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  • A Letter I wrote to a Parent of a Gay Person – 3/5/1993

    Dear Jesse,

    I was truly glad to see you and your wife at our joint meeting, glad you could hear so many and such a variety of gays and lesbians to speak openly and frankly. Also, to hear the several parents who spoke.

    It does pain me to know that you and your wife have such negative feelings on the subject. As I have said, I, too, would have had negative feelings if I had not had the benefit of udpated real information on the subject. As you know, I have dedicated a lot of my life and energy to endeavor to bring families together. I have done so at the request of the Family Life Bureau of the Camden Diocese.

    For many reasons.

    I did watch my Dad, and his Dad before him, alienate a child for much the same kind of reason. In both cases it was for a marriage out of the church. Both men felt they had to take such a stand, as both had large families and strong convictions for themselves and hopes for their children. In both cases, the alienation was a permanent fissure in the family. This is indeed sad.

    I, too, had a somewhat large family – seven children and now 15 grandchildren. But long before the problem of a gay son arose, other problems were present, problems which seemed insoluble.

    Without going into grisly detail, my wife seemed to have problems of some indeterminate source. We did make efforts through psychiatric means and in many other ways to solve the problem of Rosemary. The truth of it was that she was not a happy person and that situation increased as our marriage went on. If we had not been Catholic, if there had never been a divorce in either family, we truly may have split up. But we went our way, with me trying to tough it out and with Rosemary an unhappy person.

    By the grace of God, wholly unearned by either of us, her brother, who was a member of AA, got it in his head that alcohol was at the base of all of Rosemary’ problems. He kept at it. The psychiatrist, the family doctor, our priest, all thought it was not the bit of alcohol she drank but simply a personality disorder. As a matter of fact, our family doctor expressed the opinion that Rosemary, with the family responisibilities she was carrying, should have a drink or two before dinner to relax her.

    As a matter of fact, she did go into St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, the very place where AA was born, for 5 days, at her brother’s behest. I think she went mainly to get away from me and the kids, at the time. It was the chance of a change for a moment! And she was indeed “born again” in every sense of the word, and was changed for life.

    Today, after having done an excellent job of rearing her seven children, Rosemary is a Certified Alcoholism Counselor, Director of Ala-Call, the statewide, 24 hour, toll-free, telephone service for information and referral in any matter pertaining to alcolol use or abuse. She trains and operates a staff of volunteer phone workers, handling an average load of 60 calls a day, 365 days a year.

    In a family situation, the use or abuse of alcohol can be a serious and yet hidden problem.

    Truthfully, I had no idea there was such a problem in our family, and as I have said there was a professional opinion as a basis of my feelings.

    My younest child is 33 years old this year. All children and grandchildren are well aware of Ken’s gayness. It has no impact upon any of them except to make them more aware of the differences in people and to make them more tolerant in general.

    I must say if Rosemary’s problems had not been so well solved, we would have remained, as we were, a religious but dysfunctional family. I know now from the children they were aware of the problem for what it was. The honesty of children sees right through the parents in all simpliciity. But continuous damage would have been done to the children if Rosemary had continued to use alcohol.

    I tell you these things, only as I have revealed much else of my life history to you, directly and indirectly. I now know one cannot shielf children from the actual facts of the family. To try to do so is simply to confuse them and perhaps injure them. I say these things as one man with a larger than average family to another with a large family situation. I open another part of my life to you just to establish more certainty my desire to be open to you and any one else with whom I have contact.
  • As God gave me and mine the grace to find solutions to these and the many other problems of my large family of 7 children raised in the ‘60s, and 15 grandchildren being raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so do I have an obligation to pass on the knowledge of these gifts and share with others my gratitude for the goodness that has been bestowed upon me. I did nothing, really, to deserve the grace I have been given.

    I wish you and yours in turn may be given the grace and gifts to assist you as you are raising your family.

    Very sincerely,

    Jim Bridgeman

    Note: I wrote this letter with a hope an a prayer. A hope that it would not backfire on me and a prayer it would be effective.

    The son, Jessie, had called me originally. He confided that his mother was alcoholic. He brought his parents to a meeting. She reeked of alcohol. Jesse, the father, had the mask face of the spouse of a woman with an alcohol problem. She said very little. In that little, she showed the complete intolerance that is typical of the alcoholic. He spoke at some length, elaborating for his wife, it seemed, about how he had a large family and could not afford to have the family discipline broken down by one child’s deviant conduct. I got the impression she made the bullets and he fired them on command.

    They appeared again at a joint meeting in response to a written invitation to come to the special celebration. Here again, she had a strong smell of alcohol about her. She did not speak at all to the large group. He did. He indicated they could not tolerate or understand this situation.

    Hence, I wrote the letter.

    Now, in February of ’94, I received a call from him. He indicated that of course they now have a good relationship with their gay son and his partner, Steve. Jessie lives back at home with the family, although he often spends the night or large chunks of his time at Steve’s place. Both are welcome at dinner and family gatherings. Five of the daughters apparently had known of the gay situation for a long period of time and accepted it. All now accept it.

    A new crisis has arisen. A sister-in-law had a family party for her child’s birthday and when Jessie and Steve came in with the rest of the family, she raised a fuss, saying these deviates were not to be in her house with her children. Jesse Sr. is concerned about what to do how. He is worried about the effect on his son and what position he should take. Should he, as his wife wants him to do, stand up to the daughter-in-law and argue it out?

    I assured him he should stay out of it – never interfere in a child’s marriage. I promised to call his son at once to make sure he is o.k. and to talk about it.

    When I called young Jessie, I learned about the reaction to my letter. When I wrote it, I knew he lived away from home. On the occasison of a visit, he was confronted with the letter. Mother asked why I would have sent such a letter about alcoholism to them. Jessie said to himself, “because you have had a problem for 32 years”, but said nothing aloud.

    She is somewhat better now, Jessie said, but still drinking. Apparently, the letter was effective in breaking the deadlock about Jessie’s gayness. His father now has the greatest respect for my opinion.

    I scare myself with letters like this, but when they are on target, they certainly are effective. I do believe the spirit guides me in matters like this.

    Jim
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