“Love wins, love always wins” – Morrie Schwartz
“Your son is out of surgery and ready to see you now.”
“Oh, ok,” I said as I sprung to awareness as if in a dream; not such a great dream.
I thought I had processed Byrd’s decision to move forward with top surgery and to physically transition to being a man. In that moment, it felt otherwise. For the past couple of hours, my mind and heart had been imprisoned by a series of negative, sad and judgmental thoughts:
“This is going way too fast…how can he be sure?”
“My child will suffer even more from anxiety and depression.”
“And will be discriminated against.”
“And find it difficult to find a partner.”
“What did I do wrong?”
“How could I have averted this?”
“I can’t believe this is happening!”
Mr. Bannick, Mr. Bannick, your son is ready to see you now….
Oh my, it’s done!
Byrd was an amazing child. So full of life. So curious. So intelligent. So inventive; creating new language codes as a five year old. Voraciously reading Harry Potter.
Byrd was my adorable “little girl.” So adorable that my wife and I discussed sending his picture in for the Gerber cute baby of the year competition :).
And yet, he was not always happy. Not fully comfortable in his own skin. I never had a good explanation for that.
And yes, he liked to dress like a boy and wear baseball caps, but that was just the influence of his two younger brothers, right? When I was growing up there were many girls we referred to as “Tom-boys”: a bit boyish perhaps but that is something that young girls grow out of, as Byrd surely would.
He had boyfriends in middle school, high school and college. Clearly, he was interested in boys. So, he was a girl. Nothing to worry about. And if he was interested in boys, why on earth would he want to me a boy himself?
When Byrd came out to me when he was 26–a seemingly casual conversation at lunch one day–I was shocked. “Dad,” he declared, “I feel like I’m a man and I will begin taking testosterone shots next week as part of my transition.” “Oh, oh, OK,” I stammered. Oh my God, I was thinking–what on earth is he talking about? Is this really happening?! Yes, he had recently been cropping his hair ever shorter and dying it blue. I was a bit concerned but tried not to read too much into it. I’m accustomed to children going through phases, though he was hardly a kid anymore.
Denial: This is not real. Byrd’s just questioning and exploring. He’s mistaken. He needs to seek counseling. He’s not trans, just depressed and confused. Looking for a “silver bullet” that will make everything good.
Anger: How could this happen to him?! How could this happen to me?! Is he being influenced by others? By society?
Bargaining: OK, he may be taking testosterone but he has plenty of time to realize that this is a passing thing. The surgery he talked about is many months away, after all. I want to be supportive; told him I would move in to his apartment for the surgery and stay for as long as he would find me helpful. He’ll figure it out by then.
Depression: People tell me I must recognize that my “little girl” no longer exists. That his transition is like a death and that I need to accept it and to celebrate the birth of my son. Sounds kinda glib: they have no idea what I’m going through. Not sure I’ll ever be able to get to acceptance.
An urgent text message: ”Dad, remember I told you that my surgery is scheduled for four months out but that I was on a wait list in case there was a cancellation? Guess what–great news–the doctor had a cancellation and he can see me in two weeks! So excited to get this done!”
Acceptance: Wow! This is moving way to fast. Yes, he’s 26 but he doesn’t know what he is doing. But what are my options? He’s clearly excited to make this transition and I’m not going to change his mind. If I don’t show up, who will support him? What’s more important: my love or my anxiety, fear and judgments? Why have I been wallowing in my own self-pity rather than considering how difficult this has been for Byrd. My goodness, he’s been living with these challenges his entire life. He’s been trying to live up to traditional expectations about gender and identity that others — including me — have imposed on him. Striving to make others happy and comfortable. Afraid to disappoint. Not being allowed to be himself. What a difficult and undoubtedly lonely journey. How must it feel to be so misunderstood? And now, he feels hope. At this moment, my child needs love and support not criticism and doubt. Ok, Byrd, I’ll be there! I’m all in!!
Day before surgery. Shopping at Trader Joe’s. Buying provisions for the expected week of recovery. Just another day of shopping right?! Yeah, right! I feel on the precipice again. No going back from this one. Uncertainly, anxiety, skepticism: I really haven’t fully accepted this, now have I?!
Surgery. “Mr. Bannick, Mr. Bannick, your son is ready to see you now.”
My “son?!” Oh yes, my son…still getting used to that.
Feels like I haven’t actually accepted this after all. It takes all my energy to get out of my chair. I trudge through the waiting room. Shoulders slumped. Concrete in my shoes. Sad. It is early morning but it feels so dark. I walk down the hall. I turn the corner. I see….
I see Byrd!! My child!! My beautiful, courageous, child!! A light has suddenly filled my heart with joy: a brilliant, immersive, uplifting light. Darkness has been vanquished! I feel the deepest love. An inexplicable, beautiful, pure, all-encompassing love. The closest thing I have ever experienced to what one might call “God’s love.”
This is my child. My child needs my love and support! Nothing else matters! My role, my purpose, is clear. I must show Byrd my deep, strong and unwavering love and commitment. I have his back…no…I have his heart. I will not let him down: not now, not ever.
I walk into Byrd’s recovery room and give him a hug. He looks great. Tired, exhausted perhaps, but happy. Doesn’t really mind the drainage tubes. As we chat, I notice a light streaming against the blinds in the room. I open the blinds and there, above the building across the street, is a brilliant light. It’s the sun rising over the rooftop. Perhaps the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen as it is reflective of the light I am feeling in my heart.
And I notice something hopping on the windowsill outside.
It is a Bird, or should I say a Byrd! Full of the joy and promise of a new day and a new life.