Faith in Family

God bless the mother-in-law who tempers her Catholic devotion

When I married my husband, I got a ceremony, a ring, a certificate, a honeymoon and a commitment. Oh! And a swell dinner at Restaurant Nora and a bottle of Dom Perignon.

I also got a mother-in-law.

Granted, the ”in-law” part is tricky. Here in the District, she and I share a legal connection to her firstborn. Should my husband and I visit her in Albuquerque, her legality trumps mine completely.

But the law was inconsequential last month when she came to visit. Instead, I had in mind the sorts of things that I guess ”traditional” in-laws have in mind. Frankly, I just wanted her to like me.

We’d actually met once before, in 2001. ”My parents are in town,” Fernando, then my new boyfriend, advised. ”Come have dinner with us.” There we sat at McCormick & Schmick’s. Mostly I listened to Fernando Sr.’s colorful stories, as Fernando Jr. and Blanca consulted in quieter tones. It was only afterward that I learned that my new boyfriend and his mother had a sort of silent impasse on the gay thing. Father and son had never broached the subject.

That was the last I saw of Mom, till last month. At least we were well beyond that awkward dinner. Even if mother and son didn’t spend much time at all debating, discussing or otherwise mentioning his relationship with me, Blanca knew what she would be walking into. For that, my hat was off to her. I know from the stories Fernando has told me that Blanca is a strong woman. But her capacity to endure is challenged by physical frailty as she ages. Sure, she can play tennis and enjoys yoga, but she’s about as big as a minute and has a heck of time trying to keep warm when the temperature drops below 80.

So, coming into our home, I was already on her side. I was on Fernando’s, too. I didn’t want my marriage to be the biggest obstacle between them, if merely the pink elephant in the room. But while the marriage – just being gay, really – was one elephant, the Vatican was another. The pope’s been no help at all in this, and he certainly carries far more weight with Blanca than do I. Blanca is devout. How devout? Her visit included no Sundays, but she went to Mass. Twice.

There may be plenty of Catholics who celebrate their gay brothers and sisters, in spite of whatever rules the Holy See may broadcast. That’s not Blanca. And that’s okay.

Simply coming to visit was courageous and loving. She knows she’ll see Fernando at Christmas, but still she came for this special, spontaneous visit. It was really a wonderful visit, too. I couldn’t help but smile when she sat on the floor in front of the sofa, rather than on it, to watch TV – just like Fernando. I melted when Fernando started telling us how dinner was going down one night. With his back to us, the sense of solidarity I got when Blanca saluted his orders, with me as her only audience, was immeasurable.

Finally, dropping her at BWI, she gave me a blessing, a quick sign of the cross with her delicate-appearing but strong hands. I don’t think it was because I’d just hiked to Georgetown to buy her chocolates for the flight, either. I think it was because, in some way, she liked me, too. If she toes the Vatican line, I can live with that. She has to make peace with the universe in whatever way she sees fit. That is her journey alone. A different journey is the one she made cross-country to our house. As I told her at the airport, with absolute sincerity, it’s a trip I hope she will make again.

Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Contact him at .

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.