On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, just north of San Francisco, is one of my favorite places to spend a quiet and sunny day walking and hiking. The area, part of the Marin Headlands, features numerous roads and trails, some of which happen to be partially paved while the rest are well groomed and covered in gravel, making it the ideal location for a pleasant day-outing from the City. Most visitors choose the brisk 1.5 mile walk that begins in the parking lot, winds down through a narrow valley and ends at a small picturesque beach on the Pacific Ocean. Near the shoreline, where the trial ends, is a bench that affords a perfect view of the water – and a good place to watch everyone as they arrive or begin to head back.
Oftentimes, the majority of those taking this particular walk, because the other hikes are steep, sometimes rocky, and the trails not as well maintained, are families with small children. While I am sitting at the well-placed bench, watching the waves as well as the various people come and go, I often pay special attention to the fathers. Usually, they are pushing a stroller loaded down with one or two children and an ice chest or picnic basket while another child is strapped to his back. The mother, undaunted and unperspiring walks along while holding a single water bottle. In the midst of carrying their burdens, the men look joyous.
The other thing that I keenly take notice of is the marked physiological differences between male and female. With the men usually in shorts and a t-shirt, and the women wearing leggings and a tank-top, its remarkable, away from the confines of modern civilization, to witness how certain gender characteristics, that some would regard as socially engineered, reassert themselves and became evident; and in the highly health conscience San Francisco Bay Area – the gym-worked bodies of men and women has resulted in further differentiation; for example, where the American epidemic of obesity sometimes hides sex-differences and oddly makes everyone roundly amorphous, here, I could plainly see how the men are far more muscular than the women, taller, and wider built; while the women are lithe, with more slender limbs, but rounder hips. And, in their differences, especially around the children – there is incredible harmony.
The walk back to the parking lot, as opposed to the route towards the beach, is predominantly uphill – sometimes with a few steep grades. Before heading back, most of the families try to reorganize their belongings and somehow fit the kids onto the stroller. After a hard few hours of running up and down the beach – many of the children, even the ones who are a little older, don’t want to make the long trek back on foot. I will never forget one father, his back heavily weighted down with an overstuffed backpack, who put his little girl in one seat of the stroller, and then had the large plastic cooler and picnic basket piled on the other seat. Well, his son, who was probably about 5 or 6, didn’t want to hike the mile and half back to the car. Some discussion ensued, and in the meantime, the mom stooped down to speak kindly to the boy – brushing aside his hair with her fingers as she talked. All the while, the little sister looked content and gleeful as she sat comfortable in the stroller. Then the mother stood up and took the boy’s hand as they started to walk along. Suddenly, the dad stopped, bent down, grabbed the boy, he almost couldn’t stand back up because of the weight on his back that was pushing him forward, and he hoisted his son onto his shoulders. Immediately, the face on the child lighted up and he smiled and began to look at everything around him – seeing the world in a very different way than before – raised above his former lower existence and now secure on top of his father. The dad righted himself – and they all marched away.
As the little family disappeared into the distance, I began to think about something – about fathers, about mothers, about sons, about life and about God. First of all, our fathers, are often silent, they stand by, like that dad on the beach, as mother organizes the troops. They tend to talk to us less, hug us less, and are generally less around. But when they talk, they have something important to say; when they hug us – it’s strong and we feel protected and safe. For the most part, being “gay” meant trying to endlessly get back to that place. Then, I imagine how Our Lord listened to the few but precious words of His foster-father Saint Joseph and how He rested His head on the chest of Joseph – falling asleep while listening to the heartbeat of the humble carpenter.
Our mothers are always there for us. They are comforting and compassionate. As children, when we got hurt, and are crying hysterically, that little kiss from our mom somehow magically calmed us down. We knew we were loved.
But especially for boys, we need our fathers; sons need their dads. As a wounded man, trying to escape the false reality of homosexuality, I needed the loving kindness of my mother, and I knew I always had it. I needed that as well from my Father, but in a different way. I needed his strength and protection. As I lay there dying – I needed him to pick me up. While my mother could offer consolation, only my father could save me.
And that is exactly what happened. When I had nothing else to live for – except death, the Lord took pity on me. Like I was a small boy again, someone literally picked me up off the side of the road. Was it Christ, Saint Joseph, or my father? All I know is that the man who effortlessly hoisted me over his shoulder was strong and silent; he carried me, not saying a word, to a place of healing and refuge. There I was tended with incredible kindness – by a mother and a father – by Our Lady and Saint Joseph – by my own parents. And, like our friends in heaven, they never accepted that I was “gay,” instead they stood back and watched with anguish and sorrow as I made one mistake after another; my mother cried, my father prayed. But now that I was spent and tired – they offered me a way home. Only, that required humility on my part, in a sense – to go limp and let someone pick you up. I had to admit that I couldn’t make it any other way. I had to admit that I needed help. That I could not walk back home on my own. The prodigal son must become a boy again.
“Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18: 3-4)