Melina Waldo (right) noticed that her 19-year-old son had recently become rather distant. “I wondered what could be wrong with Craig,” she recalled. His grades were fine, so whatever it was, it probably wasn’t college-related.
She called her three daughters – Craig’s older sisters – who were then living together in Connecticut, and whom Craig had recently visited during a school break. Speaking to her eldest daughter, she asked: “Is he OK? Something has to be wrong.”
Her daughter said he was fine, but Melina wasn’t convinced.
“Is Catherine pregnant?” she asked. Catherine was Craig’s girlfriend (or so she thought).
To that question however, her daughter laughed.
“Why is that funny?” Melina said. “I may be his mother, but it doesn’t mean I don’t know they’re having sex.”
Her daughter laughed even more.
And then something clicked. “Is he gay?”
The eldest daughter quickly passed the phone to the middle daughter, who calmly told her mother, “Yes, mom, Craig told us he is gay.”
“I fell apart. It was a bolt out of the blue, ” Melina recalled. “I thought his entire life was ruined.” Still holding the phone, she just broke down and cried.
“Just as I was just hanging up, but still crying, my husband came in through the door. He saw me half-collapsing and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”
“All I could say between my sobbing was ‘It’s Craig’, which made him imagine the worst, like a fatal car accident.
“‘What about Craig?’ he asked, and it took me a while to answer.
“Then I finally said, ‘Craig is gay.’
“‘Jesus Christ, is that all?’ he burst out. Bless his heart; he put it into perspective immediately.”
* * * * *
Looking back, Melina could remember a moment when she should have been able to guess. That was when her son was still in high school and once brought Catherine home. Passing through the living room, “I saw him sitting with her with one arm thrown over the sofa and not over her shoulder,” she recalled. “I thought to myself, what red-blooded boy of that age didn’t want to put his arm around his girlfriend? It looked like he was sitting with his sister.”
But she put it out of her mind.
It would later turn out that Catherine was the first person Craig told about his sexual orientation. His sisters were second.
“Eventually, we learned that he knew was gay at thirteen,” Melina said, “but he never got around to telling us.
“He later said to us, ‘I had to be sure of it myself before I could talk to anyone.'”
Melina felt very bad about how it was so hard and lonely for her son through all those years, but she came to understand too. “What people don’t realise is that it’s very hard for the boy. He would have no clue how his parents would react. Coming out would put everything at risk – their love, their support, a home – you could lose everything.”
How many straight teenagers have to make this kind of decision? Or live, day in day out, with the risk of calamitous discovery?
“This is why I get so angry when other people say it’s a choice to be gay,” Melina said. “Why would anyone choose to be gay? It’s so hard.”
And also, it starts rather young. “A lot of children may not know anything about sexual orientation, but they can sense that they are different. Most are unhappy.”
She is now active in PFLAG, an organisation for parents, families and friends of gays and lesbians. “That’s why I do what I do, because it’s so terribly unfair.”
* * * * *
After that dramatic phone call, Melina and her husband drove to see Craig at his college. They were the longest three hours, both for her and for her son. Notified of their impending arrival, his roommate fled the room and Craig just sat there on his bed, not knowing what to expect.
“It was kind of fortunate that it was such a long drive, because I had time to think,” said Melina. “I had to keep telling myself: Craig needs us and we must quit thinking only of ourselves and our feelings. We had to pull ourselves together.”
And so when they finally got to his room, they sat down beside him, “and we told him very simply that we loved him.”
As Melina decribed the moment, “We kept telling him it would be alright. The truth is I didn’t really know whether it would be alright.” Inside her, it still felt like the bottom had fallen out, but she knew as a mother that she had to say what he needed to hear.
They then took him out to dinner and began to talk.
* * * * *
The following few months were very difficult for Melina. She didn’t know how to cope and suffered a bout of depression. “Parents are not realistic,” she said on looking back, “and we want the world for our children.”
Even in a society like the United States, where there is much more openness and public acceptance of gay orientation, when it is something that affects one’s own child, “there is still a lot of anguish,” said Melina. “Parents are still upset, because it’s their own child.”
That’s why organisations like PFLAG are important. “We understand what parents feel and what they’re going through.”
* * * * *
Melina is Roman Catholic. During her darkest days, she sought out her parish priest for help and advice, but he didn’t have much to say. He seemed uncomfortable dealing with the subject. Perhaps he had to confine himself to church teaching.
Later, she mentioned this to her son.
“You went to see Father Kent?” he exclaimed.
“Yes, why not?” she said.
“But he’s such a queen!”
Melina had no clue. Looking back now, “it must have been terrifying for the poor man,” put on the spot by her raising the issue of sexual orientation. “How could I be so blind?”