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‘We love you, this won’t change a thing’

This is a great story in ESPN about Brendan Burke telling the rest of the Burke family that he is gay.

Brendan and Brian Burke Your dad thinks through everything. Dad is big, confident and continuously radiates a persona that is rough, gruff, unrelenting and unapologetic. He has a cold, expressionless poker face straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie. Yet, he does this all with the most subtle of Irish smirks that says there is more behind this thick skin. And there is. He calls you "Moose" because you have always been a big kid. He cares very deeply about you and your happiness. You say he has always been there when you needed him. And he has a great sense of humor. Imagine that.

But on this night in 2007, you are petrified of your dad. Because you, Brendan Burke, at 19 years old, are about to tell your dad, Mr. Testosterone, that you are gay.

This is how he told the family.

It is Dec. 30, 2007, and you are in Vancouver with Dad for the holidays to break the news. His new family lives in Vancouver, and his Ducks are in town. You go to the Canucks-Ducks game, and, obviously, Dad is pretty emphatic about wanting to beat Vancouver, his former employer. You root like hell for the Ducks to win so he is in a good mood. But the Ducks lose 2-1. Of course, Daniel Sedin scores a goal against Anaheim, and his brother Henrik adds two assists to help beat Dad, the man who traded for the twins’ draft rights in 1999 while he was running the Canucks.

You almost don’t tell your dad and stepmom as a result of the loss. But you are flying back to Boston the next morning and you want to tell them in person. You feel as if you are going to throw up as you pace the hallways of their condominium. Just as your stepmom is about to go to bed, your younger sister, Molly, grabs you by the wrist and directs you where to go and gives you a look that says, "You can do it. Get it done now. I’m here for you."

Just a week before, your older sister, Katie, is the first family member you tell. You had targeted telling your family at Thanksgiving but got salmonella and spent the entire week in the hospital. So you push back your announcement to Christmas.

You are driving home from a family event in Marlboro, Mass., when you decide you want to say it during the car ride. Finally, after a 45-minute ride, you pass the city limits sign of Boston and you know you have to tell Katie. It is incredibly difficult, but your sister is very supportive. Of course she is, you tell yourself, she’s Katie. That same night, you tell Molly and your mom. Everyone is great. Mom tells you she isn’t surprised and had expected it from the time you were a little kid. Moms.

You tell your brother, Patrick, a day or two later. Patrick turns off the car blaring "The Hold Steady" CD, and you tell him as you are walking out to the car to bring in bags. Patrick, like Dad, never one to be fazed, says something along the lines of, "I love you. This doesn’t change anything. Now pick up that suitcase and bring it inside."

But, now, telling your secret to Dad is another story. Molly’s reassuring hand guides you to the couch for the moment of truth. It’s time to tell Dad, a most public example of hockey machismo, that you are gay.

Finally, you say it. Awkwardly. You basically stumble along trying not to make it a big deal before just blurting out, "And I love you guys and wanted to tell you that I’m gay."

There is a brief silence.

Dad is surprised when you tell him that you are gay. He never suspected at all.

Your stepmom speaks first: "OK, Brendan, that’s OK." And gives you a reassuring smile. Then your dad says, "Of course, we still love you. This won’t change a thing."

Your dad and stepmom both get up and hug you and say they love you. You and your dad then sit there alone for about 15 more minutes watching hockey. Your heart rate is still at a snow-shoveling level. You then hug Dad again, and you go to bed.

The relationship never changed after that.

Whatever happens in your life, whatever career path you choose, you know Dad is in your corner. His long shadow of a hockey résumé that once looked like a crutch might now prove to be just the thing you and others need — a powerful and eloquent voice shouting from the mountaintops.

This is far and away more than what you personally expected from your hockey-famous Dad as you prepared coming out to him. When people ask you about your dad’s reaction to your Vancouver sit-down, you initially say, "He’s been great, but I don’t think we’ll see him at any gay pride parades any time soon. But he has been really supportive."

So, you are startled this past summer when you get a call from Dad saying, "Hey, Toronto Pride is this weekend, you should fly up." So, sure enough, you fly up, and you and Dad go to the Toronto Pride Parade together.

If someone had told you before coming out that your dad, Brian Burke, would be attending a gay pride parade with you, you wouldn’t have believed it. You never suspected Dad would disown you or anything like that, but the way he has handled it and the way he talks about it now has, honestly, really moved you. He was a little awkward about it at first. Today, he doesn’t even think twice about it.

It’s a good story and sadly not all parents reacted the way the Burke family did.

I’ll leave the last word to Brian Burke from the story, "I hope the day comes, and soon, when this is not a story."

7 Comments

  1. kevin says:

    YOu love to flirt with this line for attention. You want your conservative readers to react cause you want to show how enlightened you are, all the while you never declare where you stand.

    So, why dont you just come out with it. Do you think homosexual practise is compatible with GOd’s intended purpose or not?

  2. Kevin, I actually posted the story in the context of a father’s love and acceptance than I did anything else. If Mark or Ollie come to me and tell me they are gay, I hope I respond like Brian Burke does. I don’t see a lot things in a conservative or liberal framework anymore and I don’t really see this as anything more than a family matter.

    As far as your question goes, I don’t know exactly what you mean when you say, compatible with God’s purpose. I know many people who are GLBT who are building God’s kingdom and live lives that would honor God while I know straight people (an odd phrase now that I think about it) who live lives that would disgust God so I think living “according to God’s intended purpose” is a much more complicated question than a question of sexuality and it will be something that is decided by God and God alone.

    It’s funny the focus we give to this issue and the four or five verses that talk about it. There are 2,000 verses of Scripture that tell us we must be committed to protecting the poor and the oppressed… There is no concern of Scripture that is addressed so often and so powerfully as reaching out to the poor and yet I never see anyone judged by those standards.

    1. kevin says:

      Come out of the closet. Just say it. Do you think homosexual practice is a sin? and the Christians should be instructed not to participate in it or not?

      1. Kevin, I probably hold a viewpoint close to what Walter Wink articulates in this article – http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-walter-wink. It is one that Tony Campolo articulates in “What I Have Learned” as well. If that means that I am “out of the closet”, well it’s a world view that I have held for years.

  3. Karla says:

    Jordan – this was such an important post. What an example of loving fatherhood. Beautiful.

  4. Jordon says:

    Kevin, I articulated what I believed. I have long espoused a generous orthodoxy on the site and I don’t see anything in my stance that should cause anyone to be surprised. Name calling like you are doing accomplishes nothing and is a waste of everyone’s time.