In June 1993 I attended my first Exodus International Freedom Conference. I was an immature college student who had yet to share with my parents that I had same-sex attractions and was seeking help to surrender them to the Lordship of Christ. Because I was dependent on my parents for financial support I couldn’t ask them for money to go to a conference without divulging “the awful truth”. So, a dear friend provided all of the funds necessary for me to attend the conference.
It was amazing. Life-changing. I remember the fantastic speakers, but it was actually the worship, testimonies and fellowship that gave me the most hope and compelled me to seek a deeper walk with Christ. A pivotal moment came on the last day, during the morning general session. God asked me to release my dad from all that I was holding against him. Let me explain.
I am the youngest of 6 kids born to a June Cleaver/Archie Bunker combo. Mom was amazing. My perception of dad was that he was outspoken, critical and busy. A career military man turned restaurateur, he was a workaholic that had little patience for anything when he was home. In my mind we were complete opposites and I simply tried to steer clear of him.
So, when God asked me to forgive my dad of everything I was taken aback. Before I could respond, the Lord continued speaking. ”Do you think I care more about your hurts than your dad’s”, He asked. ”Should your pain matter more than what he has suffered”, the Lord questioned. He finally said to me, “I want you to stop thinking of your dad as the father that has failed you and start thinking of him as a brother who has been deeply wounded. I’m asking you to forgive him.” I’d never considered my dad a human being let alone a wounded brother. My bitterness melted, my heart broke and tears flooded down my cheeks. The unforgiveness that had served as my constant companion every moment of every day for more than a decade was gone. I was free of it.
I went home and told my parents every bit of my story. I’d previously dreamed of this moment – punishing my dad with the story of how his poor fathering had produced a gay son. But thanks to God’s healing power our conversation wasn’t one of punishment but of opening a prison cell that had been locked for years. Mine had been opened the day before; my dad’s opened that day. As I finished telling my story, he began telling us his. I had no idea.
He was the illegitimate son of an unwed teenager and a married deacon. Until he was 2 years old he lived with his maternal grandparents and their 10 children in the squalor of the horrific conditions that were the Great Depression. At age 3 he was adopted by very loving relatives of his birth father. At age 9 his dear adoptive father died of cancer and his mother went back to work. Two of his older siblings were alcoholics and beat him regularly. He ran away at age 12 and was arrested for sleeping in the bathroom of a train station. The police threw him in a cell with a convicted child molester who wasted no time taking advantage of him. My dad was there for months before a sympathetic guard secretly let him go free with the warning, “Get out of here and never come back to this city again.” My dad finally made it back home but lived the rest of his life trying to stuff the pain he’d endured.
As he shared his story he looked up at me with tears rolling down his cheeks and said, “I never meant to hurt any of you kids. I just didn’t want you to end up like me. I am so sorry.” I’d never seen my dad cry before. He had never told anyone his secrets or said he was sorry for how his pain manifested in his verbal assaults. Having rarely uttered the words I love you, he spent every day from that day through the last 14 years of his life saying them to my mom and his kids as often as he could.
I didn’t want to be a man until that Sunday afternoon in June of 1993 when my dad modeled a manhood and masculinity that was so deeply compelling and tender that I knew I wanted to be like my dad. My dad didn’t make me gay, but he DID make me want to be a husband and a father. A really good one. Exodus didn’t change me or my dad, but it did give me some amazing tools, tremendous encouragement and an opportunity to connect with my Heavenly Father, which ended up changing my life and the life of my entire family.
It is for this reason that I serve as the president of Exodus. I am so grateful for the people who helped me financially afford that first conference. I hope you can make it this year on June 27-30 in St. Paul, Minnesota or can help someone else make it by giving a scholarship gift!