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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a row and they'd never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he campaigned vigorously for gay rights.

For the past two years on OutUK he reflected on how this experience affected his life and family. In this final column Clifton brings us up to date and reveals miraculous news.
Clifton Spires writes:

As many of you are aware, our oldest son, Patrick "Rick" Robertson has been a missing person since September 1996. Rick is a gay man, 30 years old, and left Columbus, Ohio at a time when he was going through some serious legal and personal problems.

My last face-to-face encounter with him took place after a court hearing in which some angry words were exchanged about the way he was handling his life and how his family --- particularly me, his father, were reacting to it. He disappeared without word of his whereabouts shortly afterwards, leaving the rest of his family perplexed, worried, angry and fearful.

We took several steps --- contacting police, his friends, private investigators and even psychics about where he could be. Several leads were followed but none panned out.

This year, we have been focusing on "letting go" and moving on with our lives. Since Rick left, his younger brother graduated from high school, two of his grandparents (my parents), my sister's husband and the family beagle have all died. One of my nephews and his wife became parents of two little girls and the same nephew, just a few years younger than Rick, was sent to serve in Afghanistan. We also moved from where we were living at the time of Rick's disappearance, in Logan, Ohio, first to Norwalk, Ohio and then to Willard, Ohio, where we are living now. My wife was diagnosed with and then successfully underwent surgery for uterine cancer. And I also completed the process of coming out to my family as an openly gay man married in a mixed orientation marriage.

During the time since his disappearance, we also have gone through a gamut of emotions ranging from shock and denial to anger and grief to a form of acceptance that we might not see him again. We worried that he might be dead and we would never know what happened.

Today, all that changed, starting with a mysterious telephone call that came at 10:55 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the night of Tuesday 12th June. We were unable to get to the phone in time to answer, but our caller ID showed it was from a pay telephone in the Portland, Oregon area. Something about seeing the number made me think, "Rick...?"

A few minutes later, I received an e-mail message from my sister that earlier in the evening she had been called by Rick, who was looking for a way to get in touch with us. She gave him our home number, address, my work telephone number and my e-mail address.

At 7:30 a.m. today, we were awakened by the telephone ringing. Although the caller ID said "unavailable" --- we only answer the phone when we have some idea who it is --- I went ahead and picked it up.

And I said "hello" to my oldest son for the first time in nearly six years.

To simplify the story, Rick left Columbus back in 1996 and ended up in Mississippi, not far from where he grew up. He lived there as a used car salesman for a few years, then became involved with another gay man his age. At some point, they decided to uproot themselves and move to the Northwest coast, living in Vancouver, Washington and commuting to work in Portland, Oregon. Last summer, they separated, with Rick's companion returning to his parents' home in Memphis, Tennessee, and Rick staying on in Portland, where he worked as an assistant manager for a branch of a large book warehouse.

Unfortunately, the events of September 11th, 2001 had a negative effect on Rick's employer and in October, some downsizing took place, with Rick losing his job. He said he has not worked full-time since then, although there have been several part-time jobs.

Rick said he has been living as a homeless person for about 12 days. He did not ask for money and we are not in a position to help him, but we did say that if he could get it together, we would give him a place to stay in Ohio until he could get back on his feet. He gave us a Yahoo! e-mail address and after checking his profile I saw a picture of my son, taken two years after he disappeared. He is thinner, still very handsome and now sports a tattoo on one of his arms.

Oddly enough, one of the psychics we contacted told us she thought he was on the West Coast, in southwest Washington. She was sort of right, but not exactly. I told Rick about that. In typical Rick humour, he said, "Too bad she didn't tell Dionne Warwick about that stuff in her purse at the airport."

Rick also said that he has been following our efforts to find him via my internet writings. He simply wasn't ready to contact us before now.

Obviously, this is good news for us and for those who have spent some time praying or sending positive energy out for our family, it is an answer. We wanted to know if our son was dead or alive and have some idea what happened and where he is.

With equal obviousness, it is not the happy TV movie ending for which we secretly hoped. Our concern now is for Rick's well-being, that he will stay in touch with us. We want to see him sleeping under a roof (he said he spent last night sleeping behind a Portland library) and earning his own living. It is his choice how he does that. All we want is to know that he is safe and how we can occasionally get in touch with him.

There obviously is a lot that still needs to be said on both sides. Our telephone conversation with him, from our point of view, went well. We did not confront him, but told him he always will be our son and we always will love him. We could not tell exactly how he was reacting, but we had a feeling he was touched by our comments, which came from our hearts.

Right now, Rick still has control of the relationship. We have an e-mail address, which we assume he can access through public computers such as those at libraries. So we can get e-mail to him. But he has control of when we hear from him. It's not an ideal situation, but it's lots better than nothing, which is what we have been dealing with since 1996.

This is not the end of our story about our relationship with our son. But it is sort of a new chapter or maybe a sequel to the original saga. It is a fresh start, at the very least.

Thanks to all of you who took time to care about our family.

With love to all,

Clif and Joy Spires
Jonathan and Rick

P.S. A copy of this letter is being sent to Rick. If anyone would like to send him an encouraging note as he struggles to work out the details of his life, I will be happy to send them on to him. Please, nothing judgmental --- I just want him to know how many good people there are in the world who took time to care about him and his family over the years. Send them to me at OutUK.

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The Sandusky Murder - A Follow Up

A Tug On The Heart

The Prodigal's Father

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Dirty Knees

It's My Column And I'll Endorse Who I Want

The Spouses Of Married-But-Gay Persons

Some Thoughts While Waiting ...

When And How To Tell The Parents

Just Another Plague

Real Issues

Now We Know Or-You-Know-What

Name Your Domestic Partnership

Bush's Bigoted Bogeyman Fever

WILL & GRACE Episodes We'd Like To See

A Case for the Purpose of Hate Crimes

Starting the Second Year

The Ashcroft Aftermath

Sometimes It All Works Out

Someone's Perverting The Scouts

Love The One You're With

Flaming Bob

A Quiet Way Of Censoring Gay Literature

The Word Beneath My Name

Exclusion ... what it's like to be snubbed

Second Annual Pride And Prejudice Awards

Steven Cozza - 2001 Role Model Award

Did The Devil Make Falwell Say It?

Former President Ford: Rainbow Warrior?

Dying Young - Brad Matthew Fuglei

Five Lives Remembered in December


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