Wednesday, December 30, 2015

With Best Intentions

Sinners crave validation.

When our consciences trouble us, a common first instinct is to seek out sympathetic ears.

For all but the most morally callused that is usually ineffective: most of us can detect when we are being indulged or patronized; when the person listening isn’t buying our sob story but is too intimidated (or uninterested) to fight about it; when their own judgment is suspect or their own character compromised. The sort of comfort such a person gives is wholly inadequate. The alarm bell of conscience just keeps on ringing.

So it becomes necessary to seek validation from those we know to be opposed to our behaviour. If we can convince them, the logic goes, surely we can quiet the voices in our heads.

If only it were that easy.

The Big Surprise

The day after Mother’s Day 2013, New York-based food columnist Patrick Bradley informed his mother, a Christian, that the extended family of his “husband-to-be” were travelling from Georgia, Colorado and beyond all the way to New Jersey to get to know his parents.

That’s when Patrick’s mom quietly told him neither she nor his father would attend his wedding.

This came as a surprise to Patrick, who knew what his parents believed but had remained convinced he’d be able to change their minds before his big day. He also had the support of his intended, the man’s extended family, much of his own family, the entire gay community and every progressive in North America. In his parents’ corner stood ... pretty much nobody.

And yet all that validation from predictable places was not enough, it seems. Two years later Patrick’s conscience is still eating away at him. So he has written an open letter to his parents and published it online.

Looking for Clues

The “openness” of the letter is our first clue that Patrick is not looking for reconciliation but validation of his lifestyle choice. People looking to actually resolve things tend to do it quietly.

Instead, he told them:
“I think it’s time that I told my side of the story to the family, as I’m sure you have already told yours. I want everything to be out in the open, so that I can feel like I have all of my dignity with me when I will undoubtedly see you at family gatherings — gatherings which I now would rather avoid if it means that either of you will be present; I have other ways of seeing my family.”
So it’s not about forgiveness, making amends or turning the page, it’s primarily about Patrick’s “dignity”. He has no problem throwing his parents under the bus if doing so might win him support from other family members.

The second clue that Patrick has no respect for the consciences of his loved ones is his surprisingly ineffective ultimatum to his mother that day in May:
“I explained to you, simply and calmly, that if you (both) did not attend my wedding, you would not see me again after the wedding: no holidays, no birthdays, no hospitals, no funerals. What I heard next put me into a state of mild shock. You followed up, quickly and readily, with, ‘We know that! I talked to your dad last night and we already accept it! We said that we give you back to God!’ ”
As “quickly and readily” as it seemed to Patrick, that, I guarantee, was not an easy speech for Mom.

More Ultimatums

The third clue that Patrick’s love for mom and dad is not first and foremost on his mind is his ongoing attempt to bully them into a show of public support:
“I will forgive you both for what you have done, if you, in front of the entire family (from youngest to eldest) admit that what you both did was wrong; admit that you both should have been at the wedding. Because I do think that what you both have done is shameful. You’ve torn a family apart.”
Leaving aside who it is that might actually be responsible for any “tearing apart” that has gone on within the Bradley family, it seems evident the real need Patrick feels is the need to turn off the alarm:
“The time is now because I’ve finally grown too tired of the 890 days and nights of being haunted by your presence — by your lack of presence, to be more precise. I’m tired of night after night of dreaming of you.”
That doesn’t sound like a man comfortable in his own skin. It sounds like a man desperately in need of validation.

Plenty of Company

I sympathize with him, actually. It’s an ugly feeling, and one I know well. And Patrick has plenty of company.

Abraham, who, when confronted with the reaffirmation of an heir to come through his wife Sarah, begged God to dignify the son he already had through his own connivance by making him heir to the promise instead. He cried, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

And God said no.

Then there’s King Saul, who tore the skirt of the prophet Samuel’s robe in his desperation to get Samuel to “honor” him before the elders and people of Israel after he failed to follow God’s commands. Samuel finally went back with him, but it didn’t make the rest of his reign any better: his remaining years were characterized by misery and failure.

Getting his “validation” from Samuel didn’t seem to help Saul any.

I don’t expect wringing an apology out of his parents would help Patrick much either.

A Principled Stand

Far be it from me to kick an angsty, self-absorbed, worldly and self-willed young man when he’s down. I’ve been there. You’ve maybe been there too. Not over the issue of gay marriage, perhaps, but over any number of choices we knew were wrong but simply would not give up.

But never mind Patrick. What about his poor parents? I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. and Mrs. Bradley’s shoes for anything. If you stand by your convictions about the character of God and what he would and would not approve, you get to be called bigoted, intolerant, family-destroying Bible thumpers, and you get to lose your son to boot. If you don’t, you live with the guilt of having compromised the truth and become willing enablers of a sin that you believe is guaranteed to shorten your son’s life, make him utterly miserable and contribute to his eternal loss.

I doubt Patrick has a clue how much his mother’s stand cost her. Moms are usually the first to cave.

When I look back, I owe a debt of gratitude to the few brave souls who took a principled stand about my own sinful behavior in years past and made their convictions known. Like Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, they weren’t loud or obnoxious about it, and they didn’t make it a big public deal. They sat quietly across a donut store table (or across a living room) from me and made their concern for me known. One older man just cried. It was not a comfortable scene. Nobody shunned me or refused to ever speak to me again. But it was very clear where the lines are drawn and what the word of God says.

Patrick Bradley’s parents didn’t disinherit or shun him either. They simply wouldn’t give him the validation he obviously craves.

The Kicker

The fourth and final clue that Patrick’s missive is not entirely motivated by love? It’s the last couple of lines of his letter:
“I think you both should bear the shame, not me. I want everyone to know everything. And maybe tonight, I’ll finally be able to sleep the whole night through.

With Best Intentions,

Yeah, I think those intentions are pretty clear.


  1. Love those parents. Taking defective merchandise back for repair to the only person who might have a chance at accomplishing such a repair. Sadly, but realistically, that strongly depends on the free will of the merchandise.

    1. You know, I don't remember reading this comment when the post was first published, but it's a very good take.