Then a week or so ago, I read a review by Barbara Curtis (updated to include our condolences to Barbara's family upon her untimely death after this was written). It was not an especially kind review. In my opinion, it was in parts almost cruel. But then, it was a review by a critic. And let's just say Barbara and I do not usually see eye to eye, so I did not give it much thought. But there was one little sentence that took me by surprise. She revealed Kelle's father is gay. Why I did not know this, I'm not sure. Rik Cryderman often comments on Kelle's posts and others who post about his daughter and/or granddaughter. His words, as I described in my first blog post about the family, are often poetic, inspirational and spiritual in nature. My curiosity was peaked by Barbara adding that little detail. Now, I looked forward to reading the book.
I wanted to hear about how this family was able to cope with something so controversial. I wanted to know how they repaired their relationship so as to accept a gay man, a gay father, back into their lives. For I was certain, there had to have been some very dark days. Deep pain. Torn memories and shattered dreams. Why was I so curious about this one aspect of the Cryderman family you may ask?
Because I have personally been witness to and been affected by having gay members of my family. I know the hurt. I have seen the hatred with my own eyes. I have witnessed the tearing apart of family. I have listened to ugly lies and venomous tirades. I've watched the turning of one's back to a loved one, simply because of that three letter word. I've been on the receiving end of emails and phone calls when the pain is so great, the only option is to scream, before one explodes. I also know what it is like to loose years, with no contact, because certain family members shun their own kin.
And I am ashamed to admit that because of my own inability to acknowledge they were wrong, I joined in with the avoidance. Until one day, a group of co-workers at the Cleveland Ballet, helped me realize that I was missing out. I also opened my eyes to the fact that if I wanted others to see my daughter with Down syndrome, as just a girl, I too needed to be open to the differences of others.
So I set out to find my cousin Joel. The last time I had seen him, was at his father's funeral. He was a college student and I was just a young girl.
It was now late 1998. The Internet was cryptic, at best, so it was not much help. I found a relative who had an address. I sat down and wrote Joel a letter. It came back a few weeks later stamped, "undeliverable." That Christmas, the same relative received a holiday card with a different address. I resent the original letter. A few weeks later, I received a very long letter in return. It included an email. We began conversing every few days. He also began emailing my oldest son. I loved watching their relationship blossom.
I should probably mention that I am an only child. My relatives are few, I have (had) exactly three cousins on my mothers side, and three on my fathers side. So I especially cherished this new found connection.
I was beyond excited the day I found out Joel was going to fly from Seattle to Cleveland to see me and meet my family. I had no reservations about introducing him to my children. I was certain that TJ had enough correspondence with him to not be judgmental. And the best part, Sarah was born without prejudice. Hatred is just not in her vocabulary.
And sure enough. As soon as Joel arrived, Sarah climbed right up next to him and snuggled into his arms. I know his heart melted at that moment. He felt something from family that he had not felt in a very long time. Sarah showed us all something that day. Increased intelligence, college degrees, fancy job titles, mean little when it comes to the acceptance of other human beings. Her love is purely unconditional.
Unfortunately, my time with Joel was not long lived. A few short years later I received a call from a doctor at a hospital in Seattle. Unbeknown to me, Joel had created a card he kept in his wallet that suggested emergency phone calls come to me. The doctor was calling to tell me Joel had a massive stroke with significant brain bleed. He wanted to know if they should keep him alive. The shock, I suppose, kept me from collapsing. I had never discussed anything like this with him. I told the doctor I could not make that decision without seeing him first. I needed to get on a plane.
So tonight as I read Chapter Two in Bloom, I cried with Kelle. Not because of Nella at all. But because I somehow could feel what she describes. Certainly not on her level. She was a child in the third grade. With a newly identified gay father. I can't pretend I know that emotion. But I understood her words. Her description of the time it took for acceptance.
When I read Kelle write about the day she finally saw her dad as just her Dad and not as a gay man anymore, I smiled. Why? Because I know something from experience she probably doesn't yet...she will never have to explain or worry about that transition with Nella. To her, Poppa will always just be Poppa. For Nella's love is unconditional. She was born that way. It's just too bad, the rest of us weren't.