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Emily Rizzo

February 1998

DISAPPOINTED PARENTS

When my son was home for Christmas he asked me in an off-hand fashion, "I guess parents are sometimes disappointed in their children, right?" I just about fell off my chair. "Of course we're disappointed in our children, that's what being a parent is all about!" I hastened to add, of course, that my areas of disappointment with him had nothing to do with his sexual orientation but everything to do with his standard of neatness.

The sad truth is that parents, and here I mean the vast majority of non-saintly parents including myself, place far too great a burden on our children. We look at all the ways we've failed or come up short, and expect our children to do better.

We want our children to be perfect and anything less than perfection is going to cause a parental twinge. I remember a friend of mine telling me how sad she was the first time her newborn baby got a cut that he'd never be "perfect" again.

If we've finished college, we expect them to go on graduate school. If we got A minuses then they better get a 4.0. If we ended up in jobs rather than careers or hate our work, then they better choose more wisely or have the skills we lack.

And when it comes to social skills, we're even worse. I can remember as a freshman at college my mother exhorting me to go to mixers to "meet a nice boy." Never mind that she had been a wallflower at my age and didn't marry my father until she was twenty-six. And I shudder when I remember my own phone conversations with my son when he was away in college "So it's Saturday night...any plans?" "Mom, I've got a paper due Monday and an exam to study for...I'll be in the library all weekend." "So maybe the Gay and Lesbian Union is having a dance? You could take a little break from your studying and you might meet somebody nice." Click.

So who can be surprised when parents are so often "disappointed" when their child is gay? There go our dreams (our dreams, not theirs) for the life that will make our imperfections whole. Where 50% of our marriages end in divorce, of course we want our children to be happily married and produce offspring even more perfect than they themselves will be.

As one PFLAG mother said "I want my child to walk on velvet" -- his life was to be smooth and easy, not like hers. She'd taken trouble to clear his path of every obstacle and now she learned he was gay and she suddenly found herself worrying about discrimination, gay-bashing, and AIDS.

So enough of our parental failings. The truth is that most parents are damn proud of their children and even if they don't turn out as we expected (and what parent expects their child to turn out gay?) we have a lot to be thankful for. We may not always tell you this but most of us wouldn't trade you in even if we had the chance. Admittedly, we might tweak you a bit here and there if we had our druthers...I'm still wondering if the "neatness gene" can be retroactively bioengineered.

And I'm still trying to figure out how a 24 year old PhD student could be so innocent of the ways of parents.


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