A son's tattoos, and a mother's blind spot

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dear Carolyn: I have a 21-year-old son, impulsive by nature, who unexpectedly joined the military and is serving in Afghanistan. He has placed many tattoos on his body, which I find so unattractive. He knows how I feel but states it is his body.

Recently, I went to his Facebook page to correspond with him and noticed he got another large tattoo. I am devastated and feel he is turning into a cartoon. My soul is torn apart.

I am having a hard time writing to him now and sending care packages. I feel as if he has never honored or cared for my feelings and am searching for some insight to get beyond this. How do I accept that my son has become everything I do not respect? -- Anonymous

How did we get from tattoos to "everything I do not respect"? To "never honored or cared for my feelings"?

The importance (to you) of keeping ink out of his skin can't be the only value you tried to instill in him. Presumably you also stressed the importance of service, of pulling his weight, of being his own man, of staying close to the people he loves? Of not judging books by covers?

He's serving his country, supporting himself, owning his choices big and small, and staying in touch with Mommy from a war zone.

And you're distancing yourself because of what's on his skin.

Perhaps his impulsive streak is rebellion against your rigid beliefs. I hope for both of your sakes -- but mostly for yours -- that you stop dwelling on what his appearance says about you, and start thinking about what his heart says about him.

Hi, Carolyn: I'm gay. Congratulations, you're the first person I've told. I've had a number of miserable hetero relationships that obviously couldn't go anywhere, but I'm starting to go crazy. I live in a part of the country where there is no real "gay community," and my family isn't exactly gay-friendly. If I were to start over someplace else, I'd be doing it completely alone. Not to mention that I am in a doomed relationship with someone whose heart I don't want to break. I have no idea where to turn. -- Huntsville, Ala.

This isn't about being closeted in Huntsville. Anytime you feel stuck, sort the reasons into two piles: constants and choices. Then remind yourself as often as necessary that every choice can be changed.

I can argue that you're "completely alone" right where you are. And, as long as you're choosing not to live openly where you are, and not to move away, then you'll never foreseeably be anything but alone. Nor will your partner in relationship doom; that breakup needs to come now.

Maybe it feels unsafe to come out; that's something only you can assess.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company