A Conversation With My Grandfather, Part 1

My grandfather and I are very close. We’ve been that way ever since I was a kid. In general we get along really well and appreciate and enjoy many of the same things. Growing up in northeast Wisconsin, my grandpa and I spent many lazy afternoons hanging out in Riverside Park or fishing out on Lake Winnebago. When I was about 3 years old and my grandfather was unemployed for a time (he worked for the state highway commission) I spent almost the entire summer with him and my grandma. I will never forget the summer up north a few years later when my grandpa and I went out fishing at 6 in the morning and I somehow managed to catch a 27-inch walleye. That stuffed fish hangs on the wall in my room to this day.

As I grew older and got more involved with my friends and other things, my grandpa and I spent less and less time together. Despite sharing many mutual joys and passions together, one area in which he and I came to differ was politics. Whereas I see the world from a decidedly liberal standpoint, my grandfather is a staunch conservative. My coming out combined with the recent politicization of “gay marriage” has definitely added some tension to the relationship.

On the whole my family—including my grandfather—was overwhelmingly supportive of me when I came out, and for that I feel fortunate. Getting them all to oppose the ban on civil unions and marriage has been more frustrating. From my perspective, I cannot see how denying a group of citizens fair and equal treatment under the law could ever be a good idea. I thought the matter would be straightforward, even to my grandfather.

I’ve talked with him for hours about the issue on several different occasions. Each time, I felt as though I got through to him about the consequences of the ban and how it would hurt me personally. But then much to my disappointment, each time we’d talk about it again he wasn’t sure whether or not he opposed the ban. His wavering was—and continues to be—painful and confusing because I can’t understand how someone who loves and cares for me could simultaneously support making me a second-class citizen.

I can appreciate that my grandfather doesn’t exactly fall into a demographic that is strongly supportive of equal rights for LGBT people, but I thought that if I worked hard enough on him, if I made my case eloquently enough, if his love for me was strong enough, he would understand my perspective.

I sat down with my grandfather earlier this week to talk about his feelings about the ban, and during our conversation I asked him how he planned to vote on the civil unions and marriage ban. He told me he would be voting yes.

While I admire his honesty, his choice is painful for me to accept. I feel disappointed, confused, and even a little betrayed. Were my expectations too high? Have I wasted my time trying to convince someone who is unreachable?

I suspect that there are others like me around the state who find themselves in a similarly uncomfortable predicament. I offer this story in the hopes that they will realize they are not alone in their struggles. I intend to keep talking with my grandpa and with the other members of my family between now and November 7th.

Tomorrow I will post my conversation with my grandpa. And I will continue to keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, feel free to share your own stories here on our blog.



At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Thanks for sharing Justin. I feel that your personal struggle with convincing your Grandpa to see this issue in a "new light" is very similar to our battle in trying to sway the voters of Wisconsin. Some people are simply steadfast in their ways - products of their cultural and political upbringing.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Paul said...

I look forward to the whole of your story, Justin. I went through a similar situation with my brother in Michigan in 2004, but of course it is most important to maintain family ties. I empathize with what you are going through and I explain views like your grandfather's as being brought up in a different time and with different formative influences.




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