching me how to parent.



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 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, 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,