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Transitions – Amazing Testimonies

Friday, August 5th, 2011


1982corvette081908At the center of this story, I am riding in a vintage 1982 Corvette Collector Edition on the freeway in Southern California. My very first time to ride in a ‘vette.


Loud, stiff, low to the ground, there is nothing like the “All American Sports Car!” the creaking of the fiberglass shell is part of the whole experience of riding in this rare classic.


With all of the cars I have owned, ridden in, and admired through the years, I had never ridden in a Corvette until this moment in time. How incredible to have my first ride in Southern California with a great friend. He loves his very own piece of American History and I felt privileged to have been able to share in it with him.


The ride didn’t stifle the anxiousness I was feeling as we flew by the others along the way. Staring at the rocker panels of most cars, the low slung position was indicative of what I was feeling inside as I moved towards something that I was about to experience.


As I continue to transition away from having worked with ex-gay miniisty for many years, an editor from a well read blog called the “Ex-Gay Watch” contacted me about my resignation from Love In Action. He began to ask me questions about why I had chosen to leave and what was going on in my life at the time. As we talked, I shared with him about how my heart had become more open to building relationships within the gay community. He recommend that I come up with an authentic apology first. He talked with me about how many people within the gay community didn’t trust the ex-gay community and that if I could find it in my heart to apologize for things I had done to wound them through my involvement with Love In Action it might help me to build a trust in order to be heard.


I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I didn’t know what an apology would consist of and how my life had wounded others. But, my mind was open because I wanted to badly to develop this outreach to bring the gospel into the lives of those that were gay. The request for an apology became deeply lodged into my heart and I began to pray about what that may entail. God brought some things into my life to help me see what that might look like. Before I could think more about this some other opportunities came along.


God’s Provision

About a week or two after Todd Ferrell and I talked for the first time (see Part Two of “God Surprise Me”), I got a call from a ministry in Washington state. It seemed they wanted me to facilitate a conference for their area that would include mostly ministry to the parents of gay children. I wanted to do it so I said I would put it down on the calendar. As soon as I looked, I found that Todd’s conference was just one weekend after I had scheduled to be in Washington.


How interesting? I talked with my wife and realized I could easily arrange a “circle trip” to accommodate a flight from Washington to Southern California that would only slightly change my airfare. I called Todd and said I could now come to the conference he was holding. I was extremely nervous about attending this conference with Christians that are gay. Years ago I learned not to criticize something that I was unfamiliar with so for no other reason than to look and see for myself, I felt I needed to attend the event.


As time came closer I asked Todd about a referral for a hotel roommate. I just didn’t have the money to front the entire cost and was looking for someone to share that with me. Of course, I was trusting Todd to find some appropriate and knew he would understand my situation. So as the weeks went by, Todd contacted me with the name of a good friend of his that he said would have a lot in common with me. His name was Gary.


So, I completed the conference in Washington and flew to Los Angeles. I had arranged to stay with some good friends there for a couple of days just prior to Todd’s conference. I spent a lot of time talking with them about my plans and running this decision through our friendship filter.


1982 corvette seatsThe Low, Stealthy Corvette Ride, and an Anxious Arrival

On the morning of the event my friend drove me to the front door of the hotel and dropped me off. I felt extremely self conscious going into the hotel. My mind was racing with questions and fears. Once I was inside, I got registered and went to my room. Gary, my roommate was already there so I introduced myself to him. He was very gracious and we decided to have a meal together that evening and get to know each other. I found him to be a wonderful guy. He was about my age.


He had previously been married and had a daughter. His marriage had ended in divorce but they had done a lot of work to become amicable and had become good friends as they raised their daughter. He was kind, and honest as he shared his story. And, he was gracious with my story as well.


The next morning I went to the first workshop and walked inside and saw someone that looked very familiar to me.  As the morning went by, I knew for certain it was the man I remembered. I really wanted to talk with him. As we walked out the door I turned to him and said, “Hello, do you know where we know each other from?” He looked puzzled and then I told him. “You were in the Love In Action program in the mid eighties. I was there as a House Leader and remember you very well.” He laughed and embraced me and then seemed really glad to see me. He was using a walker which at his age told me he was going through something difficult. I was so glad to see him. His smile was so joyous and he seemed to be so in love with Jesus which showed through every pore in his body.


He began to tell me about the last 20 years of his life. He was HIV +, he had just had surgery for cancer and was in recovery, hence, the walker. He said he had lost many friends through his recent illness and he said that today his family was all he had. And yet through all of the pain and suffering, he said, “But I love Jesus. He has been so good to me.” He went on to say that he was really glad he had been in Love In Action because it was where he learned how much he needed the Lord. He talked very easily about how messed up his life was when he went there and that the experience at LiA helped him to begin his own journey of healing and growing in Christ. “John, I’m gay and I’m OK with that. Jesus loves me and I’ve never been so complete and satisfied in Him.” There were several people that I met that weekend that really challenged me to listen to them without judgment.


I was so surprised! I never expected  the first person I would see, other than my friendly roommate, to be one of the first people I met when I began working with LiA so many years ago. He and I talked often over the next several days of the conference and every time I saw him, he was encouraging someone, laughing with someone or showing evidence of a wonderful connection to the Lord. There is nowhere else he would have gotten that kind of joy.


JohnSmidReflectiveShotB&WFantasyBackgroundA Silent Observer

So, I began to listen to others and closely evaluate what I was seeing and hearing. On the evening of that first day I decided to go to the common area to relax. When I got there I saw two younger guys who were talking with each other. I introduced myself to them. They asked if I was part of the conference. I hesitated to affirm their question but said, “yes”. They said “Oh, that’s wonderful, so are we.” Just a few short surface questions later they asked if they could share their story with me. I obliged their seeming hunger to tell me more about their life experiences.


Once again, I was shocked at what I heard. “John, we were huge druggies. We have known each other from the drug culture for over 15 years. We’ve been together since we were teenagers.” They went on to talk about how their pastor pursued them for over four years. “John, his kindness and his faithfulness finally won out. We accepted Christ a year ago. It has been an amazing journey for us. We have seen a real change for the better in our lives and in our relationship with each other.” It was apparent to me they were talking about their same sex partnership for 15 years or more now.


I’m sure if someone had looked at me they might have seen my head spinning in disbelief of what I was experiencing. I had such a deep hunger to see people come to know Jesus in a real, solid, life changing way. Right here before my eyes was the answer to my prayers. But it didn’t look like I thought it would. These young men were obviously very excited about Jesus and truly understood the gospel. Yet they were seemingly very comfortable in their relationship and with being gay.


From their relationship with Jesus, their lives were changing for sure, but not in ways I would have expected. I had always assumed that an acceptance of Christ would have brought a increasing discomfort of a gay relationship in two guys who were seeking Him like these two guys were. They told me how much of a mess it has been for their pastor to walk alongside of them and yet he had continued to love them. One of the guys said, “My parents didn’t used to like my partner when we were drugging. But now, they say they are thrilled because of the positive influence he has had on me in my growth in God and how he has encouraged my faith.”


Then, they talked about how they wanted to go to the beach while they were in Southern California, but decided not to. I asked why not? And their answer was another example of their walk with Christ. I saw the fruit in their next statement, “Oh, we don’t think it would be a good idea, we’re trying to keep our minds pure and seeing all the guys on the beach might not be helpful.”


As I spun around in my head from what I had just experienced, I got up and said goodbye. I went up to my room and just felt such a sense of joy for God allowing me to hear the real life story of these two guys. But at the same time, their story challenged so much of my own “doctrine” that I was unsettled and questioning so many things.


Two Men, Different Paths, Similar Experiences

As I got back to my room Gary was still up. We talked late into the night. He shared a lot of his own life with me and I told him most of mine. We really connected. I loved his sensitivity to my life and his own humility was amazing for me to experience. He was genuine in his faith and yet was comfortable in being gay. He seemed to have found a place where both resided in his life with peace. All of this challenged my former philosophies. I had always said that God would not allow anyone who is His to find peace if they had embraced being gay. I just assumed that God would certainly cause them to be unsettled, convicted, or at odds with Him and themselves at a deep level.


This process for me has been interesting, threatening, and life shaking. This was just the first day of this conference. The next two days weren’t any less earth shattering for me. I remained on the periphery of the groups and just kept a low profile.


Tomorrow is another day.


This is Part Three in a series called, “God Surprise Me!” Click Here to read more.


 

A New Car – A New Life? Part 2

Thursday, July 28th, 2011


shadow-manMeeting Two Strangers I Didn’t Want to Know


Three years ago I had time to evaluate, to think, to reestablish a new layer to my life. In the process I had many discussions along the way.


I was in a passionate conversation with a friend of mine about how each of us processed the issue of homosexuality. She began to talk about friends she had that were Christians and yet were involved in same sex partnerships. I felt frustrated because she just didn’t want to tell me what she thought about being for – or against homosexual relationships. As we talked that day, seemingly for hours, I began to speak strongly about someone I had heard of for many years that was gay and claimed to be a Christian. Michael Bussee was one of the men who arranged the very first Exodus International conference.


Many years ago I watched a video where Michael shared some of his life story and I felt challenged by the things he was sharing. As I talked about Michael I had a disdain in my heart towards him. This led me to profile him with many others I judged to be rebellious and compromising of God’s standards. I had never really wanted to know anyone who claimed to be a Christian but was living in an overt gay relationship. If they wanted help, they should say so, otherwise, I figured they would have to deal with God on things and I kept my distance.


As I talked with Lisa, she got quiet. When I was done, she said, “John, don’t you think it is unfair to form such strong opinions about someone you have never met? Don’t you think you owe it to him and talk with him personally before you form an opinion about his character?”


Phew, that was humbling.

Lisa was absolutely correct. I was unfair in basing my opinions about what I had “heard” rather than from my own experience with someone like Michael. I had a lot of “Michaels” in my life. I was smug in my heart regarding people like Michael. But for some reason I thought it was enough to gauge my opinions on what I had heard from others and didn’t feel I needed to spend any time with them.


So, Lisa asked again, “John, would you be willing to talk with Michael? I can arrange a phone call if you are willing to hear his heart.” What could I say? I had already crossed the line in what I had said about him. I at least owed him the respect to talk with him. Now , I wondered if he was even willing to talk with me? After all, I am sure Michael had heard things about me through the years as well. I have no doubt that Michael was familiar with my involvement in ex-gay ministries and was sure he didn’t think so favorably about me either. It was interesting to see how I went from “I don’t want to talk with him” to hum, I wonder if he’ll talk with me?


So, Lisa called me back and said Michael was willing to talk with me. We arranged a phone call and I remember sitting in my office in a comfortable chair in preparation for the call. I was feeling nervous about the call. I wasn’t sure what to expect in our conversation. So, when the phone rang, I answered and after a little introductory conversation I was surprised at what transpired. We talked comfortably about our lives and experiences. Michael and I had a lot in common having both been previously married and then got divorced. Michael went into a gay relationship and I went on to get married to Vileen but we had many shared experiences to talk about.


Michael Bussee Became A Person

I left the conversation feeling a sense of peace. I found Michael to be endearing, humble, honest, and very respectful of my life and experiences. He talked about some of the painful things he had experienced in his life as well as the joys. We related to having children and grandchildren as well. I felt a desire to talk with him again largely because he was a genuinely nice guy. He and I have formed a friendship that I respect as person whose life matters and has value not only to God, but to others as well.


strange landA New Land – People Who Are Significant to the Kingdom of God


So, wow, I’ve now gone into more uncharted territory. I wondered what would come next. So, I called Lisa and gave her my report, “Lisa, actually, I enjoyed talking with Michael.” She said she had another friend she wanted me to talk with. She told me of a man named Todd Ferrell. She said he was someone she admired a lot and wanted me meet him. She connected us and we set a time to talk. I figured since Michael was a great guy maybe Todd would be someone that was nice too.


Todd and I decided to use Skype to talk. After setting up my first Skype connection we had a great time talking about our lives. Once again, I felt surprised at what I heard. Todd, like Michael, was sincere and willing to share pieces of his life that were filled with humility and honesty. Since I had never been in a friendship with someone that was “gay affirming” like Todd, I guess I expected to hear something different.


I was looking for excuses, rationalizing Scripture to their own tastes. I was sure I would hear things that would offend me but I found none of that. I am not sure what it was I expected but I surely didn’t expect to hear this.


“John, our church saw the pain in the gay community in San Francisco. As an outreach to bring Jesus to the streets we decided to serve communion on Castro Street in San Francisco on Good Friday. There were requests for prayer, shared tears, hunger for God that left us speechless. Yes, there were those who were on drugs, those who were angry, and other distractions. But in the end, we knew we had touched the hearts of many who were hungry to connect with God.”


heart beatI was left in tears myself after hearing this story, “Todd, your heart beats the same as mine for the gay community. Of course you know there are many “evangelicals” in our country that would think what your church did was blasphemous. But, I am right there with you, my new friend. I love what you are doing.”


I realized that many outreach attempts in urban areas like San Francisco are based on singing on street corners and handing out tracts. But in this case, Todd and his church were really going for it to touch these people in a very real and physical way.


Wow, how unexpected? Another surprise! Actually, I began to see the surprises as “gifts”. It was like God had prepared many gifts for me and put them underneath a Christmas tree to be opened one at a time. I knew they were all good since they were coming from Him but I had not opened all of them yet.


I’ll never forget the conversations with these two men. Both of which are friends today but not that long ago, I don’t think I would have walked across the street to talk with either one of them. It would have been my loss for sure.


Through my former ministry involvement I certainly knew hundreds of Christians who would say they wrestled with being gay. For some reason I separated these men and women into two camps. There were those who were “seeking to change” and those who had accepted being gay. Until just recently I didn’t realize how I had compartmentalized my view of people who are gay. Those who had accepted being gay were somehow not worth knowing or maybe I was just afraid of crossing into the other side of all of this.


In my conversation with Todd, he invited me to attend a conference his ministry was hosting in April of 2010. I said, “Todd, I would like to come to that but I am very low on funds and couldn’t see having the money to come.” He was talking about “The Evangelical Network” which is an organization that has a heart to connect Christians who are gay and to support their faith and ministry efforts. Not having enough money was a great excuse to know have to think about going. I really felt quite hesitant to the thought of being at a gay-affirming conference. I had no idea what I would see there or experience.


meeting of the mindsA Significant Meeting With a Friend

I went to Mike’s house to ask him to consider being a board member for Grace Rivers. In our conversation he was very direct with me. He was asking me to describe the focus of the ministry. I struggled to find the words that would effectively tell him what we were. It was obviously a struggle for me to begin with. I did everything I could do to avoid “homosexual” or “gay community”. I wasn’t willing to step out onto that limb and admit what was really in my heart.


Mike said something that really challenged me, “John, what is your strength? What is at the core of your heart for people and for ministry?” He went on to tell me what he saw. He emphasized my history and what he had seen in my life for many years. “John, isn’t your real burden for the gay community?”


Well, I had tried to stuff that away for almost two years. But, I couldn’t deny my heart. When I had only been a Christian for a year or so I wept for those in the gay community who needed a purpose for life, a hope for the future. I asked the Lord to give me the calling to help, to share the hope that was in my own life. My heart’s desire is truly for the gay community to know how much God loves them.

heart-passion

I couldn’t deny what Mike was trying to point out. I still wanted to push it away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the battle zone that often centers around homosexuality and the church. I had lived in that battle for so long I kind of liked the more generic form of ministry. It seemed to be easier to talk about and was more comfortable for many people to accept.


But, Mike clarified for me that it is hard to share such a generic vision for ministry and to get people on board to walk alongside me if I didn’t have a focus to tell them about. Oh, yes, generic ministry will always be a part of our lives as Christians, but it is important for me to know what my special calling really is.


Ok, Mike, I Have to Admit…..

Mike was right. I still had a deep burden and it was definitely focused on people within the gay community. Meeting Michael Bussee and Todd Ferrell challenged me to a very deep place. I realized that there is an entirely different side to homosexuality that I had never explored before. I never wanted to admit that there were gay people who had a sincere heart for God who truly wanted Him to fill their lives and to follow Him to their best ability. Todd told me about how their church members go into the gay bars and make themselves available just to talk, to listen, and to pray for those they come into contact with.


“What? Do you mean they want to reach the gay community with Christ just like I do?”


gift from God

Again, I was surprised and at the same time challenged. I recognized that I had not met many Christians who would go to those lengths to share the Love of Christ with people in the gay community. Here they were, people I had judged to be rebellious and compromising, doing the very things that God called us all to do.


God had a plan for me that I had never expected. A large gift was waiting for me to open it. The surprise inside was unsettling, but at the same time touched my heart deeply and brought my faith to a new place. The conflict in my own heart was about ready to begin.



A New Car, A New Life Part 1 (Click Here)

 

A Father’s Heart Opens

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011


1963 Chevrolet Corvette

1963 corvetteWhen I was about 10 years old my dad and I began going to the car dealerships to see the newly revealed models each fall.


We also went to the local car shows each year that were held in our local coliseum. We would walk and walk just looking at all of the shiny steel and chrome.


I remember one year sitting in a really sporty pure white Corvette coupe. It must have been 1963 because this lovely specimen of American sports cars had a split rear window.


corvette sliding door handleInside I saw a red ball that slid sideways to open the door. I thought that was so unique and yet strange and uncomfortable to manage for my little hands.


None the less, cars followed me with my dad all through the years. When I was older, in 1982, my dad asked me to go with him to buy a car. He wanted to trade to a new car and it was so cool that he asked me to go with him to pick it out.


1981 celebrityWe decided on a Chevrolet Celebrity. This car was somewhat of a new design and name for Chevrolet. It was a mid-sized sedan. As I looked at the options available I picked out a car that was a beautiful mix of two shades of copper. The interior was a new ribbed fabric and darker, almost like a rust color. So, off we went with dad’s new car.


My dad retired when he was just 52 years old. He had some problems with his feet that limited his ability to walk and stand. This was a challenge since he was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. He looked forward to retirement because in his mind he could spend more time with his kids and grandkids.


This became difficult because my sisters and I were in the throes of building our own lives and we were all busy with so many things. I remember my sisters telling me that dad would stop by their houses as odd times of the day and how this had become kind of a challenge. They were in the middle of things that had to get done and dad would stop by and want their attention which was awkward for them to manage.


Retirement Didn’t Set Well

A few months into his retirement we could see dad getting depressed and frustrated with his life. We didn’t know what to do other than to suggest that he get involved in volunteering to take up some of his time. He kept trying to build his life around us and got more and more bitter because it wasn’t working to satisfy his many hours of open time.


One day he came to us and said, “Well I did what you wanted me to do.” He found a home for developmentally disabled children that was led by a nun, Sister Evangeline. The kids went swimming several times a week and dad decided to go swim with the kids. In time he found odd jobs that needed to be done at the home and began to spend time there regularly helping in any way he could.


On his birthday that first year Sister Evangeline sent him a plant. He commented sarcastically, “Oh, they just want more work out of me so they sent me this plant.” He was truly not into this volunteer job and seemed to be doing it out of an attitude of spite since he wasn’t with us kids he had picked a second option. This was hard for me to hear but at least he was doing something.


My dad’s church began a helping ministry called “Stephen’s Ministry” which offered training for people to learn how to help people who were going through difficult things in their lives. Dad decided to go through the training. It involved bible study and small group interaction.


I had just become a Christian at this point and was excited that he was in a bible study. So, I bought him a new bible to take for his bible study. I knew he only had a larger “coffee table” sized bible so this surely would come in handy. I had stopped by his house one day and he sat down with me and told me about something he was learning in his training about servanthood. His eyes had been opened to what it meant to listen to others and serve them from his heart.


Dad Began To Change

I began to see a turnaround in his attitude about many things in life. He showed a sign of the resentments leaving that he had been carrying around with him. He began to show true joy in spending time with the kids at the school and a real thankfulness for his connection with Sister Evangeline.


After several years of seeing a great change in my dad I was getting ready to move to California to work with Love In Action. I came home to visit several times.


When I stayed with dad we had several late night conversations. This was very new for us to talk that much and I really enjoyed hearing his heart. One night I asked my dad why he never dated after he and my mom got divorced. It had been over 25 years since they separated.


His response was, “John, I didn’t want to be tempted. I am afraid I might find someone I am attracted to”. My dad whole hearted followed his church’s teaching that unless your marriage was “annulled” by the church then you were not able to remarry. I found something deep in my dad’s heart that amazed me. He was so convicted to submit his life to what he believed in, that he sacrificed his own personal desires for many years.


As I thought about my dad and women, I couldn’t forget all through the years that he had often talked about a lady named “Monica”. He had a green army trunk that had all of his life memorabilia. In it were pictures of many people from his past and he always pointed out the pictures of her. When he was nineteen years old he was engaged to her. He went into the Army Air Corp during World War II. He told us that when he returned home she didn’t want to marry him. I think his heart was crushed and he moved on to never talk with her again.


Teenage Love Rekindled

My dad’s cousin, Merc, maintained a relationship with Monica through the years so he heard a couple of things about Monica but never pursued knowing more because again, he was guarding his heart and I actually think it was too painful to know more.


I never heard my dad talk about any other women. He married my mom just a few years later and that was it for 16 years until they divorced. My mom as a very complicated woman to be married to and their relationship was very painful for my dad. So, I think he also didn’t want to go through that again. So, my dad was a confirmed single adult. I think this is why he had so much focus on his kids. We were all he had in life to put his time into until God began to work something new into his heart.


Dad called me one day and said he was going to go to International Falls Minnesota. “Really? What are you going there for?” ” I called my cousin to see what had happened to Monica and I found out she is a widow, and that she is there visiting family.” I hadn’t seen dad so strangely excited in my entire life. Dad went on this trip and came home like a teenager in his heart.


He had learned that Monica had also lived in Denver for a season when he lived there. She had married and had several children and then after many years of illness her husband had died just a few years previously. He said they also talked about the last conversation they had had, Monica straightened him out on one thing. She had not said she didn’t want to marry him, she said she “didn’t want to marry him at this time.” She told him she just didn’t feel ready for marriage at that point.


All of a sudden, dad was consumed with trips to Las Vegas, where Monica lived and letter writing back and forth. He had found his childhood love had been stirred again. I knew that he wasn’t compromising his morals in the least bit but it sure was interesting when he said he was going to Las Vegas to stay for a month!


As I reviewed the ten years prior to his reunion with Monica I saw that the affirmation from Sister Evangeline, the unconditional love from the kids there and his Stephen’s ministry and bible study all worked to soften dad’s heart and allow him to once again search for love. His call to his cousin came from this internal desire.


They Get Married

dad smile at monicaSo, after a few months, dad and Monica decided to get married but they had a hurdle. Dad’s marriage to my mom wasn’t annulled by the church. So, they pursued an annulment through his church in Omaha. Through a lot of paper work and interviews with family members who knew my mom and dad when they got married, the annulment was not approved. So, again, my dad wasn’t satisfied with the process and chose to try again through Monica’s church in Las Vegas. More paperwork and interviews occurred and during the process the priest at her church told them to go ahead and get married by the Justice of the Peace. He said they would continue to pursue the annulment and could get their marriage sanctioned by the church in time but for now his advice was to go ahead.


Well, my dad got some approval from someone he trusted and took advantage of the opportunity. Dad and Monica got married in 1989, the year after Vileen and I got married.


Everyone was ecstatic for them. They really loved each other. It was all positive! After a few months had gone by they got the word that dad’s marriage to my mom had been annulled. Now they could get their marriage fully sanctioned by the church and it was all good.


monica-smile at sinkVileen and I took a trip to Las Vegas to see them. I could hardly believe my eyes! I had never known my dad as a happily married man. They were so devoted to each other, sacrificed for one another, and were very affectionate with each other. I saw them pray together each night on their knees. They held hands every time they could.


My dad was now not only a model of faith for me to see, but he was modeling a godly marriage for everyone to see. They were both so happy. It wasn’t all a fairy tale, however.


They went through many very challenging circumstances together. Monica had cancer and two knee replacements. Her daughter had severe illnesses and passed away. Her son’s life was a challenge for my dad to experience and found he had to lay down some boundaries to keep their home peaceful. But through it all, their love grew and they had a wonderful marriage and life together.


My dad’s health was a challenge as well. He had a lung disease that he had suffered with from being in India during the war. He had a debilitating chronic cough that had caused emphysema and several bouts with pneumonia. Monica was by his side and always seemed to manage his life, her life, and that of her kids with such grace.


Dad Passed Away

In 1997 we got the call that he was once again in the hospital with pneumonia. It was really severe this time. My sisters and I went out to Las Vegas to see him. He was on a respirator which was very troublesome for him. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t talk with us and writing notes was a real challenge due to having to lay on his back.


The doctor came in to give some tests and we asked him if my dad’s lungs would heal. He said that the disease had caused a hardening in his lungs that would never get any better. He told my dad that he would have to live with a respirator.


After the doctor left dad said he would not live this way and that he was going to have the doctors remove the respirator. We all knew that this would cause his death but my dad’s desires came first. Shortly he communicated his desires to the doctors and they did as he wanted. Dad passed away in about 24 hours.


His plans were to donate his body to the University of Nevada for science. So, there would be no traditional funeral. They had planned to have two memorial services to remember his life. One was in Las Vegas for their friends and Monica’s family there. The other would be in Omaha for all of the other family and long time friends.


As I thought about my dad, I wanted the privilege to eulogize his life. So, when my wife and I arrived we went with Monica to talk to the priest about what I wanted to do. I was honest with him about what I wanted to say. I wanted to reveal my dad’s character through the way he handled life challenges. I said I wanted to talk about how he handled my homosexuality with such grace.


The priest sat there with a pondering look on his face and finally said that he would give his blessing to my plans. Then I took it a little further and also asked if I could take communion at the memorial service. I had not been a practicing Catholic for many years which could make this a challenge. But, once again, the Priest said he would definitely allow me to do that. It seemed that God was in the plan and Monica thought it was all a very good idea. So, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to say.


While my sisters and I were in Las Vegas following the memorial service Monica asked us if we wanted to go through dad’s things to sort out what we wanted. As we searched through his papers and personal things we discovered more of his character. We looked through his cancelled checks and saw our names written on many of them. We discovered that he had helped us out when we needed it. We learned that we had no jealousy or comparisons that caused any problems. We even joked about how we were each his favorite child. We found that dad had the gift of loving each of us as though we were his only child.


We Saw His Character Through His History

When we sorted through things that were his we were able to completely defer to each other and compromise for one another. If I wanted something specific, my sisters would agree to me having it and the same was done for each of us. We were amazed at how much we were able to do this without any difficulty and attributed this to what we had gained from being children of our father. He had raised us to know this kind of integrity because that is the way he lived.


The second memorial service took place in Omaha and I asked for the same permission and the local priest gave his approval. So I was allowed to share my heart once more before my own family and long time friends. As people entered the church I wanted to greet them personally. When my female cousins came in one by one some would stop by me and show me a special “angel” pin they wearing and said, “Your dad gave me this pin.” It became kind of funny because three cousins did this in a whisper almost to hide that they felt as though he had only given them a pin like that. Again, I saw the say my dad could unconditionally love people a though they were the only one he loved like that.


As I spoke for this second time, I knew that my dad was in his eternal place with God giving whole hearted approval for what I was sharing. This gave me the courage to speak. I just knew it was ok with him because he was in a place where he would know the whole truth of his life, and mine.


It was amazing that God had opened up such a door to talk about His grace through my own dad finding it for himself. After I returned I wrote my notes into a Tribute to my Dad which has been publicized in many periodicals and remains on my own website today.


Monica

dad and monica and johnThrough the following years I often grieved but also recognized Monica’s loss. She had a very tumultuous marriage with her first husband much like my dad had. He struggled with many things as well as severe health issues and she had come to find such joy with my dad. They only had seven years together and it would have been so wonderful if they had more time to enjoy their love for each other.


Since my dad’s passing, Monica lost another daughter to cancer and her son died far too young. Her sister in law from her only brother passed from a severe disease as well. She has one daughter left that fortunately lives near her.


It has been humbling to know her. She has faithfully acknowledged all of the special holidays each year for all three of us kids as well as many of our children. No matter what was going on, we knew we would receive a card every year for birthdays, Christmas and often our anniversaries. Monica was just like my dad. They were both cut out of the same cloth. Her faith in God has never wavered and her love for people has revealed that all through the years I have known her.


She is now living in an assisted living community home because she has struggled with TIA’s, or mini strokes. She still is able to talk and remember but physically she isn’t able to live alone any longer. Her fortitude remains strong!


Servanthood

It seems that serving others and learning how to sacrifice was the turning point in my dad’s life. Giving to the developmentally disabled kids even when he did it out of spite began to change his life, it seemed to do something in his heart. Sister Evangeline’s gifts to my dad, even when he received them with a blocked heart, changed his life.


Every time my sisters and I get together or talk, my dad comes into our conversation. We remember how challenged his life was and how he ended it with such grace and joy.


One of my cherished possessions happens to be a rib that was removed from my dad’s chest during a lung surgery when my dad was in the Army. It was kept in the green trunk with all of his other life memorabilia. When I was a boy I used to ask him to see his “rib” and we would open the trunk and go through all the stuff there. When he passed I asked my sisters if I could have the rib and they let me have it.


Although it may seem strange to some of you, I have continued the practice of showing the rib to my grandson, Devin. He has now begun to ask to see the rib from Grandpa Norm. Oh, I have other things like a pocket watch that was my grandpa’s that my dad had restored to give to me. I also have his army jacket and the American flag from his funeral. And his green army trunk sits in our guest room.


He (John the Baptist) will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17




 

Westward Bound

Thursday, March 10th, 2011


Strange-Limo_1986California, Here I Come


A very strange limousine was seen in Beverly Hills California. I took this picture during a major life transition. This car symbolizes my first introduction to this new world that I had entered. Having never been there before, it all looked so strange to me. It was a brand new season of my life that began with a prayer and a pursuit of full time ministry. I had no idea how God was going to answer that prayer but it ended up in a place totally unexpected.



Dear Dave Reddout,

“I am writing to see if you have any need for help with “Stained Glass Ministries” in Amsterdam.” I sent a letter to him in May of 1986 testing the water to see if God may send me to help. Dave’s ministry was for singles in the Netherlands and I was praying desperately for God’s leading and for opportunities to leave the railroad job and work in full time ministry.


This letter and the following prayers for an answer brought me to ponder what it would take to put my life on hold for one year while I worked in Amsterdam. I was impatient as I waited for a response but I laid out plans that would work if the answer was “yes, c’mon.” These plans would come to fruition later in a way I was not expecting.


I got a response and it was a “not at this time.” I was so disappointed. But my prayers continued with the hope that God would bring them to fruition in His time, in His way.


So, through the summer I went through the man dying of AIDS, and a deep heart change that postured me for hearing the radio broadcast introducing me to Love In Action. Therefore, when Anita called me about the House Leader position she mentioned that the commitment was for one year. What? Did you say one year? Well, I had already set plans in place for how I could make a commitment to a one year ministry position.


The Union Pacific Railroad was offering buyouts for people who were willing to give up their jobs. After Anita’s call, I received the paperwork for the application to Love In Action. While I was filling out the information there, I was talking with the UP about applying for the buyout. I just knew that Love In Action would accept my application.


God’s Impeccable Timing

It dawned on me that the Lord and I had agreed on when I could leave the railroad. I had thought that when the clown ministry had become too busy for me to manage it and work at the railroad, then it would be time to quit. But the funny thing is that the day that Anita called me I had just started a new job at the railroad that was so busy that I couldn’t have kept up with clown ministry while I was at work. I did some phone calls and arranged dates while I was at work some times because the job I had was really easy and I could do it with time to spare. The new job was totally unmanageable in a day’s time. That day, I went home totally depressed because it was the kind of job that would never have been caught up. So, when Anita’s call came, it was my ticket out of this new overwhelming job that I hated. Gee, could it have been God’s special timing?


I was seeking accountability from the pastors that were at my church about the decision to go to Love In Action. One conversation stuck out to me. “John, I believe if you don’t say yes to this opportunity, you may never say yes again.” The encouragement aligned with a time of prayer earlier in the year. A man prayed over me with a prophetic word, “John, you will readily accept a challenge, and you will work in mission work, both foreign, and local.” This was certainly a challenge, and it was a mission work. And… it was called Love In Action International. I could see the writing on the wall all around me that I needed to pursue this opportunity.


Ok, so some practical details are turning quickly, but I had to consider facing the reality of the relationships that would be impacted by this move.  I had just begun the process of integrating my daughters back into my life. We spent three to four days each week together. And, I had a girlfriend I was spending a lot of time with. Much less, I was building some awesome new friendships. The clown ministry was growing and becoming really active. What was God’s answer to all of this? How could I just pick up and leave Omaha for a one year ministry position 1500 miles away? There was no pay involved so I would have to figure out how to financially manage all of this.


I talked to my dad about this and his response was, “John, I am very concerned about you doing this. You have always struggled with keeping commitments.” I said, “Dad, you are right, that was the old me. But I am different now. I’ve grown up.” I was sad that my dad wasn’t supportive and it concerned me. But, I continued to move forward believing that this was God’s time, and God’s plan.


There was a pretty big bump in the road that aligned itself with this opportunity. Vileen and I had begun to struggle in our relationship. I was feeling challenged about my heart with hers. I had become scared to remain open with her and had begun to close off my heart. When I saw this opportunity, in my selfishness, I believed it was a way out of the relationship that was admirable. I talked with Vileen about my struggles so, she was aware that I was troubled. But I figured that when I left Omaha, that would be the end of our dating relationship. Little did I know that God was sending me to a place in life where I could get some much needed healing for myself.


A Doctrinal Challenge That Brought a God Answer

I filled out my life story, the applications, and had talked with Anita many times but one conversation I’ll never forget. “Anita, is Love In Action a “Spirit Filled” ministry?” What I was asking was, are they Holy Spirit filled, do they speak in tongues? I wanted to make sure they were in line with my doctrine. Her response was, “John, of course. We can’t do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit.”


She wisely answered that question! But her answer was the first of many that would challenge my pride of doctrine. God’s response to me was “John, would you have not gone if her answer would have been “no.” I was humbled and more ready to move to another part of the country with new people, a new church, and yes, my doctrinal boundaries would become expanded by the experience.


Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

I was on pins and needles every day waiting to hear back from Love In Action on my application. I finally got my answer. They accepted me! Now it’s time to get the ball in motion. The plan I set in place for a one year departure would have to now become a reality.


It was time to talk with my kids about the plan for my move. I don’t handle conflict well and changes in relationships are really hard too. So, when it came time for me to sit down with them, I told them I was leaving but I tried to paint it in a positive light. I talked about the way we could write each other and talk on the phone. They both cried and I didn’t know what to do with all of that. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for how to handle their feelings so I avoided dealing with it. Oh, if I could only go back to do it differently I would, but life just isn’t that way. I saw this as such a positive thing that I overlooked their feelings in the whirlwind of preparation.


It was no less than an a Miracle!


The Union Pacific Railroad accepted my “buy out” and the check was in the mail. I would receive $30,000 for quitting my job.  I put the house up for sale and began telling people I needed to sell my furniture and household items. Literally within two weeks, my house sold.   In just a few more weeks, everything else was sold without even placing an ad. I  was ready to pack up the remaining keepsakes and a few things I just couldn’t replace. I put them in long term storage for a later date when I would settle in again to something more permanent. I only had this one year in mind.I only had two months to get everything ready to go. I was to leave on December 26th for California.


My Father’s Blessing

My dad sat down with me one day to talk about my decision. I was totally surprised at his response now that he’d thought more about it. “John, I want you to know that I think your decision to go to Love In Action is a good thing.  I am supportive of your plans.” I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that I now had my father’s blessing to move forward.


In talking with Anita about what I would do once I arrived in San Rafael. We thought maybe I could clean houses, or work at a bank part time to bring in a little income to help. I put my buy-out money in a special savings account to pay the things I needed to pay such as child support and insurance expenses. The lack of surety in all of this was both exciting, and challenging at the same time. I really had never read anything on ministry to homosexuality, nor did I really know anything about Love In Action or other ministries like this.


So, I was really going blindly into this new opportunity. It was totally built on faith that God knew what He was doing and I was just following along. I am sure many found it uncertain. But they just didn’t say anything to me about it. It was an entirely new world that I had never explored.


My friend George told me he’d like to make the trip to California with me. We made plans to go through Southern California and see some things there along the way. I was really excited to see a part of the country that I never thought I’d be able to see.


Leaving the clowns and FOCAS was really hard. The clowns decided to keep the ministry going so we set those plans in motion. The FOCAS group had a big going away party for me. I felt really loved and appreciated there. There was no discussion with Vileen about our relationship other than that we’d stay in contact with each other regularly. She knew we were struggling but there wasn’t a decision to break up when I left.


FOCAS-Dennis-Vileen-Cake


Pastor Dennis, Vileen, myself and Diana




FOCAS-John-goingaway

FOCAS Thursday evening group




Vileen-Cake




Vileen and the cake “Look Out California!  Here comes John!






I couldn’t wait for the future to unfold. I was leaving a job I absolutely hated and moving into a brand new challenge ahead.



Christmas-1986

Christmas day came and we all celebrated together. I was pumped and ready to go. Afterwards, I packed my car with all of my worldly belongings to take with me, other than the things that didn’t fit and were in storage. I left a space just big enough for George and his suitcase.




1987-Sentra

The next morning we started our journey across the land for California. I couldn’t help but think about the radical folks who had made this same journey years earlier in their covered wagons. In some ways, it was the same for me. Going westward with no idea what I was going into but it was a great adventure.


All during the drive questions kept going trough my mind about what this place would be like.  How do they help homosexuals? What is this small “low-key, charismatic” church really like?  What will I do with my time?


George-Calif-1986

George and I loved the experience of driving out together. Seeing he mesas in New Mexico and Arizona were amazing. We finally got to California and all I wanted to do was to see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other well known sites. Of course, the beach was high on the list too.



After our whirlwind tour of Southern California we drove north along the California coast which was absolutely gorgeous. We finally arrived in San Rafael. Of course this was before GPS or Google Maps and we had no idea where we were going.



We stopped several people to ask for directions but none of them knew the street we were looking for. Anita had given me some ideas of where they were located but none of those descriptions helped so we finally called the office. “Hello, John! Welcome to Marin county. What, you need directions? Oh, here’s Frank, he can help you.”


Talking to Frank for the very first time was so weird. But Frank gave us directions to the office. It was all so surreal. To say “strange” wouldn’t describe what I was feeling at this point. But at the same time, it seemed I was right where God wanted me to be.


We got to the office of Love In Action. It was on the second floor so walking up the stairs a flood of questions went through my mind. As I entered the door I was greeted by a man named Roger. Then Anita came out, along with Frank. They talked a little then sent me and George on our way to the house I would be living in. Anita had described their house this way.  It was an old house near a bus stop. The girls lived upstairs as she and Frank did as well. There were five other men who lived downstairs where I was going to stay.


Well, when I arrived at the house I realized it wasn’t that old, it was in a suburban area and there didn’t seem to be a bus stop near the house. But, I was happy to find the place to be what it was.  It was previously a two bedroom, one bath home, that had been remodeled.  This made it seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. It was pleasant and comfortable. They had planned a space for me. My bedroom was all set up and I felt so loved already just by the fact that they had gone through so much to prepare for my arrival. George stayed the first night and then I took him to the airport to send him home. He was such a good friend to have gone all this way with me. I really don’t know what I would have done if I had done this all by myself. God had prepared the way and I felt confident that I was in the center of His will each step of the way.


The first day in San Rafael was a blur to me. While I had only prepared for one year, little did I know God had other plans. I spent the next 22 years of my life giving myself exclusively to a ministry life that brought me into thousands of lives and changed me dramatically. An amazing mystery is about to unfold.


I am going to take a breath here, and get ready for chapter two in my life as a Christian. Life would never be the same again.


 

Hello God! I’m in trouble.

Thursday, February 10th, 2011


1975 Dodge Colt1975 Dodge Colt


Nothing fancy about this car. It wasn’t even a real Dodge. It was a Mitsubishi incognito. After a crash and a fill in car, it was a new start from a bad place in life. It was easy on gas and ran well so it fit the bill.


Leaving John’s house in my ”67 Olds, I drove up to the apartment building where Ben and Don lived to unload my things and climbed up three flights of stairs. Ben opened the door welcoming me in with a great big a hug.


The song, “What I Did For Love”, was blaring throughout their apartment when I arrived. It was from the soundtrack “A Chorus Line.” There was a gay character in the musical that I seemed to resonate with and my new life felt like a blank page to be filled in.


That’s the way I saw it, the old is gone, the new has come and John Smid is going to redesign his life.


I stayed in the guest bedroom at Ben and Don’s apartment for about a month. I went to bed the first night in a haze, like it was a dream that I was living in. I felt safe and yet I recognized nothing around me. I had only been around these guys a few times. Their conversations, their friends, this was all so strange but at the same time exciting. I felt relieved that I didn’t live in the tension that I had been in for so long.


Ignoring the reality of what I had just done, I could hardly wait for the next weekend when I could spend time with my new friend, John. I wondered what he would show me, or open my eyes to next. It was a discovery process to find out what my new life was really all about.

On Friday night, we went to the “Stage Door Lounge”, a local gay disco, where he introduced me to some of his friends. The scene was full of excitement, dancing, men embracing each other. Some men were standing alone, postured to gain attention. John said they were hoping to find someone to go home with that night. The cultural education of the local gay scene began. The place smelled of smoke and alcohol making it pungent. But, with the loud, energetic music like “Evita” and “Donna Summer” songs, John and I enjoyed the music and the evening and went back to his house with yet more sexual contact.


Going to work on Monday morning was quite different from all the many years before. I was now getting a divorce and my friends around me knew but no one really said much. I kept my reasons for the divorce vague to most of them. So, the questions on Monday morning were as usual, “What did you do this weekend?” I talked about partying, going out, enjoying new friends. It felt so odd but yet I was proud of my answers because for the first time in my life it seemed I had something exciting to talk about. I was now popular in party circles. Unlike my high school years and those following, I was now like others who enjoyed their social lives intensely.


The next weekend I went out again. But this time some of my friends and I decided to go out to the local pancake house after the bar closed. Once we arrived in the door two girls came across the room to greet me. “John, come sit with us for a minute.” It was Pat and Randy. These girls had been high school friends and bridesmaids in my wedding with Kristy. Pat had actually introduced me to Kristy in high school.


“John, you need Jesus!”


So, I sat down and right off the bat, “John, you need Jesus!!” It seemed like they were speaking in unison. They began to tell me how they had found Jesus and how exciting it was to be Christians. They were extremely energetic about their new belief. We all knew that the life they had lived after high school was less than moral. They were party girls who lived together. I remember going to a party at their apartment. Since I was the conservative married guy at the time I was surprised at the atmosphere they were living in. So this was really strange to think of them as “religious” people.


I had no idea what this was all about. I had been raised Catholic, Pat was too. So she talked about that, “John, this is nothing like going to Catholic church.” Oh, boy, what did I get myself into? I felt trapped by these two girls who cornered me to tell me about Jesus. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus. I wanted to be with my new friends. After some time of listening to their spiel, I got up to go back to sit with my friends. In my entire life, I had never been approached like this about religion, much less such a strong emphasis on “Jesus.”


What? Where did they go? My friends had left and they didn’t even say goodbye. I felt rejected, abandoned and all alone. These girls had robbed me from time with my friends then they just left me. So, I went home and didn’t really want to think about the discussion with Pat and Randy. It was all too confusing and certainly contrary to the direction I was heading.


The time had come for me to find my own apartment. Ben and Don had been extremely hospitable but I wanted my own space. I found a great apartment that was just right for me. It was a classic midtown apartment and cool. It had a living room, a bedroom, a long primitive kitchen and a small sun room. Old woodwork with wood floors added to the feel of the place. It wasn’t very clean so I scrubbed it to a shine and began to dream of how I could decorate it to be really cool. I gathered a couple of things to make it a home and started my new independent life.


Crash!


Then one afternoon, my life was once again challenged. After the shock of the “Jesus girls” it seemed like “someone” was trying to get my attention. I was driving to the mall after work one day and a huge storm came into the city. I felt the winds pick up, the rain started to fall and it soon felt like a cyclone was hitting. Going down a hill the water began to rise and the winds blew harder and all of a sudden “CRASH!” I heard the back window of my car cave in. Leaves were blowing all around inside the car. It felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! As I was going down the hill a large tree branch had fallen on the back of my car. The car stopped suddenly and it was trapped underneath the tree.


I got out into the street and the flood of water took me off of my feet. My shoes, my glasses, and my watch all went down the gutter . I got out of the water, socks soaked and hanging over the end of my feet and ran into a garage close by where others were standing.


The storm subsided and not knowing what to do about my car, I decided to walk 10 blocks to my home in my flopping socks. As I stood in the bathtub taking my wet and muddy clothes off, for one moment I pondered my life. I felt confused and alone. But surely, there would be a time when I would find someone to help fill my life again. Much like when the girls talked to me, this was a moment of personal honesty, but I didn’t want that right now. I just wanted to get on with where I was headed. My office had a little newspaper they compiled for moral building and my “tornado” experience made the next issue. It was titled “John Smid was mugged by Mother Nature.”


1966 chevelleMy friend, Don, was selling his 1966 Chevelle, so I replaced the Oldsmobile with his car. It was only $600 so that was manageable for me. It seemed to be the right provision at the right time.


John was pretty social and remained uncommitted to a monogamous relationship with me and would often proudly speak of other sexual conquests. This was not my plan. I wanted to find that one person who would love me, and me alone. Even though I was heading towards promiscuous relationships, there was something in me that still wanted something stable, trustworthy.


The New Guy


One evening John said, “Hey, John, I think you should meet a guy that I just met. His name is Steve.” I was interested, so John set up a meeting with Steve and we seemed to hit it off well. It felt like John wanted to expand our relationship boundaries so I wasn’t so focused on him. Steve invited me to spend the afternoon at his suburban home one Saturday afternoon. We sat outside in the sun while Steve fixed Pina Colada’s. Steve seemed really interested in spending more time with me. He talked about working in town just a few blocks from where I lived. I was so romantic to share a quiet afternoon sipping cool drinks. Steve pridefully talked about his roommate being a very wealthy business owner in Omaha. He seemed to have a strange connection with him, but I was so enamored with the attention he was giving me that I just ignored the thoughts that it might have been a sexual relationship.


Steve came by one night after work and the evening ended up with one more sexual encounter with yet another guy. This was now the fourth man that I had sex with. This one seemed different. He seemed like he wanted some kind of home, some kind of committed relationship. He was good looking, energetic, and seemed to enjoy life. To top it off, he made me feel really special, significant. That night, Steve stayed at my place since he was close to work. This began to reoccur and I thought he wanted me.


We soon talked about moving in together in our own place. This seemed fast but it was what I was looking for and it seemed to be mutual. So, it happened that there was a great apartment open in the same building that Ben and Don lived in. Amongst our friends, that building was thought to be a premium building to be in. It was all gay, and right in the middle of the mid-town location that we all wanted to live in.


1978 TransAmSince my 6 month lease was up, Steve and I moved in together I had found that one person to be with. I put all of my energy into making this a home for the two of us. Steve was excited and it felt like we were married! I didn’t go to the bars anymore and just enjoyed every minute I could have with the new man of my dreams. Steve drove a 1978 Pontiac TransAm. It was bright red and boy did I love riding in it. I got to drive it sometimes too. I felt like I was really something when I would drive this hot car around town. At times I would drive it to pick up my kids. I felt pretty puffed up showing up in the driveway with a car that I knew Kristy would be jealous of. I wanted her to think my life was going pretty well.


My birthday was coming up that first year away from Kristy. When it arrived I waited for something special from Steve. But actually this birthday was one of the hardest ones I had ever had. I received nothing from Steve and as a matter of fact, I didn’t get a card from anyone. I felt so hurt that he had not done anything and everyone had forgotten my

birthday.


This was just the beginning of an extremely painful season of my life. Steve not only didn’t acknowledge my birthday, but worse, he started going out without me to be with other friends. He said he needed some freedom outside of our relationship. I sat home grieving over him being somewhere without me on many nights. I would go to bed worrying that he may be getting involved with someone else. It got to the place where I was desperate to keep him even if it meant that I had to put up with whatever he may have been doing. I became sarcastic and manipulative because I was so fearful of losing him.


Our sexual life became a bargaining ground. He began to ask me to sleep in my own room because he said he needed his own space. I often begged him to allow me to sleep with him. He didn’t always agree and I wondered what in the world had happened to the “dream relationship” that I thought I had with Steve.


Halloween was coming and Steve and I decided to host a party. Since everyone around us thought of us as a couple and Halloween was a big gay holiday, this party was the talk of the town and many of our friends were coming. There were people I didn’t know because of Steve’s independence, but it didn’t matter, it was Steve and I that were hosting this party so there was still a resemblance of “the perfect gay couple.” At least he was living with me, believing I had the better end of the deal.


The Tin Man


During party, Steve seemed to be absent. I went into the kitchen asking if anyone had seen him and they seemed kind of awkward as they answered, “No, we don’t’ know where he is.” So, I went through the house to look further and found the bathroom door was closed. “Steve, are you in there? Are you sick?” From the other side of the door I heard, “Just leave me alone, get away from the door!” I was devastated at his response and couldn’t understand why he seemed so angry. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Steve came out, not alone, but with another man dressed as “The Tin Man.” Needless to say, the word devastation couldn’t begin to describe my broken heart about what I knew was going on.


When the guests all went home Steve was really drunk and he laid on the floor. I’ll never forget the picture of me sitting on the floor next to him sobbing, “Why would you do this to me?”


Our relationship obviously took a turn for the worse that night but I did everything I could to try to keep him. I did anything he wanted, let him do whatever he wanted, begged, suffered and cried. I couldn’t be alone without him.


Some of the greatest wounding I have experienced came from what happened between Steve and me. One day Steve and I talked in the kitchen and I’ll never forget him saying, “John, I have to be honest with you. You just don’t have what it takes to please me sexually.” The next day he moved out and I reached a new low in life. I was completely broken.


He told me that Don had said he could live with him. Don had broken up from Ben and was living alone. I felt deeply betrayed by Don. Why would he allow Steve to live there? Don was my only true friend and I needed him right now, but he had chosen Steve over me. He seemed oblivious to how I had been hurt.


With all of Steve’s things moved out I tried to put things together at my apartment. I used the coping mechanisms I had used other times to just shut down and move on. I just looked forward. I would find someone who would love me. But, the devastation went so deep this time I wasn’t sure I could move on.


1975 Dodge Colt

1975 Dodge Colt

I had to get rid of Don’s car and it was time to look for a more economical one other than the gas hog V-8 of the Chevelle. I began the search and found one at a small local used car dealership. It was bright metallic green with white interior. Kind of sporty. It was a 1975 two door Dodge Colt. With a four cylinder Mitsubishi format, this was the one for me. It was a whopping $1300 dollars and I could afford that. It smoked a little bit, burning oil, but it was clean and easy on gas.


John and the girls - 1980

I haven’t said much about my kids. That is because I didn’t want to think much about that and saw them on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on Wednesday evenings. In the community I was in, kids weren’t really celebrated much.


When I was with my kids I knew that my friends didn’t really want them around and I am not sure I wanted them around these people anyway. The only friend that understood was Don since he had kids of his own and by this time, Don was out of the picture.


I had been attending a gay Alcoholics Anonymous group. Some of my friends said it might be helpful for processing my grief. One particular day in the group I shared some of what I had been going through and a young girl stood up and said, “I can relate to what you are feeling….” Something switched in me and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so alone in my pain. I learned the “Serenity Prayer” from this group that would come to be very helpful.


Driving across town to pick up my kids one Sunday was another turning point for me. The route to my kid’s house took me right past Don’s house where Steve was living. It became apparent to me that Steve had moved into Don’s life further than just a roommate so my personal pain had just increased. This house was the “scene of the crime” and the anxiety that I felt seemed unmanageable. As I drove by and entered the interstate all I could think of was how I could drive off the road and hopefully die. The suicidal thoughts were pretty heavy and then I thought of the prayer and began to cry out; “God, grant me the serenity…..”


Something miraculous happened that day. I had spoken to God in a very personal way for the first time in my life and it seemed that He answered.


The deep grief I was feeling seemed to lift and for the first time ever I saw that just maybe, God was real!


 

Beginning of the End of a Marriage

Thursday, January 27th, 2011


1979mailbuwagonopen1979 Chevrolet Malibu Station Wagon


The Malibu name replaced the Chevelle name on all mid-sized Chevrolets for the 1978 model year. After OPEC, this was the down-sized version in comparison to previous mid-sized Chevrolets, only two trim levels were available, Malibu and Malibu Classic. This 1979 model was the second year for a complete redesign when all American cars had downsized to appear more fuel efficient. The engines were smaller, the interiors had shrunk by making the dashboards and the rear shelf narrower. There was no room for any extra unneeded space. The front console was like a narrow box that had been attached to the dashboard. The car ran smooth, was comfortable, and since the redesign, it was very modern!


The Malibu became symbolic of many things that were about to happen in my life.


Just one year after we were married we had the fortune, with the help of my dad, to buy our first house. Costing only $20,000 we moved in and began to make it our own. Working on remodeling an older home was both fun, and challenging. I had a next door neighbor, Dean, who was a retired carpenter from the old school. He taught me now to fit windows, scribe cabinets to uneven walls, hang drywall, and so many other things. He was a great neighbor. I learned the habit of eating ice cream EVERY night around 10:00 from Dean and his wife. They invited me to their house virtually every night for “icy-dicy time”. For all intents and purposes, I was an active young husband and dad. Everyone knew me for being conservative and committed to my family.


I was so committed that working a part time job to make ends meet was the norm. Kristy was taking care of our children while doing some of her own odd jobs to help. I kept thinking about my goals in life and it seemed to be time to fulfill them.


In 1978, We discussed building a new home and found just the right place and just the right builder. Our new home would be built in a modern designed suburb. It was developed with smaller lots and a common greenway behind each of the homes that was intended to become a park. I wanted it to be custom so that it was unique and had all of the things we wanted in it. We began to build our “dream home” in the suburbs. We got a great price and at the time they were offering special “buy down” FHA interest rates to it seemed to be the best thing for our family.


new homeThe home was finished and moving day came. I was really excited and we began to extend our credit to fill the home with new things. My part time job was at a furniture store, so we got some good deals on new furniture. Goal two was accomplished, new custom home and all new furniture in it. The yard and fence were done and I began working on the inside to finish out the basement family room.


As I looked up and down the street we lived on, I felt alone, strange, and disconnected from the other men along the block. Questions about who they were, and what they were all about didn’t seem to find answers. One guy was pretty friendly and it seemed we got along pretty well.


We got together when our wives went bowling or shopping and would play cards together. That was good for me, but we never really talked about much or got close. We just talked about surface things and enjoyed a game or two.


christmas-giftI felt cold and distant from Kristy and I was feeling pretty desperate to somehow make our marriage relationship better. It seemed that I didn’t know how to make it better and I could only think of using material things. After our move to the new home I felt desirous to find a way to work this out. In my small mind and closed off emotions I thought it might help to become extravagant with a Christmas gift for Kristy. She liked to sew and had an older machine to work with. So I decided to get the latest “Singer” electronic machine for her. We were trying to curb our credit card spending but in this case, I opened up a charge account to purchase the machine on time payments. I was hopeful she would be thrilled with the way I wanted to show her attention.


One day I returned from work and she had opened up the mail from the Singer store which included a credit card. She asked me why we got that in the mail. In my extreme reaction of disappointment that my secret had been uncovered, I told her what I had done. Now that the surprise was ruined, I felt determined to make this happen.


So, I thought maybe if I could ask others to not buy me anything for Christmas but to just give me money I could put it toward a gift for Kristy. I wanted to buy her the latest electronic micro-wave oven. In 1978, that was a pretty extreme idea! So I bought one through a 90-day charge paying the down payment with the money I had gotten from others. I knew this would certainly blow her mind, not only a new sewing machine, but the ultra modern, GE Touchmatic Microwave Oven would surely work to show her how I cared for her.


“John, I retrieved this from the mailbox today.” Kristy’s sister came out to meet me in the driveway after work one day. She handed an envelope to me before I went in. I opened it and found the payment card from the store where I bought the oven. Phew! She saved me on this one.


Christmas day after all of our gifts were opened and the main events had finished I opened up and said, “Kristy, I have one more surprise for you.” Carrying the huge wrapped box into the room. “I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU!” She opened it but didn’t seem overly excited, but seemed to show a contrived sense of surprise. After everyone left she disclosed to me that the envelope wasn’t found by her sister, but rather she had seen it. She told me that she and her sister arranged to cover the fact that she had seen it.


I felt totally embarrassed, and humiliated that I had acted so excited to surprise her, when everyone knew that Kristy already knew about the surprise. Much like six years earlier, something that was beginning to open up inside me was slammed shut once again. I truly believe it was that day that my heart finally closed towards Kristy. I just couldn’t muster up enough trust to go that place in my heart again.


Maybe a new car will help?79 brown mailbu wagon It was time to go for another life goal. Since we lived in the suburbs and now had two kids we needed a station wagon. For those of you who are younger, that would have been the vehicle of choice for a family at that time. Mini-vans hadn’t been created yet and SUV’s were for business.


So, I went out on a Saturday, by myself I might add, and found a beautiful 1979 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon. It was metallic chocolate brown with nice tan interior. I remember vividly standing in my garage polishing the pretty finish to keep it pristine! Now I had a custom built home, a brand new station wagon, two kids and I had reached my life goals. I don’t remember any fuss about me getting a new car without Kristy going with me. I traded in the 1974 Datsun B-210 and this car was much bigger and more practical for the kids so I guess it was an improvement for her as well.


We only had one car now and I rode a commuter bus to work or carpooled with a friend. It was practical with high gas prices. I walked across the street to a shopping center to pick up the bus with other commuters.


city-bus-1With a closed heart, confused emotions, loneliness, and deep needs for connection, I began to develop a fantasy life during my daily travels. On the bus there were some handsome men that rode it each day and I would look at them and wonder what it would be like to know them, I mean really know them. What did they think, how did they feel about life, would they want to know me?


Churning inside me was something greater than a benign sense of curiosity towards men. I now actually wanted more of a relational exchange. Something deeper was in my heart with a curiosity of what it would be like to intimately know another man. I wanted something reciprocal, something meaningful.


As all of this grew deep inside me. One day during a conversation that I was listening to at work the word “homosexual” came into the discussion. “Oh! That must be what is going on here. I may be a homosexual!” I didn’t take it much further because this was a very strange concept to me. I had never known one of those, but began to ponder this in my heart with a sense of desire. Maybe that is what my curiosity is all about on the bus, and with others I had known.


I worked in a large office building where we talked a lot with each other and built relationships. We had a sports team that I was a part of and as I got to know the others, one man stood out to me. He was a little older than I was and had always been single. For many reasons I got to a place where I assumed he was probably gay. In my new frame of mind this brought some hope to me that maybe I could talk with someone else who might relate to my questions.homosexuality


I stopped him one day and said, “Ken, I would like to talk with you about something personal.” He said “sure.” No more was said until one Friday evening. My wife was bowling and I was with the kids. The phone rang and Ken asked if I could meet him at the bar across the street from where I lived. When my wife came home I proceeded to tell her he had called and she asked if I was going to go over and meet with him. She knew him from work parties and events so it didn’t seem strange to her that I might do that. It was very strange to me since I virtually never did anything without her. But I was internally excited to go and talk through this with him.


After some light conversation and a couple of drinks, I disclosed to him what I had been experiencing. His response was, “John, I knew you were gay.” I felt somewhat offended and at the same time, curious. He mentioned that we might go to another place where some gay people hung out. Without a hitch, I wanted to go. He had peaked my curiosity after we had shared some common ground. We drove some distance away to a bar/restaurant. I began perusing all of the men, women, couples and whoever else walked into the place. I felt totally out of my own skin and yet, even more stimulated at the potential of knowing others like me. Ken assured me he would introduce me to others that he knew.


Several drinks later….


When the bar was about to close, Ken asked me to go with him to his father’s apartment to talk more. I didn’t want this new connection to end so I agreed to go with him. We got to the apartment and talked some more. With a lot of curiosity about this new piece of my life being exposed and a lot of alcohol, Ken proceeded to initiate a sexual encounter with me. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing something that I had only dreamed of and really had never known could happen. I was not thinking at all about whether or not this was wrong.


Hung over from drinking, and blurred from what I had just done, I went home at 3:00 AM and slid into my usual place in bed. The next day, nothing was said between my wife and I about the late arrival. The entire event was hidden inside my heart.


Something huge had changed within me and I could hardly believe that I had just broken one of my most solid convictions. I certainly would never commit adultery! But was this adultery? Actually it didn’t seem to be what I considered to be adultery. It was two men, not with a woman.


man's backAfter about two weeks of virtual silence from me, Kristy knew something big was up. “John, what is wrong with you. You haven’t spoken for two weeks.” After a tremendous amount of thought on my part I just blurted out:


“ALRIGHT I’M GAY, OK! I WANT A DIVORCE!”


 

Two Cars Come Together

Friday, January 21st, 2011


cars marryTwo Cars Come Together in a Marriage











ElCamino



Kristy and I were engaged to be married and we had two cars that came together with us. The 1969 Camaro and a 1968 El Camino. Not only was I getting married, but another huge change came into my life.


Working for the department store certainly wasn’t going to provide enough income for our life together. My step-father worked for the Union Pacific 1969_CamarobluewithstripeRailroad and encouraged me to try to get a job there. After several attempts to get a job, on July 3, 1973, I was instantly hired. My wage went from $1.95 per hour to $8.00 per hour overnight! Kris was working at a local hospital in an administrative position. So, we felt we were pretty well set to get married.




In our pre1973-apt 3paration for merging our lives we spent a lot of time planning the wedding and we both wanted a nice place to live. We found a brand new two bedroom apartment that had ultra modern colors and style. The carpet was bright 1970’s orange and the appliances were a really cool, avocado green! I’ll never forget the decor with matching browns, greens, and “burnt” orange as we called it. We arranged to move Kristy into the apartment the month before our wedding.

From an accident that occurred along the way, my El Camino got a pretty bad crush on the front of the fender. Even though I was making a lot more money, we had over spent our budget in preparation for our wedding and new home. I decided not to get the car fixed and spend the insurance claim money on something else. It seemed like a good idea at the time but that decision was something that came back to bite me later, in a way I never expected.


After getting Kristy settled into the apartment we would often spend time there talking and working on wedding plans. One night. Kristy told me something that changed our lives forever. Without uncovering private places, let’s just say that I became shocked and was heartbroken. I had emotions that were buried deep inside me and I don’t think I was even aware of what I was feeling.


Marriage or Not?


My immediate thoughts went to whether or not I was going to go on with the wedding. Something inside me shut down and I went numb. I felt incredibly trapped because we had made so many plans, spent so much money and the invitations were already sent out. What else could I do? I didn’t really think I had an option, so the wedding would go on.


This moment in my life was something that, without knowing it, would cause a breakdown in the foundation of our marriage that neither of us knew anything about. It was a sink hole undermining our relationship that was hidden. I shut down and became detached after our conversation. It was as though I literally forgot about it for a season. I never talked with Kristy, or anyone else for that matter, about what was in my heart. I just stuffed it and went on like nothing happened.


The wedding drew closer and it was time to get the marriage license. When we went to the officials to obtain the license we learned of a waiting period we didn’t know anything about. We were told that we couldn’t get married on Saturday. Oh, man! What should we do? They advised us to get a license in Iowa where there wasn’t a waiting period. So, we talked to the Priest to arrange for the more simple Iowa wedding. We joked about this meaning that our marriage would be twice as strong since we did it twice.


Getting Married as a Virgin

IowaWedding

Due to wanting to be a good person mixed with my own fears and naivety I had never gotten into a situation with anyone where sex became a temptation. There was kissing, holding hands, and being close physically, but I felt good about being sexually clean. No one had actually ever talked with me about sexual morality. I guess, I just grabbed on to the idea that it was good to abstain from these things.


I felt very anxious about my first sexual experience. In my small mind on these things I feared I would not know what to do. I had never seen pornography either, so my knowledge of sex was really 1973-SmidWeddingNILL! Other than my experience with personal masturbation all I had was some knowledge of the bodies, but nothing about how they worked together. Once again in my life, I was left to my own ways to figure things out. No mentors, counselors, or good friends to discuss these things with. I just had to go through it.


We moved into the apartment and with my personal things and our two cars. The merging of our lives went fairly smooth. The “formal” wedding occurred and we returned to our apartment that night. Sexually, things worked themselves out quite naturally and my fears were relieved. Due to my new job and our lack of finances, we didn’t take a honeymoon so that first night certainly wasn’t romantic. We started playing house and found ourselves with a troublesome financial load. We had over spent, over bought, and the price of the new apartment was heavy.




Moving Out With Our Two Cars


There was as conflict in our apartment building from some crazy accusations of noise from our downstairs neighbor. We really weren’t loud people at all and complied with all of the requests to be even quieter. But without much warning we were asked to move out. We think it had to do with the relationship the lady had with the managers and they just decided they wanted us out. It was a blessing because it allowed us to get out from under the heavy rent payments. So, after just a few short months we found ourselves moving from our apartment into an older house that was only half of the price of the rent we had been paying.


1974DatsunB210We decided that it was time to change the car situation around and felt we needed reliable transportation. As we looked at our two cars we found that the “winking eye” of the damaged El Camino made it unsellable due to safety inspection problems. So, I made the decision to trade off the Camaro for a 1974 Datsun B-210 just like the one pictured here. It was green and had an amazing “four speaker, AM-FM stereo”. Kristy made it clear that trading her Camaro was not her first choice. Looking back on it, I can understand how much she loved her car and how frustrated she must have been for me to have gotten rid of it instead of the El Camino that I didn’t like at all. We were so young and making decisions wasn’t out strong suit.


You take my car, you take my heart!


I think, much like it was for me just before our wedding, losing her car was something that she buried deep inside her own heart. So, here we were two people that were very young, carrying a huge financial load and hurting deep inside in ways we were not prepared to deal with. Our wounds grew deeper and yet we just kept going on without asking the right questions or speaking the truth.

We didn’t talk, listen, or really care about each other in ways that would nurture a healthy marriage. I put my energy into fixing up our home and other distractions. Than to pay for it all, I took on a second job.


After two years we found out that our first child was going to come along. I was ecstatic! Kristy always wanted children so she was too. Our focus then turned to preparing for the baby. Remodeling the baby’s room, getting all of the things needed for a new baby was enough to distract us from the wounds in our hearts.


A Brand New Baby


In March of 1976, Alysha was born! I couldn’t get enough of her. Holding her in my lap, staring at her, she had grabbed my heart. It was a tremendous joy for me to be a dad. We had not been in a church since our wedding, other than maybe a Christmas service. Since my family was Catholic, we felt we had no other optio, but to go through with baptizing Alysha in the Catholic church. It was the expected thing to do so we did it. Neither of us had any particular religious convictions so this was just an act of keeping the peace with my family.


The Sink Hole Began to Sink!


Some of the buried stuff surfaced and we began to have arguments that were pretty typical on the surface but they were fueled by the lack of resolve from the other things we had never dealt with. At one point we had to call a family member in to help us get through the argument. It was right after that big argument that we found out that our second baby was coming.


I felt trapped again. I really didn’t want to continue living like I was. Kristy and I were so disconnected emotionally. but with one child and another one on the way what could I do? I had to just keep one foot in front of the other and move towards being a father again. I stuffed my feelings again. I was not clearly aware of what was going on inside of me. I only knew that I wanted to get out, to find some sense of real connection. I realized I didn’t feel connected anywhere. I felt really concerned about having another baby given the state of our marriage being what it was.


Baby No. 2


In July of 1977, Amanda was born. I was emotionally more shut down by this time and felt an internal struggle bonding with her. But I loved her and saw her bright shining personality develop very quickly. She was easier to connect to. Alysha seemed more emotionally independent from early on. Our two girls were beautiful. They had bright shiny blonde hair and soft beautiful skin. The two almost looked like twins at times. They were our two little girls and we moved on into family life.


With the kids, two jobs, and growing responsibilities my struggle to bond with Kristy just got further buried underneath life. It was much easier to just deal with the surface needs and not pay attention to the emptiness growing inside of my heart. On a regular basis I felt unheard, devalued and unimportant. I tried to cope with the loneliness I felt on a daily basis.


I didn’t have many friends other than those I worked with. I never did anything alone or with another friend. I spent all of my energy on the family and ongoing remodeling of our older house. That was my focus. I did have one really good friend, Dan, who I talked to a lot. We worked together and spent almost all of our break times talking together about life, family, work issues and anything else that came across our time together. I experienced some of the old feelings of jealousy with Dan and his other friends. I felt possessive with our time and didn’t want to go without talking with him daily. I would compromise my job by taking longer breaks than were allowed, hiding in hallways to talk with him. Fortunately I never got into too much trouble for all of the time I spent with him.


I really needed his friendship and time to process my life with him. The jealousy and neediness didn’t go any further so as to cause any big problems. But I definitely was dependant on Dan’s friendship to fill up some of the void I had. He was the kind of friend that was always there. He was there when both of our daughters were born and was present for other important events. I was there for him when his father passed away. I was in his wedding when he married his wife Arlene. We were very good friends.


1970 ford-brownThe cars in my life continued to change. We kept the Datsun but had a few other second cars. Some came along because they were cheap! I remember a 1965 Ford Fairlane that was one of the cheap ones. Then another memorable car came into our lives. A 1970 Ford XL. I think about the cars I would love to have back and this is one of them. The car in the picture doesn’t begin to capture the beauty of the car I had. While the color was close, mine was a special edition with a shiny gloss black engine hood on top of the beautiful Coppertone body. I was so long I couldn’t close the garage door behind it.

I had several life goals in my mind. A brand new custom designed home with all new decor, a brand new car in the driveway, and living in the suburbs. I was only 23 years old by this point.


In searching for these goals to be accomplished, we were about to take another detour and I was having more trouble hiding the emptiness and disappointments in my heart.


Some who know me, may be thinking, “John, weren’t you a homosexual?” “Isn’t that what was going on underneath all of this?”


As I have said, I was sexually a virgin.  I was naive about sexuality. In the sixties, no one really talked about homosexuality.  I really had no idea of my sexuality.  Whether I was homosexual or not never entered the equation. That may sound really strange to many of you who are reading this but it is true.  I seemed to like girls, dated some, married Kristy, and functioned normally as I knew how.  I certainly wasn’t a “raging” heterosexual, that’s for sure, but I had nothing to compare my life to. I didn’t have friends that I talked with, or listened to about their sexual exploits. I didn’t have a brother.  No cousin, or uncle that lived close by.


Oh, sure, I had mostly female friends in high school.  I didn’t get along well with other guys that were my peers.  I hated sports.  I loved home decor, feelings, and had a couple of emotionally close male friendships.  I didn’t have a lot of lust for girls in general. I was called s sissy, weak, and “girly” in my childhood.  But none of these added up to homosexuality because they were not connected to “sex”. I had a complicated and wounding relationship with my step-dad and an over dominate mother.


Many would say, “DUH” John’s gay. But again, in my world, the only connection I had to the topic of homosexuality was the lady I had worked with that my mom told me was a lesbian. That didn’t count because she was much older and obviously was a female. Certainly I embodied a lot of the stereotypes but in my stunted emotional development I never labeled myself.


I am going to write more about my marriage, sexuality, and the development of homosexuality as I tell this story. But, I’ve written the story in chronological order so it is unfolding as I experienced it.  I truly think that the incidents I have described played a significant role in the breakdown of our marriage for sure.  I am not sure that homosexuality really played much of a role in all of this up to this point.  I was disheartened, emotionally closed off, and distant from Kristy.  That was very significant in the whole picture.


Take a deep breath, all of this will start to come out in the next chapter.

 

The Beginning of My Adulthood

Friday, January 14th, 2011


1969 Camaro


1969_Camarobluewithstripe

A Beautiful Car!


By 1969, the Camaro was extremely popular. Sales had steadily increased during the first years of the Camaro and set a new all-time high, thanks to its long production run (from September 1968 through February 1970). The 1969 was given an updated look that was meaner than the graceful 1967-1968 models. It had a more aggressive grille, slightly squarer body panels, and squared-off rear wheel openings.


Sportier than all get out! The color? Oh, my, that beautiful metallic blue with white stripes was very popular at that time.


I got to drive one frequently. It wasn’t mine, it belonged to Kristy, my on and off girlfriend from high school. Her car had a floor shifter, black interior and looked very much like this example. It was very fun to drive! Little did I know how significant this car would become.


Discovering relationships as I left high school brought a lot of turmoil into my life both with guys and girls. I was already worn out and not sure I was willing to feel the pain that was coming. So as I became an adult, adult decisions were made to protect myself from things I just didn’t want to feel.


The flow of life of this 18 year old guy seemed to be pretty normal on the outside, but underneath I was suffering once again with things I didn’t understand and seemingly no one else did either.


After I graduated from high school I was ready for some changes. I was growing frustrated with working with my cousin at the truck refrigeration company. We decided it was time for me to move on and I applied for a job at a department store. It was called “Younkers” and was similar to Macy’s or Dillard’s. An upscale store with very nice things and with an upper class clientele it was a small chain in Nebraska and Iowa. I took a huge cut in pay but it was time and maybe this would be an opportunity for my future.


I got hired to work in a diverse department handling “Toys, Luggage, and Records.” It was a great place to be since we got to be around other young people who were shopping for the latest 1972 music like Grand Funk Railroad, Bread, The Who, and so many others that lived through the 70’s but didn’t go much farther.


Tom – My New Friend


I worked with a man named Tom Cleese . At 19 years old, he was one year older than I was. He had unruly long hair and always wore the blue suit jacket that was too big for him. We were required to dress up to work there, but his style lacked the kind of class that I think they were looking for. He also mostly wore corduroy jeans underneath the sagging jacket. But something was cool about Tom. He was more of an open minded type of guy. We spent a lot of time talking and he seemed to be so open to discussing lots of things that many people never talked about.


I grew very close to him. I looked forward to every time we worked together because it seemed he liked me too. I had not had a friend like Tom, so this felt pretty special to me. Tom had a few vices. He smoked, and talked about drinking alcohol. I had never really done either one. Throughout my teen years I tried to be good. I held my values to be important and was a virgin in almost every way! Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were just not my speed.


One day, Tom asked me to go with him to a bar in the shopping mall we worked in. He told me they didn’t “card” anyone they knew from the mall and would allow us to buy drinks there. Since Tom had been so nice to me and I was pretty cool on spending time with him I decided to go. He told me about certain drinks that I might like to try and he drank “Jack Daniels” so in wanting to be like him, I indulged. I felt so adult, drinking in a bar with Tom.


After a short while, I wanted to enter one more thing that was like Tom. I bought a package of cigarettes. Feeling, again, very adult, I lit up one, then another, and third. On the third one I felt a tightening of my lungs and said, “That’s enough of those”. And threw the pack away. I wasn’t willing to go that far to be like Tom.


Not knowing what I was really experiencing, I was growing to become pretty emotionally dependent with Tom. I spent a lot of my energy focusing on my time with him and how good it felt to connect, and feel affirmed by this older guy. We went to the bar several more times just to talk and have a drink or two.


Then one night Tom asked me to go to a party with him. He said it was a “bring your own drinks” type of party. Tom said I should try MD-20-20. He said it was a dark red wine and would do the trick to get me feeling pretty good. So he bought me a bottle and I brought it to the party. Before we left he instructed me on how to drive home safely if I was leaving drunk. “John, roll the windows down, its winter and the cold air will keep you alert”. Then further instruction spoke to keeping the radio up loud and eyes open wide. I still laugh thinking about his instruction and my emulating what he had taught me. So, he dropped me off to get my car at the parking lot in front of the store we worked at. I got into my car, obediently rolled the windows down, turned the radio on and got ready to drive home.

ElCamino


CRASH!!!!!


I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot. As I drove my ‘68 El Camino forward from the parking space I saw a huge red octagon fly down in front of me. Yep, your right, it was the stop sign. I backed up, slowly, left the sign on the ground and found the exit from the lot and drove home. The sign was repaired with a brace and I saw that brace for many years afterwards, each time I went into that parking lot. My right of passage was so visible to me and I am sure frustrating for the maintenance crew at the mall.


But, I made it home safely and went into the house. I felt so woozy as I walked in. I thought everything was cool but I was late! I had a curfew of 12:00 midnight and it was about 12:30. As I got ready to settle in, my dad came out of his bedroom with his hand out. “John, give me your keys.” “You’ll get them back Sunday night, you’re late.” Nothing more was said and he may or may not have known I was drinking but it was never mentioned.


Tom was a mentor to more for my young adulthood. Maybe not such a good one, but it didn’t matter to me. Tom seemed like the older brother I never had and I loved it. It was the bridge out of high school that I needed to begin my own life as an adult.


So, back to the Camaro, Kristy and girls! Well, the Camaro would come up later. Kristy was still in the picture, but when we were off, there were some other girls in the story. My eyes were looking around for who I liked and who I didn’t. There was a girl in “gift wrap” that was very interested in spending time talking with me. Her name was Barb. I liked Barb as a friend, but nothing about her drew my attention for more than just to talk and laugh with her. She tried her hardest to show me she was interested in more, but I didn’t have the mind to go further. But, one day, someone else struck my interest.


Oh My -She’s Beautiful!

Looking through the LP’s was this young lady and her mom. As I looked down at her hands I saw such beautiful fingers and her nails colorfully painted. Then I looked up. Her hair was blonde and flowing. She was so pretty, and nice! Her mom was nice too, but I couldn’t believe my eyes and the pitter patter in my heart when I saw her. She didn’t buy anything and left the department. I wanted to follow her all the way out. Immediately going to Tom, we talked about girls and attraction. He was dating Ellen who went to school in Chicago, so she wasn’t there often. He talked about how much they loved each other and something tripped in me at that time. I didn’t know what it was but Ellen wasn’t a part of Tom’s local life so I didn’t pay much attention to it.


I didn’t like to hear Tom talk about Ellen because it took the attention away from me. But we kept finding other things to talk about. We especially tried to figure out a way to find the beautiful blonde, but I never saw her again. Another step in our friendship occurred that I’ll never forget.


Tom liked football and would talk about it sometimes. Feeling distant from those conversations I wanted so much to tell him that I didn’t like football but I feared he would think I was weird if I said anything about it. I had NEVER verbally told anyone that I didn’t like it. But standing next to the stereo’s I remember distinctly a conversation when I said, “Tom, I don’t like football.” Expecting to see shock as I waited for his response, he really didn’t have one and said, “That’s ok, John.” I was amazed that the sky didn’t fall when I admitted to him one of the most scary things of all. I didn’t like football! I felt even more accepted at that point. It was the beginning of even more honesty in my life. I didn’t die so maybe I can talk about more things with Tom.


So, still no Kristy on the scene but she would come into the store periodically and we would go out on a date some times. But, overall, my focus was on my friendship with Tom. He moved to a different department and I really missed having him closer to talk with. I would wander over to where he was to talk, but it just wasn’t the same. I got into trouble sometimes because I would stray from my post. Then one day, the most fearful thing of all occurred.


What?  You’re Leaving?


“John, I am going to move to Chicago to be with Ellen and go to school.” What, you’re moving away? The shock was extreme and I went home that night with more pain than I think I had experienced in a long time. What would I do? I was going to lose Tom. I talked with a friend of the family that night and she asked me what was wrong . So, I told her about my friend moving away and finished the conversation. At that moment I started sobbing in pain. Tom moved and my life felt so empty and void. But there was a friend of Tom’s that I also had gotten to know who’s name was Gary. I liked him and spent time with him but it just wasn’t the same as Tom.


I made a plan to see Tom again. He was eight hours away in Chicago. I felt older now and knew I could drive my 1968 El Camino there and spend a weekend with he and Ellen. Well, It would be ok with Ellen there, she was nice. So, Tom told me he was living in the school dorms with Ellen and that I could sleep in the “pod” of the dorms on the couches there. My plans were set and I took my first trip across country alone and went to Chicago. Upon arriving I found that Tom and Ellen were living in her dorm room together. He mentioned it was not in agreement with the rules but no one knew and others covered for them. I was a little disappointed in their arrangement. It didn’t line up with my moral values. I didn’t let that get in the way. After all, that is another experience with being an adult. We had some fun and we ate at “Uno’s” pizzeria, and talked a lot. My response surprised me even more. I was jealous of Ellen more than I had expected. I was also jealous of the intimacy they had with each other. I felt rejected and hurt. I didn’t enjoy the weekend at all and was really emotionally shut down.


I talked to Kristy once while I was in Chicago. I was feeling so badly. She became a comfortable, familiar place to grab some connection. While on the phone I told her that I had something to talk to her about when I got home. I had decided in my heart to reconnect with Kristy and move forward with our relationship. Maybe even into marriage. I was really hurting and didn’t want to hurt any more. I thought, maybe if we got married the relationship struggles I was experiencing would go away. I didn’t want to play the look around, dating, game anymore. I was certainly wounded from what had happened with Tom. Maybe the single life isn’t for me. I just wanted to settle down and move on.


I had parked my El Camino on Michigan Avenue, where Tom had told me to park it for the weekend. On Monday morning I walked over to get into my car and it was GONE! I looked up at the sign which I had not seen earlier. It said that cars could park there until 2:00 AM on Monday morning. My car had been towed away. I felt some resentment towards Tom for knowing what the laws were for parking there.


I called Tom and he instructed me on how to find it and $75 dollars later I had my car and was on my way home. Thinking about all that happened during the eight hour drive I became resolute. I was going to ask Kristy to marry me.


Let’s Get Married


When I got home Kristy and I got together and I talked about the weekend. I don’t think I mentioned anything about my painful reactions to Tom’s relationship with Ellen. I didn’t really have that much personal awareness at that time in my life. I did, however ,remember saying, “Kris, maybe we should get married.”


There was never a formal proposal or on-the-knee, request. We just accepted that we were going to get married and began talking about our plans with others. The ring came along, and a date was set. October 12, 1973 would be the date of our wedding. I appreciated Kris’ strength in the area of wanting kids, taking an interest in homemaking and the way she cooked great things for me to eat. She would make a good wife and mother. She must be the one for me.


I never saw Tom again. There were some letters written back and forth but our friendship waned and each of us moved on into our own lives. I often wonder what ever happened with Tom and Ellen. I suspect they got married- or maybe not. They were kind of like Ryan O’Neal and Alli MacGraw in “Love Story.” They were each kind of out of the box thinkers and went against the norms of society.


So, the 1969 Camaro?


What happened with that car? Oh, the story of the Camaro isn’t over and it played an important role in my life and my upcoming wedding with Kris. Stay tuned. Our wedding plans kept us busy but my heart was to be broken again soon. And my 1968 El Camino would get a pretty big dent that created more problems for the Camaro.


 

Three Kids and a Dad- Two Weeks – All in a Corvair!

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Through the Windshield of My Life


Family Vacations with my Dad


Some of the most memorable times with my dad were our camping trips. Our summer vacations with him almost always included packing up all kinds of gear and going to state parks where we found wonderful communities, interesting historical sites, and strange happenings along the way.

1963corvair


The first trip I can remember strangely enough was in our 1963 Chevrolet Corvair. Yes, the one that Ralph Nader said was such a hazard to drive. Ours was deep burgundy. As a 3rd grader, I certainly was intrigued by the trunk being in the front of the car and the small packaged air cooled engine in the rear. But, in the Nebraska winters that was a good configuration!


We were going to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We had a canvas tent that would sleep my dad, my two sisters and me. He had built a wooden “kitchen” box that stored the cooking supplies. We had a Coleman gas stove, lantern, sleeping bags, and lots of camping “stuff” to spend two weeks away in the hills north and west of our home in Omaha. My mom never went with us. We just figured she didn’t like camping.


So, we took the back seat out of our compact Corvair, built a top carrier for the roof and packed all of our camping gear into or onto the top of our little car. I really don’t know how in the world three kids and my dad fit into the car with all of the stuff but we seemed to do it.


Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

When we visited the Badlands I was absolutely amazed at the wonder of the formation. It was like the ceiling of a cave but it was miles of pillars formed from the ground. In my mind it was no less of a wonder than I had perceived the Grand Canyon would be.


We then traveled further to see Mt. Rushmore and the incredible Sylvan Lake. There was one attraction that didn’t seem like much of an attraction at the time, Crazy Horse Monument. It was just beginning to be carved in the top of a mountain so we didn’t see much there. I had hope it would one day be something great, which I think it is much further along today. We had a wonderful time on our historical trip to the Black Hills.

go-light trailer1955 Chevy

1955 Chevy


A couple of years later and many weekend trips in-between my dad moved up to a travel trailer. It was really cool to see this aluminum 13 foot “Go-lite” trailer in his back yard. I love to go into its little door and move the table around for a bed and drop the sofa in the back down for a bed there too. I like changes so changing things around was really fun. Sometimes I would just sit in it and dream of where we could go with the trailer.


Our first big trip was to Minnesota and Canada. I brought my friend, Mark Stastny, along, so it was just the three of us. Dad had just bought a 1955 Chevrolet two door hardtop to pull the trailer. It seemed to have a heavier engine in it to handle the load.


I must add that we also had an “Evaporative Cooler” for air conditioning in the car. I am not kidding, this get up was totally out of the 1950’s but we were in the mid sixties so it was quite the experience for me.


Evaporative Car Cooler

Evaporative Car Cooler

Our first stop was to spend a couple of nights with my cousin in Wyzata Minnesota. A highlight for me there was going to the “Betty Crocker” kitchens at General Mills. My cousin worked for them and gave us the real “cooks tour” for sure. They had just released the pink, cherry recipe cake and the taste is still in my mouth for some strange reason. It was a wonderful time with family. We went on up to Canada through International Falls and Bemidji Minnesota. Driving many miles we returned home safe from our “vintage” camping trip.


We had many weekend trips. Ponca State park near Sioux City Iowa was a favorite place. While camping was great fun with fires, camp stoves, and lots of talking late into the night my greatest memory was the time spent with good friends, new and old. There were also some challenging experiences for me as I grew older.


I always wanted to be clean. Kind of weird for an eight year old I know, but camping was certainly not a place to stay clean so it was a must to take regular showers. But, I had a dilemma. I felt extremely embarrassed to change clothes or shower if someone were to possibly see me naked. I’d go into the park and first thing, I would check out the shower facility and begin my plans. Many times I’d find that later at night, or very early in the morning, there weren’t usually any campers in the showers. I’d make a dash for the showers myself and get in and out so that I didn’t have to deal with the naked thing. It seemed to help me to stay clean but the anxiety remained for years ahead. I never talked with anyone about my fears so it just went underneath and I dealt with it the best way I could.


My dad had introduced us to some friends of his when he and my mom went through their divorce. Ron was a mailman with my dad and he was married to Barb. They had three active boys. When I first met this family, Barb seemed to be an over the top kind of mom. Her words seemed to be so strong that I wasn’t sure about what I thought about her. Ron was a very quiet man who worked a second job as the owner of a gas station and a mechanic.


As we got to know them better I learned that they were extremely kind people who loved everyone. Ron and Barb were neighborhood fixtures that virtually everyone knew because of their kindness and their heart for others. This is what drew them into our family in the first place.


When my dad left our home Ron and Barb offered him a place to stay until he got his feet on the ground. I remember Barb telling me how she would hear my dad cry at night in his grief over the loss of his family. They would listen to my dad process life circumstances like they did with so many others.


The more I got to know them, I found that Barb did the same with me. She would probe my life with questions and listen to me talk through the things that life brought along. I would sit at her breakfast counter for what seemed to be hours as we talked. She also became close to my older sisters. As time passed by, Ron and Barb became as close or closer to us than our own family. And even more, they became family to our extended family so we adopted them tightly into our world. The events of our life always included them. They hosted my two sisters’ wedding receptions in their home as well as many other parties and events. Ron worked on all of our cars, more times than I can count, out of the goodness of his heart.


Barb was hysterically funny and energizing to be around. So, without a doubt, the most memorable camping trip was spent in the Ozarks of Missouri. Ron and Barb went with us on this trip and brought a girl named Louise along that was a little older than I was. I was about 14 or 15 years old. My dad, his friends, Louise and I got into our cars heading south for some wonderful laughter, memories, and great camping.



1966 Buick LeSabre

1966 Buick LeSabre

At this point my dad went to the extreme in his choice of cars. He owned a 1966 Buick LeSabre. Barb called it the “Big Black Buick” even though it was dark blue! I learned to drive in that car. It was huge and had power steering and power brakes. It would whirl around effortlessly through the streets. We had also upgraded our trailer to a 16 foot Forrester. It had a bathroom in it! But, we didn’t use the shower so I still had to scout out the public showers in the parks we went to.



We had so much fun laughing, talking, making wonderful memories for a lifetime. Actually, we still talk about that trip today and it was in 1968. During the trip our friend’s car blew an engine. While for many, this would be devastating, but not with Barb around. We were stuck in Higginsville, Missouri. With Barb’s way with people, she overheard someone talking about something in their life and walked up to them and said, “So, you think you’ve got problems, our car engine blew up and we are camping and don’t know what we’re going to do.”


It just so happened that this person new the mayor pretty well and got permission from him for us to camp in the City Park. So, we spent the night with our tents and trailer right there for everyone to see. It was almost like a Chevy Chase movie set! Now we often say, “So, you think you have problems” just for fun.


So, after Ron and Barb got a different car, a 1966 Oldsmobile, we were back on the trail of our camping extravaganza. Our friend, Barb, saw that their new car had a special transmission mode called “Super”. The car was parked going down hill towards the lake. When Barb was trying to back up out of the parking spot, she thought it would help to use Super! Well, as you might imagine, Super was only for going forward so she quickly stopped before going into the lake. It may have been another incident of “So, you think you’ve got problems” but thankfully it just became a lifetime joke for us all to enjoy.


Our camping trips continued for years to come. Dad moved from the Forrester trailer to a larger than life pick-up truck with a camper on it, but by this time our family camping trips had diminished and most of our time in that rig was spent at local state parks, picnics, and sleeping in the camper in the driveway. Life had moved on for me. By this time my sisters and I had gotten married and our lives were consumed by children, work, and just overall life maintenance.


My dad tried to arrange more trips but they just didn’t work out any more. I am so thankful for the many memories that came from the trips we did take. Driving in these “all American” cars was fairly common for the mainstream of family life. But, for me, these cars produced memories from the experiences that came from our camping trips. Somehow during the years each car just seemed to go away and another one came in its place. But the memories remain.


 

Oh, It Was Just a Dream. Darn.

Friday, December 17th, 2010


Through the Windshield of My Life


My 1966 Mustang convertible has come back to me over and over in my dreams. For many reasons, this car was a pivotal memory from my teen years. I loved to wash, wax, and polish it getting ready for a wonderful summer drive with the top down. Playing 70’s music on my eight track tape player made it even more memorable.


Our lives become what they are from the life we have lived. As I look back on being in high school I realized that it was in my teens where the damaged life I had lived as a young chilc started to manifest itself in the relationships I developed. I also see how my past affected the choices I began to make about life. These years were the beginning of my own personal dysfunction stemming out of the dysfunction of the developmental years I had lived in previously.


Cars began to symbolize memories of great elation, as well as memories of the painful history that was manifesting itself in my life.


My first job, my first car, my first girlfriend. Elation, and disappointment. Entering high school was my practice game and I realized I was not ready for the prime time players!


1966-mustang-convertible1966 Ford Mustang


There’s no doubt that 1966 is one of the most popular Ford Mustang model years in the history of the car. In fact, March 1966 marked the creation of the millionth Mustang.


Although the first few years were definitely good for Ford and its sporty Mustang, 1966 was the year all that hard work truly began to pay off. By 1966, most people began to associate the Ford Mustang with power and performance. It was the car to have if you needed a daily driver and it was the car to have if you needed a weekend cruiser with a sporty edge.


About that 1966 Mustang convertible; even to this day I dream that it is still in my garage and I mysteriously had forgotten I had it. The dream discovery seems so real that I wake up to realize that it was a dream and feel disappointed the whole rest of the day. I am not exactly sure why I dream about it but I had owned it right in the middle of my teenage years of life.


My First Real Girlfriend


Oh, man, I was fifteen and she was beautiful! Her hair long and silky, she had a bright smile and a wonderful personality. Her name was Beth and she was older than I was. She had her driver’s license! So, on our first date she picked me up in her brother’s 1963 Chevy Impala Convertible and out we went. I don’t remember where we went, but I was definately smitten with her. She was not only older, but she was taller than I was.


We’d meet at her locker at school and others would stare at us because I was just 5′ 3″ tall. She was 5′ 9″ so there was quite a difference but it didn’t matter to me. She was the most wonderful thing that had happened to me.


Being a Teenager

As I began to learn how to be a teenager I found that I was more at ease with the girls and distant from the guys. It is the norm to think that sex dominates a young man’s life during his teenage years.  Guys being “girl crazy” are seemingly run amok with sexual urges and desires.  But my experience with puberty was that it came into my life seemingly unnoticed due to the turmoil that I had been living in. I experienced the most dramatic impact of the new hormones by discovering masturbation. I didn’t think about it with any sort of moral awareness. It was just a personal practice that entered my life. I wasn’t girl crazy, but I wasn’t aware of any other attractions either.  Since I didn’t hang around guys much I didn’t hear much “sex” talk and felt even more estranged from my own sexual identity.  Oh, I had many emotional urges going on inside me that were confusing and at times painful.  I found myself feel warm thoughts of desiring physical closeness to an older man I was around at times.  I wanted to be held by him, just a touch from his hand would send desires through my mind.  But since I was so sexually naive I didn’t have anything to attach those feelings to nor did I know how to define them as being sexual.


During all of this, which included my current relationship with Beth, I moved to my dad’s house. The transition was huge for me but I am not sure she fully understood all of my life issues. She came from a wholesome family. She had a wonderful mom and dad and I loved to go to their home because it was so warm and normal. One memory I have of them was when I picked up Beth one night. I went into their foyer and looked into the living room to see both of them sitting there in their wingback chairs with the fireplace glowing. That scene never left my mind because of the wholesome picture that it painted.


We were going to the “Sweetheart” dance together and I was thinking ahead about spending a long time with Beth beside me. She was an artist and we enjoyed art class together. I remember her long plaid wool slacks and her “maxi” dress. We loved to laugh and most of all, I like to just sit beside her and talk.


Then one day, my whole world crashed. Beth told me that her parents didn’t think it was a good idea that she settle down with one person so she broke up with me. I felt abandoned, lost, and alone. I moved on and dated some other girls but none were close to what I had felt with Beth.


Living with my dad brought about a sense of peace that I hadn’t known in many years. But it also brought a lot more responsibility. I willingly accepted all of the things that had to be done to maintain my life. I washed my own clothes, cleaned the house we lived in and learned how to cook my favorite meals. I paid my own bills and virtually lived as an adult. I didn’t think anything about all of these new aspects to my life since I had just launched from the prison of my mom’s house into the free world of personal choices.


My Spiritual Life


I was raised Catholic and my dad was very committed to his faith and making sure his kids were trained to be committed to it as well.  We went to church every Sunday without fail.  We were raised in catechism and we went through all of the childhood sacraments of Confession, First Communion and Confirmation.  We were members of a community Catholic church where we knew many people.  They were primarily friends of my dads who worked for the Postal Service with him. They were great people and we enjoyed being around them. But something triggered a strong reaction in my heart as I looked around this church.


I had a strong desire to connect at a deeper level. I wanted to find a place where I could belong, serve, and feel significant to this church family. As a teenager, I looked around for places to fit in and found nothing other than Sunday church and the sacraments.  Something inside me told me that I was not significant there, that there was no place for me.


One Sunday my older sister and I decided to look for something different.  We “skipped” our church service and went to a Baptist church down the street.  We thought we were doing something very risky and that if our dad found out what we had done we’d surely be in trouble. So, on the way home we stopped by our church and picked up a left over bulletin to take into our house to “prove” our attendance at the Catholic church.  Our dad never knew what we had done. The other church didn’t impress me either.


So, I made the decision that when I was on my own after high school, I wouldn’t continue going back to the Catholic church. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t interested in anything else either.  There just wasn’t any connection or present purpose for me to attend. It was just something we did, not anything that was in my heart.

My First Job


While I lived more like an adult in my personal life, I had a group of friends that I hung out with that brought some fun along with it. The fall was my favorite time of year. We went on hayrack rides, had parties at one kid’s house and hung out together at school. I had worked for a restaurant since I was 14 years old making $1.15 per hour. I worked about 25 hours a week there so I was busy on the weekends and week nights.


1970 Super BeeWorking at the restaurant brought some fun like riding in Mary’s 1970 Dodge Super Bee! Wow, a 383 Magnum engine, four speed transmission, bright purple with black racing stripes, we all manipulated Mary into taking us home on many occasions! Mary was known to be a lesbian, but that didn’t seem to matter to any of us. She had a great car and we all loved to ride in it. Besides, she was really good to us kids. She laughed with us and came to our defense when the main chef would get on our case.


But I also had experienced bullying from an older kid named Randy. He would throw out threats of beating me up by the trash bin if I didn’t do what he wanted to. He scared me to death. I started working there when I still lived at mom’s so I walked to work and back, which was over two miles each way. When I got off at midnight I would look over my shoulder for most of my walk home wondering if he was following me to beat me up. I wanted to leave there so bad but didn’t have another job to go to.


My cousin heard I might be interested in a new job and came to me and asked if I might want to work at his company. It was a transport refrigeration company called “Carrier-Transicold”. I would be working in the parts department. I jumped at the chance to make $2.35 per hour. At teh beginning I worked after school five nights a week. Then when summer came I began to work 40 hours per week. I liked making the money and could afford to pay for virtually all of my own personal things. I also liked the guys I worked with. Jerry and Bill were the same shift I was. I felt like a man alongside of them.


1970BugWhiteAs my bank account increased so did my eyes for a new car. Bill offered to sell me his 1966 Buick special but I chose to buy a 1970 Volkswagen. This car had been originally bought in Germany and was only 6 months old. This made it unique for the American market. I can still remember feeling the texture of the seats, turning the new style safety knobs on the dash board, and certainly listening to the German built Blaupunkt AM/FM radio! I felt pretty sharp in my shiny new vehicle.



Kristy


I met a girl named Kris. She was friends with some of the folks I hung out with in the library at school. My first memory of her was when a friend of hers was talking about Kris being in a shell and no one seemed to be able to enter her world. I thought Kris was fun to be around and wondered if I might be able to get through her “shell”. So I began to get to know her.


We dated and hung out. I met her family. Her parents were divorced like mine were. Her mom managed an apartment complex so we’d go to her place just to hang out. Her dad lived in a house that was very empty feeling. Her brother also lived there and her little sister lived with Kris and her mom. She was a good cook and enjoyed making things for me to eat like a lemon merangue pie.


I found that there were many things we understood about each other. Divorce, arguing a lot between her parents, and her siblings being the same ages as mine made our families very similar. Driving to see a movie one night I saw the connection between us. I thought she understood my life more than anyone. Having a lifelong need to feel heard, our similarities felt like she heard me.


Our relationship became quite rocky for one reason or another. It seemed like we broke up several times during the next couple of years. We got back together shortly after each time we broke up. This was all pretty confusing to those around us.


During the next year the burden of my car payments became more than I wanted to bear. I was paying $95 per month for my “Bug”. I talked with my dad about it and we agreed that it might be good to sell it and get something else. I did and then found my next car.


The Mustang

Johns 1966 Mustang parade 2

It was a 1966 Mustang Convertible. The payments were half of the other car and oh boy, a convertible! I loved it! I polished it, bought “mag” wheels for it and I was stylin! I got an “eight track” tape player for it and listened to Bread, Grand Funk Railroad, Rod Stewart, and so many other popular 1970’s groups.


In my junior year our Homecoming parade was coming up. My car was red with black interior. These were our school colors so I entered my car in the parade. I felt so cool and I may have even had a moment of populararity!


The school I went to felt like it had two classes of people. The rich, and those from the other side of the tracks. I seemed to be able to cross he divide. I was from the other side of the tracks, but since I had such a good job, I could afford to have things that the rich kids had. New clothes, a nice convertible, and I could pay for the other things that came along. I felt independent, responsible, and connected on the surface. But underneath, I felt lost, lonely, unaccepted, and foreign to my school and the kids there.



Yes. I Flunked Phys-ed


We had to take physical education in our course profile. I hated phys-ed! In junior highschool I was teased mercilessly by students and coaches alike. I was not a natural at sports. My family wasn’t a sports family. I didn’t know how to throw a ball, or keep score for any major sport. I wondered what the phys-ed teachers were there for? If they were teachers, then why didn’t they teach. It seemed they were there for the natural sports guys and those of us who didn’t know how, well, we were just left out to dry and feel awkward and stupid. I was so anxious about being in gym class that on one occasion I had to go to the doctor from internal stomach problems.


When I reached highschool I found that it was easier to skip gym class without any immediate consequences. I skipped many classes in 10th grade and learned how to skip the whole year in 11th. Yes, I flunked Phys-ed. I ended up having to take it in summer school. It was much easier and I got by with less stress.


I’m Not Smart Enough


I didn’t do well in school with regards to scholasic achievement. But I had a dream of becoming an architect. As I perused the class selections and I saw the requirements for architecture included taking physics and chemistry. I felt woefully inadequate to take those classes. I thought they were for smart kids and I certainly wasn’t a smart kid. So I had only one choice. Give up my dream for being an architect. Little did I know those classes were nothing more than glorified Physical Science. I loved that class in the eighth grade but I didn’t make the connection. I didn’t feel connected to anyone who would have helped me figure that out. Again, I felt lost and alone so I just had to do what I could to find my way through.


As I moved into the end of my junior year I decided to make my plans to just work and earn a living. I registered for “Coop” for my senior year. This would mean that I got credit for having a job and only had to take two classes each semester. So off I ran! I was an adult now,or so I thought. I learned that independence was the best way to get by. With our “modular scheduling” structure I only had to be in school two mornings a week all through my senior year.


1969_Olds_Cutlass_S_ConvertibleModular scheduling also made it easier to leave school. If we had more than one hour of free time we could leave. One girl that I hung out with a lot was named Shelly. Shelly and I spent a lot of time together. I remember one special day when we went to lunch during our free time. Shelly drove her mom’s 1969 Oldmobile convertible to school. That car was so cool! We put the top down and off we went! I didn’t parcularly like to color gold, but driving off to lunch in an incredible convertible of any kind was a special event for me.


Since I wasn’t at school as much, my friendships seemed to go away and all I had was Kris. Our relationship was something that just existed but at least I wasn’t alone. On one warm summer evening I remember feeling so connected to her while we sat on my red convertible listening to the “Carpenter’s” singing “Superstar” on the eight track player. I really thought I had it all that night.


Me? Owning A Horse


Jerry, the guy I worked with, owned an acreage. His family loved the country. I looked up to Jerry so much and enjoyed spending time with them at their home. They had a couple of horses and I had always loved horses. There was something different about my relationship with Jerry. I was overly emotional about how he acted with others and how he was towards me. I felt pretty consumed with him on most days but I didn’t really know what was going on inside me.


One day I talked about horses and he told me they would board a horse if I wanted to get one. In my mysterious mind, I thought maybe if I had a horse it would allow me to spend more time with Jerry and his family. So, I found a two year old quarter horse and we took it to their farm.


I drove twenty miles each morning to take care of the horse before work. I loved spending time there. The horse on the other hand was just a vehicle to go to Jerry’s house. This family became an obsession in my life and overpoweredElCaminoeverything else and all of my other relationships. I spent virtually all of my free time there. I’m sure my dad felt my absense and my over focus on Jerry, his family, and what seemed to be my horse.


I even gave up my Mustang convertible for the horse. I traded it in on an “El Camino” to somehow manage the things I had to carry around to facilitate having a horse. I never liked that car and it gave me unending problems with the engine and other things. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long road ahead with emotionally dependant relationships with guys and the painful challenges of what was going on inside of me.


“Nasty Grams” From Our Moms


Kris and I shared another life experience.  It was a place of understanding our common pain. Graduation was coming quickly and I was ready to get out of school. Highschool didn’t work well with my independent spirit so I felt the sooner the better. The week of graduation Kris and I both got letters from our moms. There was something about our moms that was so similar. Each letter seemed to be more of a criticism than a celebration. We both talked about how mad we were at those letters. Our bond was once again confirmed by our survival from having grown up in such dysfunction.


I had lost out on so much growing up. While living with my dad brought such a new life for me, I was still very wounded from where I had been. My relational dysfunction had taught me to survive rather than to live. I didn’t know how to relate well with anyone. I especially didn’t know how to relate to other guys. Since sports was not a common denominator I grew to believe had nothing in common at all with other guys. I mostly new the girls and they were all dating and their attention was more on finding guys to date than it was to build a community.


At the end of the year I remember getting my high school yearbook and looking up my name. It seemed to show my name in bright red with NOTHING behind it. I wasn’t in a club or activity that would have been mentioned. I felt invisible, insignificant, and certainly not important in any way. As I left high school, I moved forward and never looked back. I didn’t remain in contact with anyone other than Kris.


In the next 6 months, my life was about to change dramatically for all of the wrong reasons.