It has been record setting hot in Arizona this past week. Pictures flooded the internet of street signs melting and eggs frying on the sidewalk. This also happened to be the week my daughter was married.
The Monday before her wedding, she sent me a text:
“Just so you know, we are having a barbecue Friday night for all the family and friends who came into town… It’s at 6:45 at our house if you and your family want to come.”
I texted her back immediately that we would be there.
I was very aware that “all family” included my former in-laws as well as my former wife’s sisters all who held significant resentment towards me after I came out. With the exception of a series of angry texts one of the sisters sent to me after the exclusion policy was announced November of 2015, I had not spoken with them or been in the same room with all of them since my separation and divorce.
I was also very aware that “our house” meant the house my former wife and I built together years ago as our final house to finish raising our family in. I have not been in that house since the divorce was finalized three years ago. I realized that as an empathetic INFJ, I would have intense memories permanently embedded in each room, all waiting for me. Each piece of furniture, the kitchen counter tops and cabinets, the family dinner table… everything in that house held both tears of great happiness and tears of intense sadness.
Most significantly, I was well aware that this week was not about me. This was my daughter’s special day. Both people and memories would be greeted with graciousness and sincere happiness. As a proud papa, I genuinely was coming into the wedding festivities on cloud nine.
The day of the barbecue I inadvertently parked the black Tahoe, with black interior, in my sunny driveway during the hottest part of the day. Not only does this completely sterilize the interior of your vehicle of all bacteria and viruses, it creates the need to drive the car using oven mitts.
My side of the family graciously endured the drive over to the barbecue and after we parked, I noticed my former father in-law sitting on the bench on the front porch.
On the front porch.
At 112 degrees.
As we all filed by him, fleeing the heat for the refuge of the indoors and air conditioning, my former father in-law motioned to me with his hand and said, “I’d like to talk to you.”
Although I was prepared with grace and happiness, I hadn’t anticipated the accompanying anxiety and distress of this moment. It was not lost on me that here I was, a father wanting absolute happiness and security for my daughter here at the beginning of her marriage, and I was speaking with a father who witnessed his daughter’s complete loss and sorrow at the end of her marriage.
As I sat next to him, he began to recount how he felt during my coming out process, the separation, and the divorce.
“I admit that I had some very hard feelings towards you when you broke your family.”
That one sentence of judgement stung me to the core. “You broke your family” is the piercing injustice forever wounding the gay divorced Mormon man instructed in his youth to marry a woman.
As he continued on, he recounted the events of the past seven years as he witnessed it through his lens as a straight Mormon and protective father. He spoke of the great pain and sorrow I had brought upon him. His narrative grossly neglected the realities and trauma of the gay spouse and straight spouse. Many of the events he detailed of my personal journey were interpreted harshly and incorrectly.
I felt the familiar walls of protection start to rise around me. Walls the LGBT build to protect themselves from personal attack. Walls which I heavily used during the past seven years and have only recently started to dismantle.
But inexplicably the walls suddenly stopped rising and I was overwhelmed by the words of Pahoran to Moroni: “You have censured me, but it mattereth not: I am not angry, but I do rejoice in the greatness of your heart.”
At that moment it did not matter to me that his narrative was incorrect. It was his truth and he was a grieving father who loves his daughter with all his heart, trying to make sense of a gay Nathan in a church that doesn’t know what to do with gay Mormons. And at that moment, because I understood the love of a father for his daughter, I understood him. I was able to understand his burden in spite of his narrative.
Instead of a wall that hot Arizona night, a bridge was extended.
Instead of mounting a protest of his censure, for the first time in years I understood. And with empathy my soul spoke to him, “I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul.”
We sat in silence for a moment. Then with his burdens obviously lifted from his shoulders, he turned directly towards me on that bench in the heat of that Arizona evening and said, “Nathan I want you to know that I forgive you. I unconditionally forgive you.”
He grasped my hand and held it gently.
The time to protest his narrative was no more. The only appropriate words to offer were a humble and sincere “thank you.”
I realized in that moment what has previously escaped me my 48 years on this earth:
We can never truly know each other’s narrative no matter how closely we observe. Our perceptions of another person’s journey will always be colored by our personal lenses. No matter how selfless we become, we will always write ourselves into the intentions and choices of others.
It was time for me to stand down when others don’t understand my journey and it is time that I am more understanding of others in their journey… especially if it involves others processing how a gay Nathan fits into their own story. Not being able to fully grasp or understand another’s journey in this life is an infirmity of mortality that we all share.
Through His infinite atonement, Christ takes upon himself our infirmities, “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” Christ is capable of truly knowing our journey and our heart because he is the Son of God. As mortals, you and I fall very short of such understanding.
Because of this Christ reminds us “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
So there we sat, two fathers who may never understand the other’s narrative here in mortality, yet basking in forgiveness at 112 degrees.