Honorable Mention, 2003 Affirmation Writing Contest
By Tom Clark
Her name was with me before she was even conceived -- a name that's
been with me since I was a child growing up in Rome; a name that has its
origins in the ancient Latin word Aura, which means both light and air.
Aurelia is also a name that found its way onto the throne of the Roman
Empire by way of Marcus Aurelius, the beloved Philosopher Emperor. One
of the five ancient roads leading out of Rome is named Via Aurelia, and
it was here on this road that I attended the Notre Dame School for boys
in the mid-sixties. The name Aurelia stuck with me -- it was poetic and
musical and reminiscent of the happy, carefree days of my youth.
I married for love in the first few days of 1980, and a few weeks later,
while my wife and I were sitting in a sacrament meeting in Salt Lake,
the name Aurelia came to me in a waking dream as we sat scribbling potential
baby names on the program. A year and a half later I brought our precious
Aurelia into the world as our midwife, Anne Deneris, stood by my side
in a birthing room at the University of Utah Medical Center. Twenty years
later in the same hospital, Anne stood by my side again as I brought Aurelia's
little son Tristan into the world.
When Aurelia was a year old, her mom and I sold our home in the Avenues
and moved to Rome to live, study and work. I wanted my girls to know my
other home; the country that had shaped so much of who I was and had given
me this other beautiful tongue that had taken up such comfortable residence
next to my native English.
Moving back to Rome as a young husband and father awakened a lot of feelings
in me that I had been trying to ignore and perhaps even run away from
-- not the least of which was my homosexuality. It was here in an isolated
villa in the countryside between Rome and Florence that I first began
to realize that I was no longer going to be able to continue with Mormonism.
It wasn't so much a specific thought as it was a reemergence of happiness
and an overwhelming awareness of just how big and beautiful and rich the
world was outside of the narrow confines of the religion I'd grown up
Far away from Mormonism, I began to discover who I really was. Now more
than ever I began to see myself as someone independent and apart from
the things I'd been taught as a child. The burden of someone else's belief
that I'd carried through my youth and on into a mission in Rome, began
to be lifted as I tasted wine for the first time and enjoyed Sundays in
the countryside with my girls -- far, far away from anything to do with
meetings and rules and obligations. Along with all of this awakening came
also the understanding that my homosexuality wasn't going away, no matter
how much I might have wanted it to in the past. For the first time ever,
I began to make peace with who I was.
Aurelia and her mom took to Italy like Michelangelo to stone. It was
a fit that I had hoped for and was thrilled to see happening. While Aurelia
was learning her first words in Italian, her mom would join me on occasion
for some wine and allow herself to sleep next to me without her garments
on once in awhile.
I wasn't pulling on her but rather just letting her see for herself what
it felt like to step over to the edge of the cliff and look down. We stood
there together in this idyllic setting, both of us free to choose. And
while I jumped, she didn't, and the remainder of our years together found
us heading in opposite directions where the church was concerned.
After nearly a year in Italy we returned to the States so that I could
pursue my photography work in Los Angeles. The chasm that had opened up
between us in Rome however, continued to grow wider. I knew that Mormonism
wasn't for me, but Aurelia's mom continued to burrow in even deeper. The
further I moved away from the church, the harder it was to watch Aurelia
be taken in by it all, and I ached at times to be able to rescue her from
that which I was now beginning to be so at odds with.
I knew, though, that going to battle with my wife over our daughter's
religious upbringing would create nothing but sorrow for all of us. So
I stood back and watched silently as the inevitable indoctrination took
place. I had held Aurelia in my arms as a baby and given her a name and
a blessing. I gave her the name that I'd known in my heart was hers to
carry and I blessed her that she would bring light and happiness into
the lives of all those she'd come into contact with. The name and the
blessing stuck, and now I was beginning to be afraid that Mormonism would
When Aurelia was nine, her mom and I divorced, and though we shared joint
custody, there was no question that Aurelia would be with her mom in church
on Sundays. Little by little I began to hear the sounds of Mormonism coming
from my daughter's lips, and I ached inside for what was happening. But
I knew I couldn't pull on her, so I continued to mostly keep my silence.
At some point in Aurelia's teenage years, I stood back a little and took
a good look at this child that I had always been so close to and so in
love with. As I did, I realized that standing there before me was an intelligent,
compassionate and beautiful girl; one so full of awareness and sensitivity
that it would be impossible for anything to ever overshadow her exquisiteness.
I knew that I had to trust that this child of mine would one day awaken
as I had and realize what was right for her and what wasn't. I knew in
my heart that the day would come when she would discover how big and beautiful
and rich the world around her was and that she'd want to be a part of
it rather than a spectator to it from within a dark cave. Her name was
Aurelia, a name that has its origins in the word for light. I knew that
she would one day see the light and that all I had to do was give her
the freedom to find it.
When Aurelia was seventeen, I flew her over to spend a few months with
me in Rome, where I was working, and it was there that she found what
I'd always trusted she'd find when the time was right. Among other things,
she found boys. Lots of them: Roman boys, American boys and Romanian boys.
Wherever she turned there were suitors, awkwardly climbing one over the
top of the other to get to her. I mostly stood on the sidelines watching
with bemused delight as my little girl, now a voluptuous young woman,
took it all in stride and reveled in this newfound sense of self.
There was no church, no mom and no peers to steer her away from what
was happening. There was only dad, who knew that by letting his little
girl grow up and find herself, he was giving her the biggest and the best
gift he possibly could.
Late one night after dinner and a movie, Aurelia and I took a walk through
the part of Rome known as Trastevere, the historic Jewish Ghetto where
Romans love to go and stroll into the wee hours of the night. From time
to time Aurelia would reach out and take my hand as we walked through
the drizzling rain. She was all grown up and had found boys, but she hadn't
lost dad in the process. We walked out onto an old bridge that had been
straddling the Tiber River for centuries and stopped to look at the soft
city lights that were being reflected back up to us from the waters below.
Our arms were wrapped loosely around each other and our cheeks pushed
softly together. It was without a doubt one of the happiest and most romantic
nights of my life.
I don't remember what we talked about much, but I remember how I felt;
I knew that Aurelia had found the same lust for life that had always burned
so strongly in me. I could feel it in the way she held my hand and I could
hear it in her voice as she said, "Oh papa, he kissed me in front
of the Roman Forum." The days of worrying about my Aurelia were over.
I knew that there would be no turning back for her now. Rome had given
her what it had always given me; the sense that the world was so big and
so beautiful and so rich that nothing could shroud its reality.
Aurelia returned to Salt Lake City where she was living with her mom
and slowly but surely began to take her final steps away from Mormonism.
At nineteen she moved in with her boyfriend and called me a few months
later to say they were getting married. I never doubted for a second that
it was the best thing on earth for her. I had always taught her to follow
her heart and had learned to trust her choices when she did.
There will always be those who will question my choices as a father because
of the freedom I've allowed Aurelia. There will be those who say that
I pulled her away from the teachings of her mother and led her astray
by introducing her to a lifestyle that so many condemn. And there will
be those who will question the appropriateness of my saying that I'm in
love with my daughter.
But none of it really matters to me anymore because I know what it is
I share with this beautiful young woman. We share a lust for life that
cannot be contained within the narrow confines of a religion. We share
an understanding of love that cannot be defined by others. And we share
an insatiable need to laugh and have fun and be happy -- all of which
wasn't ours as long as we were trying to push our feet into shoes that
I didn't have to drag Aurelia away from Mormonism -- I simply showed
her the light and something in her responded. The choice had always been
hers to make, and the fact that her choice reflected my own is just one
of those crazy, wonderful things that sometimes happens in life.
Aurelia, from the Latin word for light.