Humans of Qualtrics: Farren
“You came into my life to teach me how to love unconditionally”
Those are the universal words of my dad that changed the course of my life.
For many years my relationship with my dad had been complicated. If he were around today I am sure he would say the same. But over the years we developed a deep love and admiration for each other. I hold onto the memories of him telling me in his final days how proud he was of me.
I knew that I was gay from a really early age. For many years and for many reasons, I only came out in my early 20s. Over the years I carried a lot of guilt and shame. That, coupled with the complexities of growing up as a person of color in South Africa, felt like double jeopardy, especially as I tried to navigate the working world.
When I eventually came out my dad was the last person in my close family I told. I suspected he would be disappointed, as his upbringing conditioned him with a prejudice that would be hard to overcome.
In the beginning, we had friction. Lots of it. But somewhere along the way, I came to the realization that I could live with disappointing other people in my life (including my dad), but I was tired of disappointing myself.
I decided that if it meant walking away from relationships that did not serve me, then so be it. I would take my chances and make a conscious decision to surround myself with love. Living a lie was no longer an option. Today, it is not a part of my constitution to be anything other than myself.
I won’t say that after I came out the relationship with my dad got any easier. But what it did become was authentic. My dad for the first time really knew who I was. There were no surprises.
As I dug my heels into my career, determined to create a successful life despite my circumstances, the respect from my dad grew. I recall a distinct turning point in one very heated argument where I said to him “remember back in the day when you were not allowed to be with the person who you loved because of race? Don’t be on that side of history in a few years”.
Something clicked. After a moment of reflection, he shot back a response and said “I don’t think I fully understand. But I know that you came into my life for a reason… to teach me to love unconditionally. I smiled and said, “Dad, that is the most important thing you have ever said to me”.
From that day onwards things were different.
Over the years I felt loved and accepted. And I felt proud of how far we had come and the honest and open conversations we had.
I would not change any of the hardships, because they got us to a place that was beautiful and real.
In the years since deciding to live my life on my terms, I have been able to move past the guilt and shame so that it does not interfere with my happiness, but it was not overnight, it took time. And in that time, the precious relationship I shared with him needed the space to realize that we were what truly mattered and that the opinions of others should not get in the way.
I am exceptionally proud of my dad. He had proved to me that he could have a growth mindset. I jokingly told him one day, that if he could change, anyone could. In the weeks before he passed, we spoke about our journey. He told me how proud he was of himself. He had overcome his own bias and come to the realization that our relationship was more important. That I was more important. As crazy as it sounds I would not change a single experience of our journey.
It’s a shame that who I decided to love was ever up for debate, but that’s the fight that needs to continue. I am grateful that I was given a platform and a job, where I can champion for others who are so desperately seeking the acceptance of self and others that it took me decades to find.
I am sharing one of the most personal stories to me in the event that it can help someone who is in the same position as I was.
If you find yourself on the path to coming out, these are the insights I can share from my own experience:
- Self-acceptance comes before acceptance from anyone else
- Don’t obsess over relationships that do not serve you. Prioritize your mental and emotional health
- Don’t give up. Even the most hopeless situations can turn around
In closing, I want to pivot and bring attention to the extreme struggles of the transgender community. They still face extreme forms of discrimination, stigma, inequality, and violence.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
June 28, 2021