Father's Day, Family Values and the Hunting Camp

Maines men don't talk about our feelings. Maybe if we had talked it would have stopped my worrying about the questions they were afraid to ask. Maybe it could have been a start.
06/12/2012 05:55 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

My dad passed away unexpectedly a few years ago and as Father's Day approaches, I think of him often. One of my dad's favorite places was his hunting camp, and going to camp with him was one of my twins' special grandpa activities. Grandparents help make us who we are; they share family history, reinforce core values and impart wisdom and love. My father was a conservative man whose strong opinions helped mold us all, but he also changed when we needed him to the most.

While our family made adjustments to support my daughter, who was born a boy but switched to her true gender, our core values remained the same, with just a few minor adjustments. I am hopeful that other families can adjust their core values to eliminate obsolete beliefs that are harmful. While our nation's leaders often discuss family values and they play a critical role in providing direction and support for our nation, our true foundations are laid at home. I am hopeful that values like decency, compassion, understanding and fairness will remain core and that intolerance and surrendering to unfounded fears will continue to fade from our daily actions.

On one special summer vacation, my twins taught me that family values are not cast in stone when they showed everyone that changing gender does have to be a big deal. As we approached their grandparents' house, my kids were innocent of the possibility for failure and confident that grandma and grandpa would still be the same toward them, but I was not so sure. Their patience, their innocence and desire to be loved helped everyone become more comfortable with one of my children's transition from being a boy to being a girl.

It was hard for all of us not to call Nicole by her birth name. On one occasion during that trip, my dad slipped and said, "Wyatt, do you want some ice cream?" We all watched this event unfold very closely. The room became quiet as we all wondered about the outcome. Nicole gave my dad a big hug and said, "It's ok Grandpa. I know it is hard. I love you." My dad said he was sorry. The room went silent because my dad seldom, if ever, said he was sorry. I was very proud of him for doing so.

During the rest of the vacation my family went on as if everything was normal. But it was not normal for me. I continued to think about how best to talk to my dad and brother about my concerns and fears. I needed a chance to be alone with them just in case I broke down.

Just up the road from our house is my dad's deer hunting camp. It is a typical Adirondack hunting camp for men only -- a place to play cards, drink, tell stories about the big bucks that got away and bigger stories about the bucks that did not. Whenever my dad wanted to get away from a family function, he said he needed to check on something at the hunting camp. We all knew he was just trying to get away from the crowd. When he said he needed to go to camp, I asked my brother if he wanted to go.

When we arrived, my dad showed us the new kitchen floor and without introduction, I blurted out, "Dad, this was not something Kelly or I 'made happen'." Both were very quiet; it was definitely not hunting camp banter. They nodded and said they would do whatever I needed them to do. I remember my brother saying that if anyone ever touched her, they would have to go through him. At some point, my dad gave me a big hug. He did not say anything, he just gave me that big hug.

At the time, I did the best I could. Maines men don't talk about our feelings. Maybe if we had talked it would have stopped my worrying about the questions they were afraid to ask. Maybe it could have been a start towards discussing our many family needs.

I was afraid to talk to them because of what I might hear. That has since changed. Today, I talk freely about my feelings and adjusting family values in relation to my child. Some of my more conservative friends can be a challenge, but often I am still successful. My neighbor is a Baptist, a co-worker is a Tea Party member and others are solid Maine conservatives. Because we are friends and they know my daughter and have watched her grow, they are willing to listen. Because of this experience, they were willing to adjust their core values and help us make a better future for Nicole and the transgender community. It is hard to describe the pride I felt for my dad that summer day and the admiration that I feel for our friends.

There is no perfect family model. We all have challenges. When you need help, do not hesitate to start the conversations to help explore adjusting your core values. The future of our children depends upon our sharing common values and promoting new ones. I am certain that the future of our country depends upon having this open dialog.

I hope that family values will continue be part of the discussions at camps, picnics, football games and holiday celebrations. I hope that the discussions will not stress how we are different, but will stress how we are more often alike. By promoting fairness, love and unity as concepts to cherish, we can modify our values, adjust how we think and quickly act to help meet the needs of all children.

Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock to simpler times when the kids were babies. Reality quickly returns and I am reminded of the mistakes in my past and the pain my child has endured. I am reminded that fairness and equality do not come without sacrifices. Let's continue to promote open discussion so children no longer have to sacrifice or suffer at home or in our schools.