My name is Pernell and five years ago, I outed myself as a gay man to my overbearingly Catholic parents.
During the first few years, they said things like, "We love you, but hate what you're doing," and "just keep an open mind and maybe you'll meet the right woman." Fortunately, there's been a ton of progress.
Our conversations rarely erupt into shouting matches anymore. We're able to acknowledge and have (very difficult) discussions about me being gay. Huge improvement from previously sweeping it under a velvet rug, a classic Catholic tradition.
So this year, I asked them if they'd be open to meeting my boyfriend during our family Christmas. They said yes.
I wanted to introduce my parents to the man I love because I had a hunch it'd be healing for them...and for myself.
I was nervous as hell, but I came out to my parents so that we could truly be a part of each other's lives. And so I needed to do this.
If this were a Hallmark movie, you know it'd be called Homo For The Holidays.
On the drive up, I contemplated the likelihood of my parents being totally rude to my boyfriend.
What if they ignored him? Or slipped in anti-gay remarks to his face? The thought of that potential embarrassment filled me with dread.
My phone calls with my mom didn't help put me at ease. Every time I called her in the days leading up to Christmas, I worried for her. “I feel so overwhelmed,” she kept saying. “I'm so stressed that I want to throw up.”
Taking care of Dad, my older sibling, and the house, all while still working, was taking its toll on her. I felt like she needed to take a Klonopin, not meet her gay son’s boyfriend. But there was no turning back, and I just wanted to help my parents have a vacation where they could actually relax.
The whole thing seemed like such a big deal that I couldn't relax. It was going to be the first time I introduced them to anyone. And it'd also be the first time they'd see their son kissing another man.
I even called my mom the night before we were supposed to meet them in Las Vegas, low-key hoping my parents would retract their invitation. That way, we'd all be spared.
"And you're sure you're okay with me bringing my boyfriend?" I asked her.
"Because I could like, not bring him if you and Dad are going to be weird?"
"No. We'll see you tonight. Love you." And then she hung up.
Damn. There was no turning back now.
Fortunately, we got to the hotel suite while my family was out getting groceries. My partner and I had time to unwind and explore Vegas on our own for a bit. It was nice to forget, for a moment, how anxious I was about the weekend.
When we returned to the hotel room, I could hear my mom laughing inside. I held my boyfriend's hand. I swiped the room key. I turned the handle. And we stepped inside.
"Mom, this is my boyfriend Julian." I braced myself.
I watched two of the most important people in my life hug each other, and I felt my little gay heart flutter. The three of us stood there. Desperate to keep the conversation going, I nudged my boyfriend. "Show her the bag you just bought."
He unboxed the beige gray Balenciaga box to reveal his new black and dark gray bag. My mom politely marveled it and took it into her hands.
"Thank you so much," she said.
"Mom, that's his."
"Oh, this isn't a gift?" she laughed.
"No," I laughed. "It's a $1,200 bag." All of us laughed, even my uncle.
Then my mom hugged me and went back to gossiping with my uncle, who she hadn't seen in two years. I took the hint and let them be. My boyfriend and I chatted for a while with my older sibling and their friends, before retiring to our bedroom. It wasn’t the first night I was expecting to have.
I was hoping we’d all have dinner together, and that even though it’d be a little awkward, that it'd be an integral part of the experience. What is love if not four strangers pushing past awkwardness to show they care about another?
I imagined a dinner where my dad could ask my boyfriend questions about us, and we could answer. I wanted my mom to bond with him over them both working in healthcare. I yearned for these two important parts of my life to truly get to know each other.
Instead, we slept in different rooms in the same hotel suite. At least we still had Christmas.
Julian and I went to eat at a buffet in the morning, but we ended up going back to the hotel. It was a two-hour wait for the buffet. It was the morning of Christmas, and no creature wanted to cook. Not even a mouse. When we returned to the room and I wished my parents a Merry Christmas, my mom quietly dropped a bomb on me: all we had for our Christmas dinner was ham and rice.
“I can cook,” Julian offered. “I can make caramelized catfish. It’s a Vietnamese dish.” My mom smiled politely. “Can you use pompano? We don’t eat catfish.”
So, on Christmas day, I drove my gay boyfriend and my two heterosexual parents to a sacred spot: the Filipino supermarket Seafood City.
I watched my mom and my boyfriend closely discuss which fish to use in place of catfish — they went with yellowtail. It was a tender moment. I left them alone and found my father in the snack aisle, where I knew he'd be. The shopping trip felt so effortless. It felt like I was with family.
When we got back to the hotel, my mom and Julian bonded while I finished wrapping everyone's presents in private. From our room, I heard them laugh together and interrupt each other's sentences. They were exchanging anecdotes of the patients they work with.
And while my dad didn't talk much, he contributed an occasional cough. It's how I knew he stayed in the kitchen, instead of retreating to his bedroom.
My boyfriend, our head chef for the night, got to work on the fish while my mom and I washed and cut the vegetables. Christmas dinner was a team effort.
As I chopped the cucumbers and green onions and my mom sliced the tomatoes, Julian tossed the yellowtail slices with the coconut oil and fish sauce in a giant pan.
At the end of it, there was a full spread on the dinner table: caramelized yellowtail, bean sprouts marinated in sesame oil, and a tomato-cucumber medley served in a sesame-fish sauce marinade. There was also ham and rice.
We all said a prayer, and even though I'm not religious anymore, I joined too. While everyone's eyes were closed, I looked around and saw my boyfriend holding hands with my mom. And I felt grateful my family was able to see for themselves why I love this man: he takes care of people.
After dinner, I brought out everyone's gifts. I made sure to bring one for everyone, because I had a hunch no one else was going to bring gifts.
I dropped Julian off at the bus station the following afternoon. He had to go back to work, and I would stay behind with my family for a few more days. On the drive, I was finally able to say what I'd been feeling: "That wasn't as big a deal as I thought it'd be."
Later, I took my parents out for a fancy lunch. I wanted to talk about the weekend with them, and how they felt about Julian.
"He's a good guy," my dad said. "Easy to get along with."
Mom agreed. "The first time I met him," she said, "he gave me a good feeling. He's down to earth. And if he hadn't cooked, we would have been stressed out."
"So you liked the food?" I asked.
"It was okay," Dad said. I smiled. I was pretty sure I saw him get a second serving of the fish during dinner.
I could tell my dad wanted to just eat his lamb ribs, but I wanted to keep talking. I told them how nervous I was on the drive up, worried about how they'd be or I'd be. My mom confessed the exact same feeling.
"I guess we were prepared to meet him because you talk so much to us about your life," she said. I felt so honored that she said that, because that's exactly why I came out to them five years ago.
I asked my silent father what his feelings were about the weekend. "I'm only ever going to love you," he said. "And you can't judge a person unless you meet them, and see their intentions for yourself."
It was the nicest, least anti-gay thing he ever said to me. We really did make a lot of progress. Ever since he almost died from COVID, I've noticed how much softer my dad became. He's more accepting. He's more loving. It's inspiring.
"So you liked him?" I asked him.
"He's okay," my dad replied. "Everything is okay."
We cleaned our plates and I signed the check. We only had a handful of days left together.
I left Vegas the morning of New Years Eve. I hugged my parents goodbye tighter than usual, since I never know when I'll see them next. I loaded boxes of plates, silverware, and cups my mother gifted for me and the 1-bedroom apartment I just moved into. My dad cooked corned beef with rice that morning, and made sure that I left with Tupperware full of it.
As I drove back, I finally had room to process the weekend. I thought to how my mom said that me and Julian were good together because of how we shopped together at Seafood City. And well, I started crying.
That's when it hit me: I wanted my parents to meet my partner because in these very chaotic last two years, he's been the best part of my life. Seeing my boyfriend care for my parents, and my parents making an effort to befriend my boyfriend, brought me to a new years resolution: I just want to be better for the people in my life. Because they do that for me.
I don't know about y'all, but the last two years really fucked me up. Life became really hard, and I became bitter. I stopped replying to people's texts and isolated myself as much as possible. I feel like I became pretty toxic, and I took all the relationships in my life — especially the one with my boyfriend — for granted.
So while my boyfriend meeting my parents for the first time wasn't a huge event, it was a big step for me. It was a crucial reminder that actually, there is a lot of love in my life. I just haven't been open to it.
And with Vegas and 2021 in the rear view mirror, I drove towards Los Angeles — and the new year — with an ending to the latest chapter in the story between me and my parents. Three people, pushing past awkwardness, to show each other they care. I looked at the corned beef my father cooked and packed for me in the passenger seat next to me.
It seemed like love to me.