I am writing this now after having one of the more difficult conversations with my mom that I have ever had. For the past week, the air has been filled with congratulatory overtones from all the friends and acquaintances with whom we have shared the good news of our engagement. Even my brother and sister-in-law, who are fairly religious, were happy to hear the good news that I shared with them today. All has been good in the Wong-Dicken world.
Yet the one black cloud has been with my parents. I first broke the news of our engagement to my mom last week. She had been on my side throughout most of my previous relationship. All 14 years of it. And she was one of the first people I told when that relationship came to an end. Likewise, she was one of the first people I told when I had the offer to move to London with my company. Over the years, our relationship had morphed away from the mother-son model and more towards a strong adult friendship. I was her confidant. And in many ways, she was mine. This is quite unusual in Asian families, but for us it kind of works.
So I received quite a surprise when I shared the news of our engagement with her last week. Instead of happiness or excitement from my mom, what I got instead was a rather cold pragmatic set of comments and questions: “Getting married will make everything more complicated when you split up.” “And what about when one of you gets a horrible disease and dies?” Optimist, she is not. Offensive? Yes, but of course in the most well-meaning and motherly of ways.
Today’s conversation with my mom started off like most of my conversations have ever started off. Ever since the age of 17, when I first left San Francisco to go to college in Boston, I have been in the habit of calling my mom every Sunday evening. It is never a chore, and I usually look forward to hearing her voice. The conversations always start with a little chatter about the weather. And then segues to a discussion about how busy work is. Oftentimes, I’m told some gossip or news about things happening with some of her friends or relatives. And on some rare occasions, there is a little bit of drama too. Last week, the big drama was that there was a mouse in her house. (And I learned this week that a strategically placed gluetrap had done the mouse in one night).
However, this week, I found it odd that the big elephant in the room wasn’t being brought up. So after the usual banter, I asked if she had shared the news with my father. And the response was yes. But barely before she finished the “yes” came the stock response, that while they congratulated me on the nuptials, that they would not be able to come to the wedding because…and here is the kicker…because then the extended relatives might find out that I am gay. I was simultaneously flabbergasted and crestfallen.
Instantly I was brought back to a similar episode over a decade ago, when my brother was getting married. While they recognized my relationship with my (now ex) partner, they were not able to extend an invitation to him for the wedding because…and this was the kicker back then…because then the extended relatives might find out that I am gay. When that comment was first made over a decade ago, I was instantly reminded of where I and my big fat gay relationship stood in the hierarchy of their world. And with the comment from this week’s phone call, again I was instantaneously reminded of where I stood.
The date of the big event hasn’t even yet been decided, but they have already chosen to not attend. Not out of fear of flying (which my mom does have), or even out of homophobia. But because “the relatives might find out.” My first reaction was to give them a big F-U. But of course I couldn’t say that to my mom. So I ended up saying something worse. Something far worse:
“So is this your decision or Dad’s decision?”
My comment of course started a round of the blame game. But I was having none of that. So we ended the conversation with some choice words from me. I told her I didn’t really care whose decision it was. As far as I am concerned, it is their joint decision. And the ramification of their choice is not only that they would miss their younger son’s wedding, but that they have chosen to not respect me, and to not treat my brother and me as equals.
“You have a son who is married, and who has produced two grandsons that you can parade around. And you have chosen to treat your other son like a set of rags that you wear only around the house. You say you love and support me, and only want me to be happy. Those words are so nice and sweet. But when one of the few major milestones in my life comes up, your true feelings become exposed. I am no better than a set of dirty rags to you.”
And with that came a terse “goodbye.” Who knows what kind of drama will come next week?