|Kelly Fondow & RoiAnn Phillips are raising two daughters in Oak Park, Illinois.
By Kelly Fondow
Last week my parents marked their 45th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, my mom and dad, along with my sister, her husband and their 7 and 8 year old ruffians, all made the drive from Wisconsin to Chicago to spend the weekend at our house. My daughter Grace, soon to be a Junior at UW Madison, made everyone smile when she arrived, after catching a bus home to surprise her grandparents.
These family weekends are one of the best things Iâ€™ve gained by leaving my hometown. They are like big rambunctious slumber parties. The kids stay up too late and wake up too early. The adults, every last one of us, drinks one too many (each night). Inevitably my sister tells some story about me that I never, ever would have wanted my parents, or Grace, to hear. Donâ€™t get me wrong â€“ thereâ€™s always a bit of family drama as well. Someone stomps off at some point, only to come sheepishly back to the group after a time. Itâ€™s far from perfect. But itâ€™s perfect regardless.
My family has been visiting me since I left home â€“ staying in
my tiny college room in Minneapolis and later taking day trips to Madison when my baby dyke lifestyle simply didnâ€™t allow for sleep overs with mom and dad. My parents have slept on couches, on floors, in Graceâ€™s room or mine. On one memorable visit my newly married sister and her husband slept in a tent in my overgrown Oakland backyard.
Growing up most of my friends had lives that looked a lot like mine. We had the run of the neighborhood; we sat down to dinner at 5 or 5:30. We had a mom and a dad and most of us had a brother or sister or two. As for me, I was loved and nurtured and trusted. I never doubted, ever, that my parents would be there for me. This feeling of security seemed to me, for many years, an obvious by-product of growing up where I did.
Through the mysteries of Facebook among other wonders, Iâ€™ve reconnected with many childhood friends. A couple of them are gay. Both of them have partners, one has kids. Neither is in contact with their parents. Another is a single mom, having had her son shortly after high school. Her relationship with her mother is strained; with her dad it is non-existent.
When I was 21 years old, having just finished my junior year in college, I came home to Appleton, sat my parents down and told them I was pregnant.
The weeks leading up to this conversation left me emotionally exhausted. I was about to crush them. Not for a moment though did I worry that this revelation would damage my relationship with them. Not once. And it didnâ€™t. Two years later, with my little Grace at my side, I sat them down again and told them I was gay. This conversation, as you might imagine, was even more difficult. My dear dear dad, the man I followed around relentlessly as a kid, the one who taught me to hold a hammer the right way, and to swim and to ride my bike and to drive; the one who loved my Gracie more than any grandfather could possibly love someone, couldnâ€™t look at me. He literally didnâ€™t know where to put his eyes. My mom burst into tears and ran from the room.
Here is what I knew at that moment: It took me years to come out to myself. I couldnâ€™t expect my parents to embrace my newfound gayness immediately. For the second time in two years, with one statement, I tore down their visions of my future. Where they had at least had some experience with single mothers, they had absolutely no point of reference for having a gay daughter. What I knew as I sat them down to come out to them, was that they loved me and that they loved Grace and that they would never, ever leave us. I also knew this would take time.
Years later, memories of those early years come flooding in. The Thanksgiving after I came out - my girlfriend and I, with a two year old Gracie in tow, paraded through my hometown in our leather jackets and Doc Martins. We sat down to dinner that night with family and friends packed in around the table. Dad gave a toast welcoming my girlfriend, though he still couldnâ€™t look quite look directly at either of us.
Heâ€™s been looking me in the eye for years now, and he considers RoiAnn to be a fully-fledged member of the family. Mom embraced Roi from the beginning, but I always knew that it would be easier for her. Regardless of the journey, weâ€™re here now. Itâ€™s a gift, this messy family of mine. Our daughters are growing up knowing what family looks like. One day when Grace or Eva sits Roi and I down for â€śthe talkâ€ť â€“ whatever the subject may be - there is one thing that I know. They may be nervous about hurting us, or shocking us or disappointing us, but they will not for a moment fear that they may lose us.