Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"I Love My Dead Gay Son"

Kurt's Dad: My son's a homosexual, and I love him. I love my dead gay son.
J.D.: Wonder how he'd react if his son had a limp wrist with a pulse.

From the movie Heathers (1989) video below

Once in a while, things you find funny take on a whole new meaning later on in life. I saw this movie twenty years ago. It is truly a dark comedy. Just doing research now for this post, turns out the movie got even darker in real life.

Let me first tell you about how I got to "know " Brian Burke. He came in with Pat Quinn as his assistant GM in the late 80s. I remember distinctly seeing him Easter Sunday (1989) in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Vancouver with what seemed like 5 kids. The subject of our story was one year old at that time. Brian Burke was a constant presence on a show I spent many a night with in my car. Canada's longest running sports talk show oddly called Sports Talk (with Dan Russell) Any talk show guest is amusing if they bring the passion. And Brian brought it. The local media described him as someone who never met a microphone he didn't love. I am purposely doing this off memory mistakes and all. Manila is not exactly a place that reinforces hockey memories. You want facts, there is Google. These are my memories. He went to be the General Manager of the Hartford Whalers and I think instrumental in drafting Chris Pronger. He returned to Vancouver as GM after the mess that was the Mike Keenan/ Mark Messier regime. That is at least my opinion. I will forever hold it against Messier for playing GM and sending away fan favorites Linden and Gelinas. Burke said more or less he will simplify Messier's life by saying all he had to do was play. Messier ruined the Canucks many times. By tormenting them and depriving many of their teeth when he was in the same division as them. He ruined them by putting a very deprived New York Rangers team on his back and defeating the Canucks in a great Final in 1994. Finally he ruined the Canucks by playing for them.

Brian Burke pulled the trigger on the Pavel Bure / Ed Jovanoski trade. He also engineered the draft day deals for the Sedin twins. Also if memory serves, he got his law degree from Harvard. He later married the classmate of a good friend of mine. A local broadcaster. Grainy video here. Stanley Cup in Anaheim as their GM and he is now currently the GM of the snake bitten Maple Leafs. Since I am a subscriber to TSN podcasts I am sure I will hear him and of him a lot. Since TSN is dubbed The Toronto Sports Network.

Love him or hate him, he has heart. His son also had heart. I lost my aunt four years ago. In the souvenir bookmark in the funeral there was the quotation "Don't count the years , count the memories!". You can be on this Earth a relatively short time and still have an impact. Brendan Burke was such a guy. It just so happens he was gay. One thing I eventually learned in my adult life is that being gay does not make one devoid of courage. Back on Father's Day I wrote about the disconnect that can occur in a Father Son relationship.

Today I hope I can bring you a story of where that relationship goes right, in this unconventional way. My personal belief on homosexuality is God makes them. They are born like that. If God made Man and even Homosexual Man in his own image then we should all dwell on that. Those of us who still discriminate.

Once in a while in my blog I talk about family pain and family courage. I hope you enjoy this installment. Brendan was not a hockey player of significance despite this hockey themed post. Granted there are some similarities to this 80s Canadian hockey anthem. I hope you take a minute to think about Brendan Burke's contribution to the world.



Bruce Arthur, National Post · Sunday, Jul. 4, 2010

TORONTO — On the 156th day of the rest of his life, Brian Burke woke up and he tried to keep another promise. He would march, he said. So he marched.

And marching was easier, in a way. Not that it was easy. As Brian Burke walked the streets of Toronto, sweating in the sun and waving at the sea of people at one of the world's grandest Pride Parades, he thought about his son. He thought about Brendan, his beautiful boy. How could he not? Brendan was why he was here.


"He was a really bright, motivated kid, but his best attribute was his people skills," Patrick Burke, Brendan's older brother, says over the phone. "When he was a kid we'd go to the playground and he'd run around, and by the end, when it was time for my mom to take him home, everyone would be going, 'Bye Brendan.' 'Bye Brendan.' 'Bye Brendan.' He'd just go around and introduce himself. 'Hi, I'm Brendan. How are you?' He just had a natural way with people, and that alone would have made him a great success."

"I'm more like my dad — when we're in a good mood, or we genuinely like someone, then we can connect with them. When my dad likes somebody — he has all these friends who are very loyal to him because when he likes you and you're in his circle, you're set.

"Brendan connects with everybody, regardless of whether he finds out he likes you or anything like that. He still is a nice person, and wants — God, I've got to use the past tense — he wanted to be a part of your life. My dad and I both wish we had that. It's uncanny, his ability to connect with people."

Patrick had to remind himself to use the past tense because in February of this year Brendan, 21, was driving his 2004 Jeep Cherokee down a snow-blown road in Indiana when his car skidded out across the road and collided with an oncoming truck. Brendan died. His friend Mark Reedy died, too.

Two months earlier Brendan had revealed to the world that he was gay. A student manager for the hockey team at Miami University in Ohio, he took up the mantle for tolerance in sports, agreeing to come out publicly in an article on When he had come out to his father a year earlier — his bluff, macho, tough, Irish Catholic father — Burke didn't have to take a breath and wonder what to say. "This won't change anything," he told his son.

But it did change things. Not how Brendan's tightly woven family loved him — "My family tolerates me," says Patrick, before slipping back into the present tense — "my family loves Brendan," — but it changed things. For instance, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs had never marched in the Toronto Pride Parade before.


This wasn't Brian Burke's first visit to this celebration of tolerance. The year before, eight months after Brendan's revelation of his sexuality, Burke had flown his son to Toronto and taken Brendan to the parade.

It's easy to say you accept a gay son. It's different, in a town where you are very recognizable, to take your gay son to the Pride Parade. And as they watched the rainbow kaleidoscope of people spin by that day, Brian Burke made a promise.

"He said, 'I really appreciate you coming out,'" says Burke, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. "I said, 'Well, next year we'll march in it.'"

Brian Burke is one of the world's better speakers. Some of his pronouncements are practically Shakespearean, blunt and unhesitating and full of powerful and complicated words. But the reason marching was easier is that every time he tries to talk about Brendan, 156 days later, he gets strangled by his heart. Brian Burke can talk about anything but this.

"This is the first thing that's ever been off limits for pretty much everyone," Patrick says. "And I think that's completely understandable. I don't think a parent should ever have to put into words what it feels like to lose a son. I don't think there are words for it. What the hell do you say?"

What the hell do you say? It's the same for Brendan's mother, Burke's ex-wife, Kerry Gilmore. She can't talk about it either. Not yet. When asked if had gotten any easier, the big Irishman just shakes his head.

"Since Brendan's accident? No," he says. "You cry a little bit less, but I haven't gone an hour since the accident without thinking of him, and I don't think I ever will."

But Sunday was easier because he didn't really have to try to talk about Brendan. He didn't have to try to explain what a wonderful kid he'd lost, what a generous and big-hearted kid he'd lost, what a special and unique kid he'd lost. He's tried, now and again.

Other have, too. At Brendan's funeral the church overflowed, and Brendan's little sister Molly told everyone about her first day of school when, instead of going off to make friends with his fourth-grade classmates, Brendan saw his sister crying at the prospect of beginning the first grade, and walked her to class instead. Patrick spoke, too, as brave as his brother has been, and he called Brendan "the best of the Burkes, and the best of the Gilmores."

And the first time he met the media after Brendan died, Brian Burke tried to explain what he'd lost, and what that meant. "He had a huge heart, and a great future, and I promise that his message will live on," Burke said. "This game should be open to everybody, and everyone should be welcome to play this game."

And he said, "That's the only way I know, is just put your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the other."

He's been marching ever since. On Sunday he just marched in front of everybody.


People who talk about Brendan talk about how he connected with people, and connected people to each other. Molly began her eulogy by saying, "I'm used to Brendan introducing me to everyone he knew, so it's a little different for me to be doing it."

But in this case, Patrick can use the present tense, because Brendan is still bringing people together. After the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, a picture surfaced that showed somebody had written the words "is gay" next to the name of Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger on a whiteboard in the dressing room.

A few weeks later, Blackhawks defenceman Brent Sopel accepted an invitation to take the Cup to the Chicago Pride Parade. He told reporters, "When Brendan came out, Brian stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should. We teach our kids about accepting everybody. Tolerate everybody, to understand where everyone is coming from." The Stanley Cup had never been part of a Pride Parade, either.

The New York Times wrote about Andrew McIntosh, a lacrosse player for Oneonta College in upstae New York, who once attempted suicide after losing a football game because he blamed his poor performance on being attracted to other men. He came out to his lacrosse teammates last year, and was received with open arms — the same way Brendan was by the Miami University hockey program, and by hockey in general — and thanked Brendan at the season-ending banquet.

And the Burke family has received hundreds of emails from gay athletes.

"So many people who said 'I always loved sports, but I never felt like sports loved me back,' " says Patrick. "And when they saw Brendan ... "


On Sunday Brian Burke and his second wife Jennifer and his sister Meghan and her husband Phil, along with some friends, all marched with PFLAG — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, an organization that provides support for parents and their gay children. Burke wore a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with 'Brendan' written on the back and the number 88, the year Brendan was born. He will do it again next year, too.

As the parade rolls down the street there is always cheering, but it's often hooting and hollering, a party vibe. When PFLAG comes into view, though, the vibe changes. The PFLAG marchers holds signs that say things like, "Beyond tolerance — we celebrate our children," and "Our children are a part of our families and always will be."

And the crowd always reacts the same way. There is still hollering, but it's mixed with a rich applause, with the sound of appreciation.

When asked about that reaction, Burke says, "Probably because it's a support group. There are people who have embraced their children. I don't think there's anything heroic about it, but I think people appreciate that not every parent reacts positively when their child tells them that they're gay. I think that's probably why."

Brian Burke keeps his promises, and especially to his children. Everybody knows how he flew from Vancouver to Boston every second weekend for over a decade after he got the Vancouver job; how he calls them every day. He missed a playoff game once to keep the promise he made after getting divorced and moving across the country, that they wouldn't lose one minute with their dad.

"I think you have to keep promises to your kids," he says simply.

One year ago Brian Burke promised his son Brendan he would march in the Pride Parade with him. And in a way, he did.

But when Burke is asked what he thought as he marched, as he clapped and waved to the crowds, the sunglasses can't hide him.

"I just wish he was here," he says.

National Post

No comments: