Family Fundamentals – Family Updates

Brian Bennett

Brian-ConventionIt’s been a very strange, unnerving and fascinating experience to see an essential part of my life depicted on film and then dissected and discussed by critics and audiences. For the first several times I saw it, I was not always completely comfortable, or thought ‘something’ was missing or could have been said differently. Ultimately, I realized anything can always be better, and so the “better” that Family Fundamentals is now, is quite good and impactful, indeed. To this day there are parts of the film that still bring tears to my eyes — evidence of Arthur’s unique abilities to tap into his subjects’ emotions and an indication to me that there is still pain that apparently remains unhealed. I am proud to be associated with the film and all its participants and I do not regret for a moment my participation.

Happily, I now count as my friends Arthur, Susan, David, Guy and Brett and have spent many good times with them on the road or at a barbeque. This experience has been extraordinarily real and emotional.

Without a doubt the part I have most enjoyed is the opportunity to go on the road with Arthur and participate with him in Q&A’s at various film festival or university screenings around the country. It’s fascinating to see how every audience is different and it is interesting to see how they often react differently to the same people, scenes and segments in the documentary. There’s no real pattern, it just is….different.

I don’t know if an audience takes anything I say away with them, but I appreciate the opportunity to use my life examples and voice my feelings about the Dornan family, my own blood family, my partner Rick, gay Republicans, Catholicism and politics in general. If it helps, I am glad. But I believe it is the audience that has helped me more then I them.

Also, often due to the location or venue, I would anticipate a hostile reception (liberals who don’t like my politics, or conservatives who don’t like my orientation — take your pick!), but to my surprise every audience has been respectful even when they differ with me. Really. Curiously, it seems my politics, more then my sexual orientation, often evokes the biggest response from viewers and I’ve enjoyed the give and take enormously.

While my father is long deceased, I did watch the film with my mother. I was curious, actually a little nervous, to see if she felt left out or minimized or in any way awkward or unappreciated since the documentary dealt with a “family” relationship I had other then my own — which was a good and mostly happy one. Mom felt none of what I thought she might and has emailed all her friends about the documentary. She’s amazing.

Indeed, my brothers and sisters, and at one screening in New York City attended by over 20 of my cousins, the response from my blood family has been unanimously positive. Prior to the film, most had never truly known the depth of my relationship with the Dornans nor — and this was even more important to them — the deep pain and anguish I privately endured as a closeted gay man. It upset them greatly and they felt sadness and anger “at the world” and to a lesser extent at me for feeling I could not trust them enough to tell them so they could love and help me. They also told me how proud they were of me. Amazing. It still chokes me up now as I write to recall it all.

As for the Dornans, this past week I did send Bob & Sallie an advance VHS copy of Family Fundamentals enclosed with a personal letter. In that letter I expressed to them my love and deep hope that they would not view this film as an “attack” but instead to see this film as an attempt “to evenhandedly convey the damage that is done to families or almost-families when homosexuality rather then love becomes the overriding issue in former, seemingly unbreakable, close and loving relationships.”

I closed my letter to the Dornans by reminding Bob Dornan of what he asked me never to forget many years ago. “Don’t give up on me,” he always said after I “came out.” So I wrote last week, “‘Don’t give up on [you]’ is still my watchword. I hope it won’t be too much longer when we can get together, our differences put aside, and talk about the things we love: each other, the movies, politics, crazy recalls, families and old times.”

That remains my wish today. For while we have had friendly, even warm, sporadic phone conversations over the past two years, I have not seen them in at least 5 years. That has not been my choice. I hope it won’t be their choice too much longer as I miss them.

Yet life moves on. My partner Rick and I celebrated our 7th anniversary together in June. An African-American, Democrat, professor of dance, Rick and I are blessed with rich diversity in our relationship — not to mention a good argument or two from time to time! We have a wide circle of gay and straight friends and families, old and new, but actually we and they make no such distinctions even though we know society still does. At the Gay Pride parade last May here in Long Beach, Rick and I were too busy to go. Get this though — my mom asked Rick’s mom (who was visiting from Ohio) to go with her. So here the gay sons blew off the parade and the moms went instead. Incredible!

I still remain active in GOP politics — especially these days in recall-happy California! But my patience for Republican politics and my Catholic Church is not as it used to be. It’s disappointing that when the California electorate backs various aspects of domestic partnerships with over 70-80% support some Republican Party leaders are opposed, bullied or afraid to even give gays and lesbians a seat at the party table or can’t support even the most basic legislative act of decency like hospital visitation rights. And with a hostility we haven’t seen in quite some time, this past summer my Church seems to place Papal edict on a higher plane then Christ-like love for all. It can wear me down at times. But every time I begin to lose my patience or enthusiasm I remind myself how long it took ‘me’ to come out and accept myself, then take a deep breath, and hang in there as a gay, Republican Catholic — it’s who I am. And I am continually surprised and reinforced by the individual acts of dignity, respect and kindness that come from people I underestimate. The ability of all of us to grow and evolve is transforming if we want it to be.

Though it is not apparent in any of the three stories in Family Fundamentals, the ties that bind us, be they friend or family, is what rocks our world. Two moms at a gay parade, a teenage nephew bravely taking the “pro” position in a high school debate on gay marriage, a conservative political couple asking me AND my partner out to a social dinner and play — set an example and change the little space we occupy around us. Yes, U.S. Supreme Court decisions are monumentally important to effect national change, but it’s taken me a while to appreciate that in the end, in my view, it is the individual relationships between and among us, our daily decisions about how we choose to treat those around us, that will ultimately heal the wounds that divide us.

I’ve witnessed how Family Fundamentals is already a spoke in the wheel of change. By being honest, real, gritty and at times sad, Family Fundamentals sparks dialogue and encourages seekers of common ground who want to avoid the painful and unnecessary breakups in their families that befell these three families.

Thank you Arthur.

With appreciation, Brian Bennett
August 2003

Kathleen Bremner

KathleenDeloresTo be honest with you, I was disappointed in the fact that Arthur did not produce what I understood he would, and that was to film the parents in our support group. To help other parents all over the nation witness the pain and heartbreak most parents feel when they learn or discover their son or daughter is “gay.”

There are areas in our nation where there is no support group and I know this could have been a blessing for others to know that they are not alone. I know that most parents feel that they are the only one who feels that way. It is so hard for parents who are devastated and heartbroken when they have no one to talk to who will begin to understand their feelings.

Our purpose in the ministry of Spatula 2 is to give comfort to hurting, disappointed and devastated parents — to try to help them reconcile the relationship with their child through insight and understanding. No one can change another person, but a parent’s attitude can influence the relationship through genuine caring and love. The parents I know deeply love their child and only want the best in life for that child. I believe that it is only through a relationship with God and with a loving caring family and friends that a person can change their behavior.

When a person sincerely wants to change any kind of behavior or addiction, it may be difficult, but they can change their behavior if they really want to. That is not to say that they will immediately lose their desires, but they can learn to control themselves. How does a person learn to lose weight? By controlling their appetite. God has given every man and woman their own free will. They can exercise that will… and do what ever they will. The reasons why a person will choose to become homosexual has many facets. Briefly, child abandonment, sexual abuse, rape, poor father relationship — [to name] a few.

My Daughter:

The pride I have in my daughter I have for many reasons. Knowing what I know about this little girl who was a gift from God to me when she was born. I would be dishonest if I said that it did not hurt me when she stepped into the world of homosexuality. It took some time before I was set free from this. It was through insight, understanding and my faith and the love I have for my daughter that the pain in my heart began to heal.

The woman she is today is a woman who has overcome tremendous adversity, hardships, disappointments and rejection. The abandonment and death of a father, the sexual abuse of a man she trusted, the loss of a college scholarship, the death of a young husband, the failure of a business, and the theft of a dream — to name a few. She has struggled to rise above all these many devastating circumstances that have touched her life. She is an intelligent, loving, caring, likeable human being. She dearly loves her family, her pets, her friends and her life. She has taken all of that which has happened to her and found something beautiful in her faith, her trust in God, her friends that she loves and who love her. Her dedication to helping others, with four paws and otherwise. She is a strong, loving human being, she is my daughter and I love her and always will.

I wish with all my heart that I could have changed the circumstances in her life that have hurt her. I wish they had never happened. But they did. I have seen in her life and in the lives of others pain, sorrow and misery from the emotional damage that she and others have suffered. It seems the damage will continue as long as they seek to find love in the wrong places. When they walk away from the life that has wounded their heart they will find peace. The God that has always loved them is waiting with open arms. The door of His heart is always open,

The fact that I have a good relationship with her, is in no way an indication that I condone — or ever will [condone] — homosexual relationships. However, I do understand the need to love and to be loved in return. People will look for love in the wrong places. The day will come, if it hasn’t already, when my daughter will have a close relationship with the One who loves her, who will never fail her and will never stop loving this lady who is my daughter.

God bless you, Kathleen Bremner
August 2003

Susan Jester

Susan-&-Luna-hiresWell… let’s see. A lot has happened since the filming of Family Fundamentals. I, personally, went though a very difficult time emotionally from the filming forward about a year. At the time the film was made, I had also just moved out and ended an almost 9 year “marriage.” So I think my first reaction to the outtakes that I saw of my parents just brought up a lot of pain and old feelings of anger. I was also really shocked and disgusted by my parents’ incredible arrogance and intolerance. Secondarily, it broke my heart to see how hurtful and painful the reality of his grandmother’s beliefs was to my son. The film put some distance between David and his grandmother, certainly brought even more distance between she and I, and ultimately brought David and I closer together.

Now here we are 2 years later, my stepfather, Paul, was almost at death’s door, and my mom actually, I think, learned how much she had hurt David and me. Somewhere in all this she decided that the relationship with her family was a little more important than espousing her beliefs, and she has softened up considerably. Paul also has softened. On my last trip out West, he actually asked me for the first time in 20 years how and who was in my personal life and expressed his sincere desire that I would meet and find someone to share my life with. David sees his grandmother more often of course than I do since they are near each other, but he visits less frequently, and spends less time when he is there. For a while, I almost regretted making the film, because of what it did to their relationship, and the personal pain I felt at watching my entire life go by on the giant screen. I guess the reality is that the truth simply was spoken in the film, and everyone’s true feelings came out of the closet. And that’s ultimately a healthy thing.

Since 9/11, my thoughts about life and relationships have certainly become more focused. I live 2 miles up the Hudson River from the World Trade Center, and as ashes, smoke and the sounds of terror rained down upon my house for a week, I had time to think about what is really important to me in life. I am glad that we participated in the film and I hope that my message makes a difference to those who see it… and that is, that as a gay/lesbian person, your spirituality and your personal relationship with whatever higher power you believe in does not depend on what your parents or your church thinks about you. The whole message of the New Testament, as I understand it, is one of hope, the promise that each one of us are important to God and that we can have that personal relationship with Him/Her simply based on our desire to have it. There are no God police in the Bible and the gift of God’s love is a one-on-one relationship. No one else can give it or take it away from you.

I am looking forward to my 60th birthday in December and still happily living in sunny Edgewater, New Jersey with Luna and our new family member, a cat.

August 2003

David Jester

David-Guy-&-KidsSince the filming, Jared has moved in with us full time. He is in High School and on the honor roll. Additionally he has been taking flight lessons. He wants to be a pilot. He started when he was 15 and flew solo on his 16th birthday. Kind of funny that he can fly a plane but isn’t allowed to drive a car at 15.

Guy is doing well, and has survived our teaching Jared how to drive, so far. He has been working at his job of 15 years and things are going fine there. I have been painting a lot, Plein Air oils, most of which can be seen at

I have also been in Art A Fair, one of the large ongoing art festivals in Laguna Beach, CA, and will be in the Plein Air Painting festival in San Luis Obispo in October. I hope to have a gallery soon. There are waiting lists for many of them.

I realized that I didn’t say anything about the film and the turmoil after filming. There was a distance between Grandma, Paul, and myself that I had not experienced before. Truthfully, I regretted the filming to a degree. My Grandmother, Mother, and myself are all only children, and we are all we have. That fact made us, I think, resolve our differences, or at least put them aside for the sake of family. We have a lot of love between us.

August 2003

Brett Mathews

SundanceArthurBrianBrettI am still living in Los Angeles, recovering from injuries I received in a car accident in July of 2000. I’m working as a handyman, and doing pretty well. I was hoping that the film would bring me and my family closer together, and that we would be able to find common ground through our participation in it. I’m sorry to say that it kind of backfired. When they backed out, it kind of separated us even further. I still speak to my family sporadically, but their overall views of homosexuality have not changed.

I am getting over the hurt and the disappointment here to a certain extent, and have made a lot of new friends and met people in a support group to kind of fill the gap over the last three years. I am not active in church at the moment, so I try to foster some spirituality, and I always try to keep my special relationship with God.

The film had its world premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, which is in Park City, Utah, 50 miles away from my parents’ place, and also close to the headquarters of the LDS Church. When the film screened there, one of the newspapers carried a front-page article about the film, with a large photo of me in my uniform. It was a scary thing to go home to Utah and have everyone know so much about me. I was afraid the Church would ask to respond in kind, or possibly excommunicate me. They didn’t do anything, though. I continue to have my membership in the Church, although I am not active.

No one in my immediate or extended family has seen the film. Arthur Dong even offered to fly me and him back to Salt Lake City one more time, if they would allow him to film some kind of comments after they’d seen it, and they declined.

After the accident, I had to cut back on my outreach and community speaking engagements, but I did get to travel with the film a little bit. It was extremely rewarding doing the question and answer sessions and getting the love and support of so many people. Overall the response to the film has been very rewarding. One of the screenings that took place down in SLC itself, hundreds of people waited out in a snowstorm for tickets, and they had to turn away 500 people, and the majority of those people waited there until after it was over to show their support. That was overwhelming and incredible.

August 2003