The day after Valentine’s Day, Danny and Brandon came to talk to me, to explain about the ring and their commitment to each other. I was thrilled for both of him, especially since I knew how much they truly cared for each other, and I gave them my best wishes and my blessings. That’s when they decided to tell me there was more to this commitment than met the eye.
“Dad,” Danny told me, “we’ve also made some other promises to each other too, things that are going to affect you and everyone else.”
“Really?” I responded, due to his pausing at that point. “That would have to be a major decision of sorts, to affect all of us?”
“Well, it is,” he agreed. “We, I mean Brandon and I, have decided that after we get through with our studies, we’re absolutely going to come back here and help you take care of all the boys.”
“I know, you told me that before,” I reminded him, “but most of the boys will be grown by then.”
“I know, but this time we’re making you a promise,” he stated, quite adamantly, “and this means you can take in other boys, since Uncle Jake is here too and we’ll be coming back to help. Not only that, but we’ll also give everyone free medical and dental treatments and help support the family, as well as taking care of everything else. That means we’ll also take care of the house and the grounds, with the younger boys’ help of course, so you won’t have to worry about it anymore.”
“Hey, I’m not dead or decrepit yet,” I replied, with a touch of sarcasm in my voice. “You’re almost making it sound like I’m 80 or 90 and can’t look after the boys or myself any longer. I know I’ve had a heart attack, but I’m not that bad off.” I added a little chuckle after I said this, so they would know I wasn’t upset or anything.
“We know that,” Danny insisted, very sincerely, “but we want to help take care of you too, so we can make sure you’ll be able to help as many boys as possible, like you’ve helped all of us.”
“Yeah, Pop,” Brandon added, “without you who knows what would have happened to any of us, even me. When you let me stay here after my parents moved away, it allowed Danny and me to stay close. We might not still be together if it weren’t for you and we just want to make sure others have those same kinds of opportunities, so they can be who they are and not what others want or expect them to be.”
“Well, I appreciate that, boys,” I assured them, “and I’m sure your brothers will too, but is that what you really want to do with your lives? I mean, it won’t give you very much privacy if you stay here and it will certainly take up most of your time outside of your jobs.”
“That’s okay, we’ll be surrounded with love and we really don’t care how much we’ll have to do,” Brandon concurred. “Danny and I have talked about this a lot and agree that this is what we want to do. We know we won’t be able to have any kids of our own, so this will allow us to be like parents too. We can help raise the boys that are added later and be more than just big brothers to them. We both think this is the best thing for all of us.”
“Hey, if you’re both sure, I won’t turn down your offer,” I told them, sincerely impressed by their reasoning and the thought they’d given this. “It’s not like I wouldn’t appreciate your help and enjoy having you here, because I know I’ll benefit from both.” I paused momentarily after saying this, so I could look directly into both boys’ faces, as I tried to assess if they truly understood what they were getting into. Once I was fairly confident they did, I continued. “You know, this does something for me too, besides just getting rid of some of the work. It will also give me some peace of mind.”
“You mean because someone will always be here with the boys?” Danny asked.
“Not just that, because Jake has assured me that he’d take care of all of you, if something happened to me,” I explained. “However, you boys will be doing something even more than that for me. You will be providing my legacy.”
“Legacy? What do you mean by that?” Brandon wondered.
“Well, I think many people get to a point when they get older,” I began, “where they begin to wonder if their life has really amounted to anything. What I mean by that is, when you reach a certain point in your life you begin to wonder if your time on this earth has left any lasting impression or been a benefit to anyone but yourself. What I’m talking about here is making a contribution that lasts long after you’re gone, and not merely for just a few years after you die. Although not everyone feels this way, there are still many of us who hope that somewhere down the road, say seventy or even one hundred years from now, that the things we did while we were alive will have a lasting impact and be remembered by at least a small percentage of future generations. Well, I guess I won’t have to worry about that now. If you two are really certain you want to help others like I have and want to come back here so we can take in more boys and do whatever we can to make their lives better, then I will bequeath you everything you’ll need to carry on. That will be my legacy. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
“I guess,” Brandon replied. “I think you mean others will remember what you’ve done here because we’ll be carrying on what you’ve started.”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Now I’ll know the progress we’ve made here won’t stop with my death. If you and Danny continue this after I’m gone, then maybe someone else will do the same thing, once you two are no longer capable of doing it either. That gives me hope that one day people will recall everyone who had been a part of this endeavor, which would give added meaning to all of our lives.”
“Wow, I never thought of it like that,” Danny told me.
“No, and we never considered anything about that when we decided to move back and help, after we got out of college,” Brandon added.
“Yeah, we only wanted to do it to help you and some other boys,” Danny continued. “We don’t care if anyone remembers us later.”
“Well, I didn’t do it to be remembered either,” I responded, “but knowing this won’t die with me gives me a sense of pride and some peace of mind. Now, I no longer worry about what will happen to the rest of you boys, if something should happen to me in the near future, and I won’t have to turn down taking in others for fear I won’t live long enough to get them established on their own.”
“Don’t talk like that, Dad,” Danny scolded. “You’re going to be with us a long, long time and we’re going to help to make sure that happens.”
“Yeah, Pop,” Brandon added, “and maybe we’re being selfish here, but we just don’t want to lose you and…” he hesitated, trying to decide how he wanted to word his next comment. When he knew how he wanted to phrase it, he continued. “And maybe we want to be like you. Almost everyone around here likes and respects what you stand for, so we wouldn’t mind having others think as much of us, as they think of you.”
To say I was stunned, yet extremely honored by his last comment would be a vast understatement. So much, in fact, that I wasn’t sure how to respond to it. Since I was undecided about what to do next, I merely reached out and drew Brandon toward me, so I could give him a tremendous hug. Before we broke apart, we pulled Danny into the act too, since he was also a big part of their decision. After we finished our embrace, demonstrating how much we cared about each other, Brandon whispered something else in my ear, before he moved away.
“I’m going to get Danny a ring for his birthday, but it’s a surprise, so don’t say anything.” He winked at me after saying this, and I nodded in response, which caught Danny’s attention.
“Hey, what are you telling Dad?” Danny wanted to know.
“Oh, nothing,” Brandon teased, while trying to play innocent. “I just thanked him and told him I loved him, that’s all.” Danny wasn’t sure if he believed him or not, especially after Brandon winked at me and Danny had seen that too, but he let it drop, because he knew he could trust him, especially on important matters.
Later that night, once everyone was in bed, Jake and I had a private conversation of our own. Jake quickly reiterated his desire to take care of the family, if ever I wasn’t able to, but at the same time he confirmed how impressed he was concerning Danny and Brandon’s offer.
“You know, I am just amazed that anyone as young as those two would be willing to volunteer for such a long-term commitment,” he told me. “I guess it must have a lot to do with their upbringing,” he added, while grinning in my direction.
“Well, I only raised one of them, and I didn’t get him until he was already a teenager,” I argued.
“No, you raised them both, whether you’ll admit it or not,” Jake scoffed, “and although they may have only been around you for a short time, you’ve obviously made a lasting impression on them.”
“Come on, I can’t take credit for that,” I countered.
“You can, because it’s true and you deserve it,” Jake argued, and rather than continue this discussion until morning, I merely leaned in his direction and kissed him. This, of course, led to something more, so you might say we both went to bed relaxed and with our biggest concerns behind us.
Now that the big day was behind us, we began to move on to other things, and the first of those was the winter Olympics. Although the opening ceremony and some of the events had started before Valentine’s Day, we had been so consumed with planning for that special evening that we didn’t have the time to get involved in watching the games until the holiday for lovers had passed. Starting the very next day, though, a large part of our family immediately became addicted to watching the telecast of the various competitions and greedily focused on nearly every event being contested.
We had a great deal of fun viewing the various sports and there was a lot of excitement throughout the final ten days of the winter games. It was also nice to be able to do this as a family, so we could share the excitement. We also enjoyed watching the various countries interact with each other and took note of their ability to compete aggressively against one another at one span, yet for the most part still remain friendly and willingly give each other his due, regardless of the outcome. For example, after the controversy in the skating competition, it was reassuring to watch the Russian and Canadian dance pairs maintain a close relationship and interact so nicely, especially during the final skating event. It helped to reaffirm that the athletes were more focused on their love for their sport, rather than about the politics of the Olympics. It’s unfortunate that such posturing can ruin or cast considerable tarnish on such a noble competition.
For some of the boys, it was also their first opportunity to watch some of the more unusual sports, such as the luge, skeleton and curling, but they also got to see other seldom broadcast competitions, such as snowboarding, ski jumping and cross country skiing. We not only enjoyed these activities, but we were also totally engrossed by these nightly spectacles and remained glued to the TV each evening from start to finish of the coverage. The younger boys were even willing to take a short nap after school, so I’d allow them to stay up to watch all of the televised activities. That was fine with me, since it allowed us to enjoy them together and cheer as a family unit.
The end of the games was also the start of something else for our family. It came about when Trey and Nick announced they had both decided to come out to their friends. They explained that this had not been an easy decision for them, as they knew it would probably cast aspersions on the rest of the family, once their sexual preference was out in the open. Similar things had happened in the past, when it was just assumed that different members of the family were gay, including Shannon, and some sort of repercussions usually followed these supposed revelations. The boys were acutely attuned to this fact and didn’t want to make matters worse for anyone else, but they felt they had to be true to themselves and let the chips fall where they may.
Trey had asked Dion to come out at the same time and announce he was bi, but Dion wasn’t ready to make that move, at least not just yet. Even though the shadow might also fall across him, he felt he had enough success with female companions that any rumors alluding that he was gay wouldn’t last for long. He assured Trey it would not change things between them, but he just wasn’t ready to make such an announcement just yet. Maybe some day, but this wasn’t it.
The pair started disseminating this information slowly at first, by telling only those they felt might be most open to accepting them for who they were. Ironically, most of these friends were female, and those girls didn’t seem to have much of a reaction about the boys’ announcements, other than to indicate they were wondering how long it would take them to finally admit it to them. They explained that they had suspected for some time about each of them, but gave them the benefit of the doubt and waited for them to open up on their own. Now, they felt satisfied, because it had finally happened.
The general response from the male friends who had been told about this was ‘whatever floats your boat’ or ‘hey, you’ve never tried anything with me, so whatever makes you happy.’ The boys were thrilled it was going so well at the start, but they knew this good fortune wouldn’t last forever. They knew somewhere down the line waited a bigot or other narrow-minded person, who wouldn’t accept anyone who was different from himself. However, they were happy to enjoy the good times and take a wait and see approach to what might happen somewhere down the road.
As February came to a close, Trey came to me asking my opinion about an altogether different matter. He had two different teachers that were requiring a major project from each student before the end of the semester. He explained that he had an idea about how he could combine the two projects into one, so he could satisfy both course requirements at the same time. Once he explained exactly what he had in mind, I advised him on a few minor points, before I told him he would now have to run this by both of his teachers, to see if they would agree to accept his idea as well. I think he was hoping I would intercede on his behalf with the faculty members involved, but I explained to him they were his courses, it was his idea and they were his teachers, not mine. Therefore he would have to convince them on his own, and not rely on someone else to do it for him.
Trey wasn’t fully convinced he could be persuasive enough to pull it off, but he made appointments to meet with them anyway. After speaking with each of them individually and explaining what he had in mind, they agreed to allow him to do one project to meet the requirements for both classes. They also told him they would need to monitor his progress along the way, to ensure he was staying true to their particular requirements. He agreed to this stipulation, so now he could begin.
The two courses were English and history, and what Trey had proposed was this. He wanted to write a play, which was immediately acceptable to the English teacher to meet the writing requirement. The play, however, would be about a black American World War II sailor and a Japanese pilot who had been marooned together on the same small island. He promised the history teacher that he would research the time period and keep all the details authentic, so his history teacher also agreed to his plan as well. He was going to use the play to show that bigotry and preconceptions can be overcome, even during times of great stress. He told me privately that he hoped this concept would be translated into other areas of life too, such the current state of affairs with racial equality and gay rights, themes he and Dion were very concerned about.
I promised to help him with any problems he might encounter along the way, even agreeing to proofread it for him, but the work would have to be his own and I wouldn’t do it for him. He said that was exactly what he expected me to say, but he just wanted my support, because he knew this wasn’t going to be easy to pull off successfully. He had decided to try it because he enjoyed writing, since he’d written several stories for his English classes before and all had been well received. He then concluded he could use the historical setting to hopefully kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, without also killing his grades. I told him I admired his ingenuity and knew he would do his best, and then he went off to do his research into the historical aspects of this assignment.
In very early March, I got an email from Nigel and his boys, happily accepting our offer to have them stay with us, so we could take them on short trips. They also gave me the timeline for their stay, so I could start planning what we might do during that time. When I informed the boys of this, I asked for volunteers to help me figure out what we could do while they were here, and then we set about arranging things for their stay. Of course I included Jake on the planning committee, along with four of the boys, the four who had formed the closest attachment to Nigel’s sons when we were together in England. This meant Danny, Brandon, Ricky and Kevin would be helping Jake and me plan what we’d do during their stay, since they knew the other boys’ interests better than we did. They had maintained contact with them in between via email, so they were more in tune with what they might like to do while they were here.
A few days later, our first problem occurred, concerning Trey and Nick’s coming out. Someone had scratched a message on Nick’s locker, which read ‘death to all faggits’. The spelling error was that of the author of the profound insult. Obviously he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack. I was chagrined to learn about this, not from Nick, but from Shannon. In speaking with Nick about this later, I learned he felt it was an isolated incident and it would be best if it weren’t made into a big deal. I finally conceded he might be right, but I still chided him for not informing me about what had happened. He apologized for not doing so, and then promised he would not make that same oversight again, and he would tell me if anything else like that were to occur.
After dinner I called one of the night custodians at the high school, one I knew personally, and filled him in about what had happened. Without hesitation, he asked me for the locker number and told me he’d scratch out the rest of the message, before he repainted it. He promised it would be done before the boys returned for classes, and by scratching it out first, it wouldn’t show through the fresh coat of paint. I thanked him and advised him I now owed him for his help. He laughed and said this one was a freebie. I didn’t tell Nick about having done this, however, since I thought it was best to let him think it was someone else’s idea. In fact, I was actually glad I did keep my involvement a secret, because Shannon told me Nick was both pleasantly surprised and appreciative that someone had gone out of his way to cover up the offensive graffiti.
Although Nick was pleased, I was wondering how long it would be before something else happened.