A Tribute to My Friend and Mentor, Guy Newgren, Sr.
Last week, I attended a funeral for a man I first met at his son’s funeral. Guy Newgren, Jr. and Guy Newgren, Sr. both came into my life at opposite ends of a personal journey of mine. The time I have know Guy Newgren the elder spans a part of my life that represents the most growth I’ve experienced and he was a big part of it. Who I was when I met the son and who I was when the father passed away are two very different men.
I first met Guy Newgren, the son, at a time in my life when I was afraid that I was about to ruin everything I had done up to that point. I was struggling to keep my marriage covenant and not fall helplessly into a lifestyle that was contrary to everything I believed. I loved my wife and children, but I was desperately dealing with the same-sex attracted feelings I had always experienced along with incredible temptations to act on those feelings.
Right at a critical time when being close to my family would’ve helped the most, I had the choice of losing my job or traveling away from home to work. I was only going to be home on the weekends. It was good work and I couldn’t afford to give it up. At the same time, I was racked with the fear of being in a strange town where nobody knew me, where I could do things nobody would know about, and where that temptation might be more than I could resist.
In Portland, I had been attending a support group, but I couldn’t come home on weekends and spend that time away from my family. Fortunately, I found a support group about 90 miles away from where I was working and I joined them. That is where I met Guy, Jr.
I don’t think I’ve been more afraid to walk into a room than I was to walk into the home where the group was meeting. That was a time in my life when my self-image was of an overweight buffoon that didn’t know how to talk to people and was afraid of men, especially of being close to men.
I didn’t have many meetings that included Guy, because he died accidentally during my time in the group. I had spent one evening at dinner with him and a couple of other friends. We talked late into the night and I still had to drive the 90 miles back to my hotel and get up in the morning ready to work. When I heard that he died, I was so sad. I wanted to know him better.
I made sure I was able to be there at his funeral, which I attended with other members of the group. This was the first time I met Guy, Sr. I was mystified by this man, who despite having just lost his son, was comforting the men in the group that had come to the funeral. He spoke of us as being like his sons and pledged to help us in any way he could. It seemed like the kind of things people say at funerals, but don’t really follow through on them.
Years later, getting to know him, I realized he was not the kind of man who said things he didn’t mean or easily forgot his promises. Guy was true to his word and spent a lot of time in the company of men who had struggled with the same things his son struggled with. His wife, Carolee, did too. For many, they were the parents to grown men who hadn’t really had parents.
I saw them at conferences and I always felt the genuine love and pride Guy showed towards me. Sometimes, I thought he wanted me to run for president. That’s how he acted around me.
Much of what I was going through during those years after their son’s death was finding my voice to talk about my experiences with same-sex attraction. Today, I have done it so much, that people probably don’t think I have the slightest reservation about speaking out. Right now, I don’t worry about it, but I got to this point by knowing that I had people behind me no matter what anyone else thought. That included my wonderful wife, magnificent children, and people like Guy and Carolee Newgren.
It was a strange feeling for me. I had been abandoned by my biological father and largely ignored by my stepfather. The truth is, I never really knew how to be a son of a father. I had a wonderful mother and I knew how to be her son, but men had never really done a lot for me and never really showed me the love of a father.
What I knew about being a father I mostly learned by not doing what I had experienced as a stepson. Well, that’s not entirely true. I also learned about being a father from the man my stepfather became when he had grandchildren. That’s a whole other story.
Near the end of the time when I lived in Ohio, my company there sent me to San Jose for some training and I had a chance to go to dinner with Guy and Carolee. He made that same statement to me that he made to the men at his son’s funeral, that I was like a son to him and that he wanted to help me any way he could.
He soon got the chance. When my mother became sick with pancreatic cancer, I moved back to Oregon to be near her. At the same time, with the urging of men who were struggling with same-sex attraction, I was starting a support group. Guy and Carolee were contemplating moving to Oregon to be near some of their family there. They became church service missionaries to the group I was starting and served there for a few years.
Guy was true to his word to me and was like a father to us. I guess, in my case, it was more real because I wasn’t always a totally cooperative son, but I never felt a lessening of the love from him and I always loved him. During the last few years, we didn’t see each other much. They went on a mission to Hawaii and I was working three jobs (now more like five jobs). They lived a long way out, but when I could get out there to visit, they welcomed me like a son that had just been gone for awhile.
Guy’s passing has made me think that I could’ve been a better son as far as keeping in touch, but as a father, I know that much of my joy comes from seeing the good people my children have become. Much of who I am now can rightfully be said to in large part due to the support I got from Guy and Carolee Newgren. I went from a scared, shy, nervous man who had spent the better part of his life hiding from the truth because he was certain no one would love him if they really knew him to a man who confidently says what’s on his mind.
I can’t give Guy credit for all of this and I don’t think he would want it, but here are some of the things I have done since I first heard Guy Newgren tell me that he loved men like me as his sons.
- I have started two support groups for men.
- I have gone back to college and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in social work.
- I have appeared on television two times talking about being a Latter-day Saint man who experiences same-sex attraction.
- I also interviewed for a major documentary but didn’t make the final cut.
- I have written dozens of blog posts about my life and testimony.
- I work to help people make the most of themselves despite their difficult challenges.
- I have started a business with a partner doing the same thing.
- I have spoken to two groups of stake presidents in the church in two different states.
- I have done firesides talking about what it is like to be gay and Mormon and devoted to the Church and its teachings.
- I have stayed faithful to my wife of 39 years.
- I have raised the best children to become the best adults.
I’m happy to share some of the credit with the two Guy Newgrens I have known while giving all of the credit to the God who has given me everything, including the fellowship with two of the best people I’ve ever known, Guy and Carolee Newgren.