“So, here’s what Jackson and I are proposing. Jerrod has lived here this summer and fit into our household amazingly well. We’re proposing that Jerrod stay here, live in this house, and finish high school in the same school as his three new friends, whom you’ll meet while you’re here. You are considering sending him away to a new school. As someone who’s family moved every couple of years when I was a kid, and knows something about the disruption of changing schools, I submit to you that the probability of his being academically successful in addition to learning what you’re most concerned about, namely values and discipline, is much higher staying in this household than starting in a new and foreign school.”
It was quiet. Jerrod hadn’t known this was coming and was speechless. Julius was speechless for another reason, having to do with the wind being taken out of his sails. Cassie reacted as a mother who cared for her son, seeing all the positive possibilities.
“Okay, that’s the proposal, and I’m asking you to think about it, but like I said, I specifically don’t want an answer right now. It is too significant a decision to be made hastily. You may have heard some noise in the kitchen a few minutes ago, and I’m betting that’s Jackson who said he’d take the afternoon off and join us. That said, right now, it’s lunch time. You both know where the guest bathroom is, and Jerrod and I will go help Jackson get lunch served. We’ll eat in the dining room.”
Jackson’s arrival meant it was easy to talk about any number of subjects over lunch other than the topic of the morning’s meeting. After lunch they all took a walk down to Oak Bottoms Park where Jackson told them about the proximity to the river, and the nature conservancy at the north end, and how great it was to live within walking distance of a river like this. On the way back across the park, they all heard a name excitedly called, and when they looked, they saw it was Sean and his Mom who were coming into the park. Jerrod introduced everyone, then he and Jackson and Kaiser with Sean moved a few feet away and started some dog work, leaving the adults alone. They’d come unprepared for this meeting and had to use a stick instead of a ball, but Sean and Kaiser adapted quickly and had tons of fun.
Jerrod was encouraged to show off some of Kaiser’s new-found skills, and when they’d tired of fetching the stick, he looked at his parents and asked if they wanted to see Kaiser’s newest skill. They agreed, and Jerrod told Sean to stay where he was and called Kaiser to him, said, “Heel,” and walked about seventy-five feet away. He turned and told Kaiser to Sit/Stay facing towards Sean and the adults, and then turned his back and walked back to the watching group. Jerrod’s parents appeared to be flabbergasted. Jerrod knelt next to Sean and slipped him the whistle he’d found earlier in his shirt pocket. Sean blew twice and Kaiser ran to them like a rocket, frolicking and simply overjoyed at the game.
When they all broke up and Sean and his Mom headed home, they walked back to the house. David drove them back to the hotel so they could rest and freshen up and informed them he’d pick them up at 6:00 PM for dinner.
On the evening drive to the house, David explained that this was an adult night, Jerrod being over at the home of the friends who were joining them for dinner, with their son and daughter who had become close friends. Cassie couldn’t stop talking about the dog training and the fact that Jerrod was investing regular time with a boy that had a developmental disability. “I talked to Sean’s mother a little bit, and she said the time with Kaiser isn’t just the most fun time of his week, but his friendship with Jerrod has brought him out of himself. As a nurse, I can understand the changes something akin to therapy can bring about, but I have to say I’m somewhat amazed that it’s our son being the therapist.”
David made sure they understood that Jerrod met Sean by accident one day on a walk, and that he had initiated the friendship. He also pointed out another aspect that reinforced the value of what he was doing was the fact that one of his new friends, whom they’d meet the next night, has a cousin with cerebral palsy, so there was a common understanding there.
When they walked into the house, Will and Sam were chatting in the living room with Jackson over glasses of wine, and David did the introductions and took the drink orders. Most of the conversation that followed was about Will being on faculty in the music department at Lewis & Clark and Jackson’s best friend since high school, and Sam being a high school physical education instructor and coach in a local high school.
It was not lost on Jerrod’s parents how much focus on education was sitting in the room. Jackson made a joke out of it, that he was the wayward one who went off on his own, and Will quickly responded that it wouldn’t be long before he became Vice-President of Marketing at the company he worked for.
They’d planned a dinner that could be started early and finalized in fifteen minutes. After refilling everyone’s drinks David announced, “We’re having lasagna, using an old family recipe from Philly. So, you four sit and relax for a few minutes while Jackson and I put it all together.
They could hear the cooking noise from the kitchen and Cassie said to Will, “So, you and Jackson are friends all the way back to high school?”
“Sure are. We both helped each other get through the small town high school scene. We both sang in choir at school, and I had a band back then. I railroaded him to join the band, and be our lead singer, then he got into Lewis & Clark on a music scholarship, and now he sings with Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. He’s been my best friend as far back as I can remember. Have they told you yet that I lived here while I was going to college?”
The question was met with blank stares and Cassie shaking her head.
”Oh, yeah! Sam and I are both bisexual and I was in a relationship with a boy my first quarter in college and he was from a completely intolerant religious family. It was so bad that he ended up committing suicide. I went off the deep end, and David and Jackson came and got me, brought me back here, arranged with my parents for me to live here, and got me straightened out and back on track. That included enrolling at Lewis & Clark College, where I met Sam, the love of my life, and now I’m back there but on the faculty and teaching. Isn’t life strange?
Jerrod’s parents were surprised with the facts, and while Cassie wasn’t completely taken aback, Julius seemed to have a lot to suddenly process. A short conversation ensued between Cassie and Sam which included the point that their son and Jerrod were the same age and now close friends.
Sam looked at Julius to include him in the conversation and said, “I also want you both to know that this evening isn’t a set up. It does have a purpose, and that’s to make sure you understand some of what’s happened with Jerrod this summer. Almost all of that is positive including him becoming good friends with our son. I didn’t know him before he got here, but I was a ski racer in high school and the first couple of years in college, so we had plenty to talk about. I teach and coach high school kids, so I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting kids that have a lot of potential, but just need to work through their hang ups. Jerrod is one of them.”
The dinner went well with friendly conversation, and the lasagna accompanied by a fine Oregon Pinot Noir, and toward the end it seemed like even Julius had let his guard down a little bit and was enjoying the company. He was with other professionals and could see that ultimately, they were looking for the best outcome for his son. What had made the difference was what Will said to him as they walked in the dining room, “I hope you understand that we all care deeply for your son and want the best for him.”
The last phrase, “the best for him,” kept resonating in his mind during dinner. Jackson offered brandy after dinner, but Cassie and Julius begged off citing the time zone difference, and it being time for them to head back to the hotel.
Over dinner, Jackson had convinced them to let him and David take them on a driving tour of the city in the morning, and that they would have plenty of time to get back for the barbecue in the evening.
The tour included the Hoyt Arboretum, the Portland Rose Garden with its magnificent view of Mount Hood, a cruise through the Pearl District and then a drive up the Columbia River Gorge to see the waterfalls and the view from the Vista House at Crown Point. Even though they’d traveled extensively, the geographic contrast between eastern Pennsylvania and western Oregon was striking, and the Gorge took their breath away.
Over lunch David looked at Julius and Cassie and asked if they had discussed the proposal that had been put on the table yesterday? They saw Cassie take her husband’s hand and then Julius said, “Yes, we have discussed it and it is both generous and magnanimous. I will tell you two things at present. You were right challenging us to come out here, as seeing Jerrod in this new environment has allowed us to understand the changes you described in completely new ways. Isn’t that right, dear?”
Cassie nodded and added, “It certainly has, and seeing him with Kaiser and then with Sean yesterday was an eyeopener for me.”
Julius went on, “The second thing is that Will made a dramatic point when he told me that he lived with you while he went to college. It seems you have done this before, albeit many years ago.”
Jackson felt David nudge him under the table, so he said, “Yeah, it was almost twenty years ago, and we were younger, but Will was in a bad place then, in a world of hurt that could have wrecked his life—maybe even ended it. He was my best friend and had become David’s really good friend, too. It’s what friends do.”
Julius continued his line of inquiry. “But you barely know Jerrod. Other than that day sailing last summer, you’ve known him for a little over two months.”
Jackson looked at both of them and said softly, “Time passed is not a measure of friendship. Your son is a great person. He’s become a good friend to us and to our circle of friends, and right now he needs some help getting through this problem time. It’s no more complicated than that. Oh, and while you’ll meet his other friends tonight, there’s that central friendship with Kaiser. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for sundering that friendship would you?”
Cassie was smiling to herself as she heard Jackson’s comment, and Julius simply nodded his head, trying to remain non-committal. He looked at them both and said, “You told us yesterday that you didn’t want us to respond to your proposal until today, and we won’t. But we reserve the right to wait until after this evening when we meet these peer friends that Jerrod has made this summer. Is that acceptable to you?”
David and Jackson agreed and dropped them off at the hotel about 3:30. They agreed to be at the house about 6:00 PM, and from there they’d all go over to Will and Sam’s home a few blocks away.
The evening went quite well, even though Kaiser was not happy being left home alone. When they got to Will and Sam’s, David introduced them to Eric, Kim and Roger, and then in turn to Roger’s parents and Kim’s Dad. The adults outnumbered the teenagers, so it was easy for them to get comfortable and settle into conversation. They saw how well the boys got along, helping Will and Sam with the cooking and serving, and then enjoying the meal.
Cassie made the effort to sit next to the boys for dinner and it was clear to her that Eric and Kim were a couple, and she could see a clear connection, too, between Jerrod and Roger.
At one point late in the evening, Julius and Kim’s Dad were talking and Julius was told what a good young man he had for a son.
“Well, he’s on the road to improvement. There were some things last school year that weren’t too good.”
“So I’ve heard. But you know, I’m ex-Navy, and like all the armed services the Navy gets a broad cross section of people: good, bad and everything in between. That’s the challenge of making a cohesive force out of what you’ve got. It comes down to identifying the abilities and competencies each person has, and then developing them in the right way. In my opinion, Jerrod is one of those recruits with tons of potential.”
Julius was well aware of how similar this comment was to what Will had said the night before and took it at face value. In the back of his mind he found himself wondering why he’d not made that observation himself, and came very close to asking a question about gay teenagers. But his good sense got the better of him and he chose not to.
Kim’s Dad was looking straight at him and said, “I’m not just ex-Navy, but was an athlete and had the same questions that you do about gays. You know what I finally figured out? Or actually, what I figured out after David and Jackson and Will and Sam got done with me? It not only doesn’t matter because it’s biological and who they are, what does matter is that they can be true to themselves. Being able to accept themselves is the first part. Then being accepted by the people they love is the second part. I quit being worried about if my son is gay or not and started worrying about if he was happy or not, and guess what? He’s happier than he’s ever been, and doing better in school, too. Go figure!”
Julius had decided early in the evening not to be confrontational but to learn and listen, so he thanked Kim’s Dad and told him he appreciated the information he’d shared. He noticed Cassie in an animated conversation with Roger’s mother. After a while when he saw that their conversation was over, he motioned for Cassie to join him and they quietly told David they were going to walk around the block.
The gathering was still going strong when they got back, the boys onto their second serving of dessert. Eventually it started settling down and Roger’s parents announced it was time for them to leave. After saying their goodbyes, all watched Jerrod walk them out to the front of the house, and then come back. Shortly after, Kim’s Dad gave him the high sign, and after they thanked Will and Sam and everyone said good night, Kim gave Eric a big hug and they headed home.
David looked at them and said, “I suppose that means we’re next. Let us know when you’re ready to go.”
“We’re ready when you are, in as much as we do have something to discuss tonight given that we have a morning flight back tomorrow.”
They all said their goodbyes to their hosts, and it was a subdued conversation during the five minute drive back to the house. Jerrod said he needed to walk Kaiser in the back yard, and the adults had time for a bathroom break. They all knew this was it, so they just walked into the living room, sat down and David said, “Where shall we start?”
Julius looked at him and said, “We’ve taken your advice not only to consider your proposal, but also to understand the situation here, how Jerrod has changed over the summer, and the new friends and circumstance he now has.” He paused.
To David this sounded less like a trial lawyer prosecuting a case and more like someone doing mediation. Julius went on, “Jerrod’s mother and I have discussed it at great length, and what we want first and foremost is the best outcome for Jerrod. That said, what occurred last year will not continue. That includes not returning to Haverford and separation from that fraternity crowd. We also insist on candor and honesty. We will not be misled again as happened with that fraternity.”
He turned to his son. “We have been impressed with what you have engaged in this summer, and the friends you have made, as well as the acknowledgment of the bad decisions and actions you took last year. I commend you for that. You were in a new circumstance and instead of continuing as before you have made conscious changes that have clearly been beneficial.”
He paused and looked at his wife. Cassie said what apparently Julius was unable to. “Jerrod, we love you. You’re our son, and we want the best for you. We need to know that you were serious when you said what you did was wrong and that it would not happen again.”
Before Jerrod could answer, she rushed on, “You appear happier here with your new friends and with Kaiser than I can remember seeing you for a few years. Like your father said, you are not returning to Haverford. If we agree to you staying and finishing high school here, we need your word that you mean everything you’ve said, that you’re serious about the changes you’ve made.”
David understood at once that the parents had already made their decision, but they needed to do their duty, maintain their parental position as regards their son, as well as reach a level of personal satisfaction. This part had to be between them.
“It’s true Mom. I know what I did was wrong, and it won’t happen again. I promised you and Dad that and I’ll keep my word. You’ve seen that my new friends are different, and in fact the whole scene is different. I like it. It’s almost the opposite of the school scene in Philly, but isn’t that what you want? You were talking about sending me to some military school where the scene would be different. Here the scene is different. But you know what, I fit in this scene. I want you to know that David and Jackson are great guys, but they’re not push overs. They don’t put up with any crap. They told me what was what, talked to me about my problems, helped me see what was going on and helped me sort it out. I don’t want you to think letting me finish high school here would be like going to summer camp. I know this is serious, and I’ll be serious, I promise you that.”
Jerrod had run out of steam and looked down at the floor. The decision was now completely in his parent’s hands. They’d all made their case. It was quiet for a minute, then Julius spoke up.
“We’re inclined to accept the proposal that David and Jackson have made, with one proviso.”
He paused, waiting for the response he knew would happen, and he got it. Everyone looked up and all eyes were on him.
“That proviso is that next week you will fly back to Philadelphia and meet with the owner of the home that you broke in to. He has met with all the other fraternity brothers that were part of the breaking and entering, and he was, I have to say, more gracious and lenient than I would have been. However, his request to the police regarding not pressing charges was that he meet with all the culprits. That includes you, and I require that you meet with him, listen to him, apologize to him, and thank him.”
“Yes, Dad. That would be a good thing to do.”
“You can also start organizing what you’ll need to send out here if you’re going to do your senior high school year in Portland.”
Jerrod was struggling to suppress a broadening smile. “Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mom. I love you guys.”
Cassie was out of her seat and had her arms around Jerrod, “We love you, too. I’m just glad this has finally worked out for the best.” She turned to David and Jackson. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done. Not just this summer, but the last three days, which you have essentially dedicated to Jerrod and to us. More than anything else that tells me how sincere you are, and how much you care for this boy and want to help.”
She was getting emotional, and her face was flushed, and she looked at David and Jackson and said, “We are almost family, so is it acceptable to get a hug?”
Jackson started laughing. “In this house everyone gets hugs, it’s just a question of when.”
The decision had been made and the impasse was broken. The next few minutes before Jerrod’s parents left alternated between thanks and details. Finally, David said, “Let’s table all the details. We’ll start investigating the school enrollment process next week. Julius, you sort out the travel arrangements for Jerrod to meet with the homeowner. All the rest of it we can deal with later. I just want to thank you for taking the time and investing the energy to travel to the west coast in order to make the best decision for Jerrod.”
Jackson added, “Remember, we’re not miracle workers, so we can’t promise anything other than we’ll be on him like spots on a leopard. You can be comfortable, though, that he has a strong and caring support network. I think you’ve seen that in the last few days.”
They had, and Cassie smiled at him knowingly before they all said goodnight. They said that they’d call when they got home the next evening to let them all know they’d arrived safely.
After closing the front door, having watched the rental car disappear down the street, David put his arms around both of them and said, “Mission accomplished. I think this calls for a night cap. That includes you, too, Jerrod. How about a glass of wine?”
They let Kaiser out of his crate, and all settled back down in the living room. One part of Jerrod’s brain wanted to go off in the direction of how well David and Jackson had organized the last few days, but then he remembered what David had said when he made the remark about how David had ‘handled’ his father. A type of high-five celebration was not in order. He’d dodged a bullet, and it was time to be thankful.
Instead he just said, “In case you don’t know, can I tell you how I feel?”
David and Jackson nodded and smiled at him.
“Thankful. I joked about the execution squad coming out from Philly, and that wasn’t far off what could have happened, but pretty much the exact opposite of what did happen. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but thanks.”
Jackson gave him an appraising look and said, “It’s not what you did to deserve this, it’s who you are. What you did was totally fucked up, remember? That’s very different than who you are. David’s told you that a few times, and it’s really important that you accept that. Getting over self-doubt and finally accepting yourself as a good person can be hard, but that’s where it starts.”
“I know, and I’m working on that. I told Roger, and Eric and Kim, too, that they’ve got to help me.” He grinned at them, his eyes sparkling, “But I figure that if you can love the fuck up I was when I got here, then I can love that guy, too.”
David grinned at that, caught his eye and said, “I’ve got a question for you?”
“Exactly why aren’t you on the phone to Roger right now letting him know what’s going to happen?”
“Oh, shit! I forgot. I guess I got all caught up in the...you know, the emotion.”
“Go. Call your boyfriend.”
Jackson turned and lay back with his head on David’s lap, balancing the wine glass on this chest, as they heard the phone conversation begin from down the hall in the study.
David stroked his forehead, running his fingers into Jackson’s hair. “Remember when this was our favorite position and we’d do this like every day?”
“Yeah, and it’s still my favorite position. Well, apart from a few positions on the bed! But we’ve just fallen out of practice. We need to commit to doing it more often, that’s all.”
“I’m sure glad it all worked out and we can give him a new start.”
“Yes, indeed, and masterfully done, if I do say so myself!”
David wiggled his eyebrows. “He’s still got to get through the trip home and dealing with being gay. I just know his Mom knows from watching her today. I don’t know about Julius.”
“Well, he didn’t go tilt tonight, so that’s a good start. Cassie gave me a high sign or two. Maybe he’ll just come around slowly. If he can accept his son for who he is as a person, maybe he’ll accept his sexuality. It took him a few hard swallows and some time to accept his son is a good dog trainer and spends time as a therapist with a disabled kid. Seems to me there’s hope.”
Julius and Cassie were flying First Class, and because they were in the first row of seats, they had quite a bit of privacy on the flight back. It had been small talk on the way back to the hotel the night before, and the same this morning as they ate breakfast and packed. After they’d settled into their seats, Julius fell asleep during takeoff. Cassie always wondered how he did it, since that was the tensest part of the flight for her. She watched him as he slept, thinking back to their earlier life, birthing and raising Jerrod, and the few talks she’d had with him that led her to suspect he might be gay. He’d never admitted it, just kind of implied it. She’d never discussed it with Julius, knowing his rather rigid position on the subject, and now she wondered if she’d made a mistake. At least it would have prepared him for what now was a certainty to her, that their son was gay. Gay and in a relationship with a very nice young man his age, who she liked a lot, and who’s parents she not only liked as well, but who had no problems with accepting their son’s sexuality.
Julius stirred and when he woke, she was watching him, a soft smile on her face. He yawned and saw her watching him and smiling, and he smiled back. As he said, “What?” she reached for his hand and said, “I want to thank you for the approach you chose to take yesterday about Jerrod. I’m not referring to our decision to let him complete high school in Portland. I’m talking about Jerrod, himself.”
Julius’ smile turned wistful, and he said, “I’m still struggling mightily with what I think is the inevitable. You know what my views on homosexuality have been, and, really, still are. I mean, one’s views on matters like this don’t change at the snap of a finger.”
“I understand that, but I’ll just say you could have acted differently given your views, but you didn’t. I know you understand it’s legal and that gay people have rights and all, and I’m equally glad to hear you say you’re struggling with it. I’ve thought it a possibility for a few years, even though I didn’t know for sure and Jerrod never said so.”
Julius was quiet, pensive with his brow furrowed as he thought it through. “Well, as friendly and gracious as they all were, I mean what they’ve done for Jerrod this summer, and what they did for us the last few days, it would have been gauche and rude to have reacted the way I almost certainly would have just a few months ago.”
Cassie squeezed his hand and said, “And why is that?”
He was looking over her shoulder, out the window, when he replied and said, “I decided after dinner the first night that rather than act like judge and jury, I should act more like an attorney early in a case doing research. That meant more listening that talking.”
Cassie was quiet, waiting for him to continue.
“Will and Kim’s Dad both said some very specific things to me that were very profound. Both of them spoke of Jerrod as a young man with a lot of potential that just needed help getting through this rough spot in his life.”
“Those are perceptive comments, and thoughtful of them to share with you.”
“Yes, indeed, but that wasn’t all. Will and Sam have a gay son, and we now know about their own sexuality, so some of what he said to me is understandable. What Kim’s Dad said really hit me, though.”
He glanced at his wife and she softly smiled, waiting for him. “He told me that he’d been an athlete as well as military, in the Navy—meaning a man’s man. But that the eye opener for him when he found out Kim was gay came after David and Jackson, as well as Will and Sam, spent time with him and stressed how important it was for him to understand Kim’s need to be accepted. That he is who he is.”
His eyes were misting, and he was clearly struggling with the emotion he was feeling as he told his wife about this. “Then he said that once he’d come to the realization about accepting his son for whom he is, it dawned on him that the most important matter became Kim’s happiness.”
Julius fell silent, and Cassie, understanding how difficult it was for Julius to say this much, just leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re an honorable and caring man. I love you.”
She was leaning on his shoulder, still holding his hand when they saw the flight attendant start to push the food cart into the aisle for lunch service.
Julius’ admin assistant called on Monday to let them know that Jerrod had reservations to fly to Philly on Wednesday, and he’d return on Saturday. David took it as a good sign that Julius and Cassie were satisfied with two days, and weren’t trying to extend it, and would let him get straight back to his routine in Portland. On Tuesday, Jerrod explained to Sean and his Mom that he would be gone on Thursday. Sean was crestfallen, and only slightly mollified when Jerrod assured him that Roger would meet then at the park with Kaiser. Sean’s Mom smiled widely and told him it would work out fine.
Julius had arranged a meeting time with the homeowner on Thursday, and drove him to the home himself, as if to assure himself that the meeting occurred as planned and expected. They all met together in the living room to begin with, and the discussion went much as it had when Jerrod told David and Jackson, and then his parents about what had happened and why. He took the initiative to thank the man for being so gracious, made a point of apologizing to him and then explained that he had learned something about actions and consequences and he could assure the man that nothing like this would ever happen again.
The man was thoughtful, watching Jerrod closely as he spoke. Into the silence after Jerrod finished, he finally said, “I want to begin by asking you what I asked all the others. Why did you do what you did? What was the motivation for teenagers from well off families to do a thing like this?”
Jerrod was quiet looking down at the floor. Finally, he said, “I don’t know. I just don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense. Saying we thought it would be fun sounds stupid now.”
The man had been listening closely, and now said, “I would like to tell you two things. First, as your father already knows, as a Scout leader I know all too well that boys make mistakes that can redirect their lives in the wrong ways. I know because I did that as well. An important part of life then, is trying to take corrective action so the redirection is in a positive manner. Second, with you meeting with me today, and I am fully aware that you flew all the way from Oregon to do so. I’ve now spoken with all the boys that were part of the breaking and entering into my home, and I want to tell you something, and I want your father to hear it. You are the only one of the six who is apologizing from the heart, and on top of that, who has already made changes in their life to redirect such behavior. I’m not trying to demean the other boys, but frankly, they were making proforma apologies.” He looked at Julius and said, “As an attorney, you know full well what I mean by that, correct?”
Julius nodded his understanding.
“So, Jerrod, I want to thank you for your transparency and honesty, and the sincerity that comes with it. While we’re here together, is there anything else on your mind?”
He was watching Jerrod closely and saw a flash of pain and guilt cross his face. He sat quietly, waiting, and then heard Jerrod softly say, “No, I mainly wanted to apologize and to thank you.”
The man and Jerrod had been looking at each other, and he was well aware of some turmoil still boiling inside the boy. He looked up at Julius and said, “Would you mind if your son and I take a walk around the block for a few minutes. His candor has really made an impression on me.”
Julius was completely caught off guard but knew he couldn’t say anything other than ‘Yes’ and did so.
“Thank you. We’ll be back in just a few minutes. There are cold drinks in the refrigerator and feel welcome to use the telephone, and the New York Times is right there on the table.”
Jerrod had moved from somewhat surprised to concerned. This wasn’t at all how he’d expected the meeting to end. But he was here and committed, and saw no way to escape. They walked out the front door and turned down the sidewalk out front.
“I’m not trying to put you on the spot, Jerrod. I meant every word I said about your honesty and transparency, and I appreciate your honesty in coming to meet with me. I hope you understand that I’m on your side.”
Jerrod nodded his head and didn’t say anything. “Good, then let me ask you this question. Is there a reason that you understand in your own mind that explains why you couldn’t tell me why you did what you did?”
Jerrod looked at him, completely caught off guard.
“Let me say that none of the other boys could either. However, none of them were remotely in touch with their feelings and motivations, they all gave the apology that they knew they had to deliver. You on the other hand were open and transparent, you appear to be in touch with your feelings and motivations, and have made necessary changes in your own life, on your own.”
They turned the first corner and Jerrod began to understand where this line of questioning was going. “It’s because I was really lucky. I’ve spent the summer with my Aunt’s brother-in-law and his partner out in Portland. He did student counseling for years and is now Dean of Students at a college. With his partner, they’ve worked with high school and college kids for almost twenty years. They helped me understand my problems and get real.”
“If that’s the case can you tell me anything about the problems you got real about? Specifically, what caused you to do something that could have had such a devastating impact on your life?”
Jerrod swallowed hard, shot a glance at the man and looked away. He knew instantly that if he went any further in this conversation, he’d be outing himself.
The man kept looking straight ahead as they turned the second corner. “If you use the term partner in describing the gentlemen in Portland, am I to assume that they’re gay?”
Oh God! This was getting close to home! Still it was about David and Jackson, not him. “Yes, they are. They’ve been together for almost twenty years, since Jackson was a senior in high school.”
“They sound like quite an amazing couple given that. Plus, providing the environment in which you could come to terms with the potential ramifications that your actions could have caused in your life. Were they able to help you understand the underlying problems, the cause of the pain and anger that might have motivated your actions in the last school year?”
Jerrod felt like he was choking as they made the third turn. He had to struggle to swallow, but then he realized something. This man had already forgiven him and absolved him of any consequences. He was going back to Portland the day after tomorrow. What did he have to lose?
“Yes, they did. They helped me understand that I’ve had trouble accepting myself and loving myself.”
“That seems to me to be a major type of understanding to help another person reach.”
Jerrod felt a flood of honesty and transparency like he’d never known, and previously would never have allowed to take place, and found himself saying, “It was. It helped a lot, but it was part of something else, that I’ve been denying that I’m gay and hiding it because my father is intolerant, and that I’ve been acting out about that even though I didn’t know it.”
The man had no immediate response, and they kept walking, approaching the final turn. Then he said, “I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve been able to identify the root cause of your problem. Your father has told me that you’re relocating to Portland to live with these gentlemen in order to complete high school. I think that is a wonderful opportunity. I hope you make the most of it.”
As they turned up the walkway to the front door of his house, he said softly, “I also hope you will consider me a friend, and feel free to call or write if you’re so inclined.”
As they walked into the living room, Julius stood up and folded the New York Times and placed it back on the table. As they stood there, Jerrod looked beyond his father, to the bookshelves behind him, and noticed on one of them a photograph of two men. They were standing together at the beach, smiling widely, clearly having been caught on camera in the midst of having a wonderful time. One was the man he’d just walked around the block with.
He called home that night, for that is how he thought of it. Jackson answered the phone and after saying hello, his first questions was “How’s Kaiser?”
“He’s missing you horribly. He’s worse than me and David. At least we’re not howling every night before we finally fall asleep exhausted.”
“Yeah, right! Is he still a happy camper?”
“For sure. That’s the way this dog is wired. Nothing will ever change that. When we’re sitting around at night though, and he’s got his chin resting on my foot, at least once every hour he raises up his head and looks around like he’s trying to figure out why your foot isn’t available for him to switch over to.”
Jerrod chuckled, and said, “Well, give him a hug and tell him I’ll be home soon, okay? The meeting with the homeowner went really well. He’s a very cool man. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. There’s way more to it than I can say on the phone. Tomorrow I’ll get my stuff organized to come back. I guess we’ll ship the rest of my skiing equipment and tennis gear. I’ll probably come back with a couple of extra suitcases of clothes. Is that okay.”
“Just fine, my man. Call us when you connect in Chicago and let us know if your flight is on time and we’ll pick you up at the airport. Remember, like when you first got here? I’ll meet you at baggage claim. However, I don’t expect to see a nervous and uptight teenager this time, okay?”
“I can arrange that.”
“Would you like it if we brought Roger with us to the airport? He’s got a bad case of ants in his pants, as if he’s missing you like crazy or something?”
“Is he really? He sounds so cool and calm on the phone.”
“Well, trust me, he’s quite anxious to see you again. I think he’s missing you big time.”
“Good to know, and guess what? He’s not alone!”
To Jerrod’s surprise, Julius said that he’d be driving him to the airport to catch his flight to Portland. They were up early, and Jerrod was able to say goodbye to Cassie before she left for work. They were quiet on the first part of the drive, then much to Jerrod’s surprise Julius said, “Can we talk?”
Jerrod was immediately suspicious, talk between them not being the norm, then he became curious. He said, “Sure, Dad, what’s on your mind?” He expected a lecture on the required behavior for the coming school year, or perhaps something on financial management.
Instead, Julius said, “I want to apologize for not being a good father. For not being there for you when you needed me.”
Jerrod was so surprised that all he could get out was “What, what…I don’t understand, what do you mean?”
“I mean that I learned a lot last week in Portland, and I have inestimable respect for David, and also for Jackson. That said, though, I learned something profound talking to Will about what he went through and how David and Jackson stepped forward and took him into their lives to help him deal with a particular problem situation in his life. To help him heal and get on with his life. I’m sorry I couldn’t do that for you.”
Jerrod didn’t know what to say. Julius was quiet, and Jerrod waited a few seconds and then said, “They’ve all told me about it, and it was a pretty amazing thing to do. They’re wonderful guys, and Will is the best, too.”
Julius nodded, then he said, “But Kim’s father said something to me that penetrated to my core. He already knew I was reacting the wrong way about homosexuality, and told me that he’d started out the same way, and it wasn’t until David and Jackson as well as Will and Sam got done with him that he realized that what mattered wasn’t his own view of sexuality, but rather whether or not his son felt accepted and was happy.”
Jerrod was suddenly spooked. He hadn’t spoken to his parents about being gay, only to the man who had forgiven him for breaking into his house.
Julius continued, “I’m not going to press you about your sexuality. I am sure you understand the view I’ve long had. I just want you to know that your mother and I have been talking, and I learned a lot last week, and I’m trying to broaden my thinking. My immediate concern is that I haven’t been a good father, that I haven’t been there for you when you needed me the most and that we haven’t communicated very well. What I want more than anything is for you to be happy. The last thing I want is that at the end of our lives you wish you’d had a better father. Can we work on that together?”
Jerrod was at a loss for words. “Well, yeah, but don’t think that…”
Julius cut him off. “You don’t need to say anything to try and make me feel better. My eyes were opened last week. I saw the family dynamics. Can we just work on making our relationship better? That’s all I ask. I do love you, you know, even if I don’t do a very good job of showing it.”
On the flight home to Portland many images flowed through Jerrod’s mind, and he felt a sense of peace like he hadn’t known in a long time. He now had two homes, and while he was flying to the newest, there was now hope things would get better with his parents in the old one. He’d been able to talk to his Mom, who made clear to him that she wasn’t going to press him on the question of being gay, but wanted him to know that she loved him no matter what and that she understood it was biological and that she’d talked about it with his father. She said he would be slower coming around, but that the timing was up to him. She had even said that she liked Roger and asked him to be patient with his parents. Maybe that’s what made his Dad able to be so open during the drive to the airport. He’d never been open like that before, and he’d never directly said he loved Jerrod before either.
Jerrod saw hope behind him on the east coast, and adventure ahead on the west coast. He was excited about both, and wasn’t surprised, as he stood by the baggage carousel when he heard from behind him, “Yo, Jerrod. You made it.”
It was Jackson’s voice, but the hands that slipped around his waist from behind weren’t Jackson’s!
He turned into Roger’s arms, and received a massive hug and a kiss on his neck. Jackson was grinning like a proud parent.
“Just wait,” he said, “We’ve got another surprise for you, too.”
Five minutes later they carried Jerrod’s luggage outside where the Durango was parked idling at the curb. As they approached the vehicle, Kaiser put his head out of the rear window, and began barking, his tail wagging like crazy!
Many thanks to my editor, Michael, for the time and effort to proof and edit this story and make it a much better read.
The story was inspired by this photo taken by JD Demane and posted on the Golden Retrievers Everywhere web site.
The picture is in the public domain and provided here under the doctrine of 'fair use' which is believed to apply.