This is a semi-autobiographical story of separation between a loving, fundamentalist Christian father and his nineteen year old gay son told mostly from the father's point of view.
“Why am I doing this?” The question pressed out in all directions from the very center of Harold’s brain. He kept his mouth closed, his lips thin and tight. He gripped the steering wheel of the car with both of his hands as he drove north on the freeway into the dark, northern Minnesota night. The road was wet with a fog that had been hanging in the air all day. He held the car to a steady 55 miles per hour. The windshield wipers beat back and forth slowly, leaving a streak across his field of vision. He’d been meaning to replace them for some time, but usually only thought of it when rain fell. There were always so many chores waiting to be done around the house and out in the barn, plus working a full-time job at the paper mill. He was a superintendent there in the machine room, so was always on call. He’d made this twenty-mile trip up to Cloquet many a time in the middle of the night when someone had called to say one of the machines was down. But tonight he wasn’t headed for the paper mill.
They rode along in silence. Neither of them felt like turning on the radio. It wasn’t a night for music. Each knew that whatever station one of them would choose the other wouldn’t like anyway, so they settled for listening to the steady beat of the wipers and the sound of each other breathing. Neither had spoken a word since getting into the car. It wasn’t a night for talk, either.
“Raise up a child in the way of the Lord, and when he is grown he will not depart far from it.” Harold repeated this to himself silently. This was the counsel Pastor Johnson had given them when he and Elaine had gone to see him to confide in him that their son had fallen into sin. He’d said it wasn’t unusual for young men to go through a period of rebellion against their parents and God, and that their best weapon against Satan’s hold on their son was to steady themselves with prayer and to remain steadfast in their belief that their son would find his way back to God’s Word. “Let him go, and he’ll soon see the error of his ways,” Pastor Johnson had said.
Kevin Dean. He and his older sister, Andrea Jean, were named after Jean and Dean Denton, dear friends whom he and Elaine had supported in their missionary work as Evangelical Free Christians in the Philippines. Thank goodness they had passed away years ago. How heartbroken they would be if they knew how this child named for them had been taken by the Devil.
Harold swallowed hard and cleared his throat. His son turned to him, afraid he was going to say something, but he didn’t. He just kept staring ahead at the road, driving them through the tunnel of shadowy outlines of tall pine trees rising up on either side. Kevin turned his own gaze back to the road ahead of them.
“Yes, Pastor, let him go – but to actually deliver him into the hands of evil?” Harold thought. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, thinking of their destination. “We let him go, we let him go to that godless college. He was supposed to go to Bethel Bible School, but no, he chose to go to that free-thinking liberal arts college down in the south of Iowa, too far away for us to even visit. And on a full scholarship he won from the paper mill! He was only eligible for it because I spent the last twenty years working there. God gives him the gift of a college education, and he throws it back in God’s face!”
Harold grimaced as he remembered their embarrassment when they’d read in their local paper about their son having a part in the play “Gypsy”, a musical celebrating the life of a notorious burlesque stripper. Kevin must have done something after they’d called him about that, because it was the last time they’d seen anything from their son’s college in the paper.
But the trouble hadn’t started in college. Harold remembered the nights when Kevin would come home long after they’d gone to bed. They hadn’t gotten up to ask where he’d been, but in the morning when Harold had gotten into the car, sometimes he thought it smelled of cigars, and once there was half a lemon left on the dashboard. Kevin had claimed he’d had to work late at the restaurant again, and that he’d brought an iced tea home with him. But even before that, there was that one night early on, in his sophomore year of high school when they’d found him passed out in the bathroom. He reeked of alcohol. They’d called Dr. Mander in the middle of the night to find out what to do. In the morning, when he started to recover, he said he’d gone with some guys to a schoolmate’s home after a baseball game. He said he thought he was just drinking orange juice. They’d called Mr. Byerson, the high school principal, to report this.
Then there were those times when Elaine said Kevin would break into rages and scream at her at the top of his lungs that he hated them and couldn’t stand living with them, after which he’d storm out of the house. Late at night he’d come and knock on their bedroom door and say he was sorry, that he really loved them. They knew he was struggling with something, but had no idea what. All they could think to do was to tell him to go back to bed and ask God for His forgiveness. “How was I to have handled this rebellion?” Harold asked himself. “Should I have threatened him that if he didn’t show more respect for his mother that I’d, what?”
Harold felt his face flushing with anger. His stomach ached. He stretched the back of his neck and shoulders and swallowed again. “Forgive me, Lord, if I offend thee with my anger,” he prayed. He thought back to when he was his son’s age, and how hard he had struggled to try to go to veterinary school after his service in the army, and how frustrated, enraged he’d felt that his parents wouldn’t support him because they wanted him back to help out on the farm. He’d ended up settling for two years of agriculture school instead, marrying Elaine, and moving up to their little farm in northern Minnesota. The soil couldn’t support full-time farming, so he’d taken a job at the paper mill to get by.
Then Harold thought of his own rebellion of sorts when he was in the army over in Korea, where he’d served as a radio engineer. He’d gotten tired of the taunts of his fellow recruits calling him Mr. Upright and Uptight, so he’d begun smoking a few cigarettes with the guys to try to fit in. He’d known it was a sin, that he was defiling his body, and it wasn’t long before he was asking God to forgive him, but by then it was too late. He was hooked on them. It wasn’t until he’d gotten back to States that Elaine had put an end to this vice – as a condition of their marriage.
Harold flinched. How likely was his son to find someone like Elaine if he kept on living the kind of life he was pursuing. A picture of his son flashed through his mind. He closed his eyes to suppress it. Elaine. How tender, how holy an experience it was to make love with her. Afterwards it always felt like they’d been joined in prayer. And God had blessed them with nine children, all healthy and each gifted in his or her own way. Now here was his eldest son, defiling God’s gift of the love shared between a man and a woman, between a husband and a wife. And here he was, driving his son up to meet with someone he was sure was one of those deviants. He felt a sickness in his stomach and had to clear his throat again.
How had his son come to this perversion? “How much of this is my own fault,” Harold wondered. He’d never had a lot of time to spend doing things with his son. They’d gone on that hiking trip with the church’s youth group, and he’d taken him deer hunting every season. But his son was a loner. He’d never done things with them as part of the family. Even when they went to the mall shopping, his son would always walk apart from the rest of them, as if he were ashamed of being with them. Harold had tried to show him things about an engine and how to maintain a car, but his son was always so inept with tools. It was easier for Harold to do it himself than to try to teach his son.
Kevin was good help out in the barn, though. His son and his wife often did all of the barn chores themselves – milking the cows, pitching manure, bedding down the animals – because he was at the paper mill. The whole family had all worked together to put up hay every summer. He’d taught his son how to drive the tractor and run the mower and the baler. Kevin wasn’t especially strong, but he did his part. And he loved to go fishing, any chance he’d get. That was masculine, wasn’t it?
But Kevin had liked to do things around the house, too, things Elaine didn’t have much time for or interest in doing. Harold hadn’t thought too much about it at the time. Elaine and the girls helped out in the barn, so why shouldn’t his son help out around the house? He’d dug up and planted flower beds, and he was always cooking. He loved to cook. Harold thought his son might grow up to be a chef in some fancy restaurant. Then there was that phase when he was sewing himself bow-ties.
Harold turned up the speed on the windshield wipers, trying to get rid of the streak left where they were worn. Should he have seen this perversion coming then? Should he have stepped in to be a more masculine influence? But Kevin had had at least two girlfriends during high school. He’d taken dates to the high school prom both his junior and senior years. And he’d spent a lot of time his senior year with that girl Cindy. Harold and Elaine had thought they might be serious, that she might be their daughter-in-law before long, but then Kevin lost touch with her when he went to college. She was dating another guy now.
They were getting closer to town, starting to pass the billboards. “I should turn around, I should put an end to this,” Harold thought. “I should take him back home and tell him he is not going to spend the weekend with his so-called friends in Duluth. He is not returning to that college in Iowa. I should not turn my son over to some stranger in the dark of night who could do who-knows-what to him, who could have his way with him and then leave him dead someplace. I should take him home where he belongs.”
But Kevin didn’t live at home anymore, Harold reminded himself. He’d moved out two months ago after taking Elaine and Harold out to the truck stop for dessert one night and announcing to them this thing about himself so loudly that anyone in the restaurant could have heard. He had told them he thought this was God’s way for his life – no, not God’s way, the way of The Good. He believed in The Good; he didn’t believe in God anymore, at least not in their God. Elaine kept having to tell him to keep his voice down. Harold hadn’t been able to say anything. He certainly hadn’t been able to eat his slice of pecan pie. Kevin had given them a four-page, hand-written letter explaining his new-found philosophy. Neither Harold nor Elaine had been able to make any sense of it, other than that he was now calling himself a humanist. And he was a Sodomite. They were up praying and searching the Scriptures the whole night. The only thing they could decide to do was to tell Kevin he couldn’t have his car on their insurance policy anymore, that his newly chosen lifestyle made him a poor risk.
Now Kevin’s car was in a garage up in Duluth getting tuned up for his trip back to college. He’d taken a bus to visit them to say good-bye. It was the first time he’d been home since he’d moved out. He said a guy he’d met in Duluth would meet him half-way, in the parking lot of the mall in Cloquet, and give him a ride back up to Duluth. That’s where they were heading now, to meet this friend.
Harold wondered what this friend would look like. He realized he had no visual image of these people. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone who was that way. It wasn’t something he’d ever even thought about. He’d heard guys talking dirty and calling other guys faggots in the army and at the mill, of course, but he’d never listened to that kind of talk. A chilling thought struck him. Could people tell, looking at his son, that he was a pervert?
“Raise up a child in the way of the Lord, and when he is grown he will not depart far from it.” Harold ran through this verse from the Bible over and over in his mind. “I cannot let myself believe that my son is a pervert. This is just a rebellious phase he is going through,” Harold told himself. “He’s just doing this to push us away, to test us and to test God. We have to pray that he will get through this and grow out of it, and hope he won’t get hurt.”
They were at the driveway to the mall. Harold swallowed hard as he turned into the parking lot. It was deserted except for one other car, parked in the middle, under a light.
“That’s Roger,” Kevin said.
“Roger,” thought Harold. “Roger is the name of my youngest brother. The one who was always getting into trouble with girls. Into trouble period.” He pulled over toward the car and parked a ways away with his headlights on the driver’s door. It opened and a male figure about six feet tall emerged. “He looks like a Sunday School teacher!” Harold thought. “I am turning my son over to a pervert of a man who could well be planning to molest him, and he looks like a Sunday School teacher.” The man was casually but neatly dressed. He had light brown hair of medium length. His features were soft, and his eyes looked kind and sincere. He appeared to be about thirty. “The devil wears many disguises,” Harold thought.
“Okay, thanks,” Kevin said, opening the door and getting out. Fear gripped Harold’s stomach. What was he to do? Should he just sit here and let his son disappear? He reached for the handle and opened the door. He felt dizzy and disoriented as he got out, shut the door, and started walking toward the man. As he drew near, he felt a wild desire to punch the man in the stomach, then on the jaw, to knock him down and start kicking him, stomping on him. He wanted to yell at him to leave his son alone while pummeling him with his fists.
Harold was a gentle man. He’d never been in a fist-fight in his life, not even as a boy. He’d always walked away, asking God to forgive him and help him control his anger. Harold’s hand came out from his waist, toward the man. “Hello,” he said.
“This is Roger,” said Kevin. “Roger, this is my father.” Kevin sounded excited, full of anticipation.
“Hello, Mr. Leland,” said Roger, shaking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Harold felt like the handshake was taking place ten feet away from the rest of his body. He dropped Larry’s hand and turned to his son. He put his arms around Kevin and clenched him close to his chest, holding him for almost a full minute. “We love you,” he said, his voice raspy and guttural. Then he turned and went back to the car. He got in, put the car in gear, and pulled out of the lot. He got around the corner, out of sight, before he pulled over, leaned his forehead on the steering wheel, and wept.
“That must have been hard for him,” said Roger as he and Kevin got into his car.
“What?” asked Kevin.
“Handing you over to me,” said Roger.
“Oh, I told him you’re just a friend,” replied Kevin, putting his hand on Roger’s thigh and sliding over to sit next to him. “He doesn’t know anything about us.”
copyright 2012, Philip D. Luing
all rights reserved
Site: For Future Release: Via Obliquities
Philip D. Hughes-Luing