Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
August 26, 2011
Tragedy Turned to Advocacy Turned To Hope
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Readers of these pages know that we collect coming out stories; stories of API LGBT persons coming out and their parents’ response, and of parents “coming out” when they have come to understand that their child is still the same child as before he came out. Stories get to the heart of things. There are sad stories, too many, and there are happy stories, not enough. We believe there are two reaons why stories turn sad: religion and culture. Happy stories are those when parents break the shackles of religion and culture and love their child regardless of his sexual orientation or identity. Then there are also stories whose sad end eventually produce beneficial results. We want to tell you one of these, and its villain is culture.
A Mother, A Father, And Three Wondeful Sons
We met Al and Jane Nakatani during our Second Annual Presentation Banquet when they were our keynote speakers. They are traditional Asian parents and were living the American dream with three sons. All three are gone now; their oldest and youngest succumbed to the ravages of AIDS, their middle child was murdered. In their many lectures, Al says that he raised his sons the way he was raised: don’t show any weakness, emotion is a weakness, and crying is unacceptable. Jane, too, raised her children the way she was raised: obedience and to ‘fit in.’ They were both stern parents.
Their first born, Glen, was a model child until about age eight when things began to change. In a telling example of the reason for the change, Al and Jane were called to school, because Glen did not want to take a shower with the other boys. Al thought that the child was ashamed of his body and no child of his was going to be ashamed of his body. He made Glen take showers with his younger sibling. At age 15 Glen left home because of an argument with his mother. Al became so angry that in front of Jane and his other two sons declared that Glen was no longer his son. He went so far as to take down Glen’s pictures. The effect of this was that the other two made a pact not ever to hurt Mom and Dad. Al says he effectively destroyed their sons’ trust in their parents and they would never again bring issues to them. Twelve years later Glen returned home to be taken care of; he had AIDS. He died at age twenty-nine.
Once while their second child, Greg, was young, a neighborhood boy taunted him. After awhile Greg became frustrated and Al asked him if he could take the bully. Greg could and did and Al had to pull him off. Ever since then, Al says, “the boy was fearless but lacked judgment.” Al also says that he regrets teaching his son that violence was an option and instead could have taught him that there are other ways not to show weakness. Greg died while a graduate student in San Diego. He was shot outside a restaurant after arguing with someone for slamming a car door into his parked truck. He was twenty-three.
Honor Thy Children
When Guy, their youngest son, contracted AIDS, things had changed. This son wanted to tell others about the disease. For four years the students at Saratoga High School (California) witnessed the disease turning a strong, handsome young man into a wheelchair bound wreck, too weak to stand, blind in one eye, receiving injections in the other, and “unable to wipe [his] own butt.” He talked to schools all around the nation and his last appearance at Saratoga High was the day before he and his parents went back to Hawaii. He died there at age twenty-seven.
Beginning in 1986, Al and Jane Nakatani lost a child every four years. As parents ourselves, we cannot begin to imagine what that is like. Al speaks as if he contributed greatly to the death of their sons. But from these unimaginable tragedies, they developed an educational program to present to others what they learned, especially the errors they made. They have brought their message all over the country and they started a non-profit organization “Honor Thy Children.”
A final note. They do not want to be remembered as a family that lost three boys, they want to be remembered as a family that through the tragedy and difficult times they were never stripped of their dignity, honor and self-worth.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org