After Years Of Estrangement, Eight Siblings Become A Family

Jan 24, 2013
Originally published on January 25, 2013 8:14 am

When Bryan Wilmoth was in his late teens, his father found a love letter from a man in Bryan's box of things.

Furious at the discovery of a gay son, Bryan's father took him for a ride and dropped him off in the middle of the night with a $5 bill.

"That's sort of all I remember — sleeping outside in the country that night," Bryan, 50, recounts to his brother Michael, at StoryCorps in Los Angeles.

Growing up in a strict, religious household, Bryan and his seven younger siblings all became estranged from their parents over the years.

"I really missed my brothers and sisters when I left home," Bryan explains to Michael. "I remember hearing that if you guys talked to me, if I'd call the house, that you'd get a beating because Dad didn't want you to 'catch gay.' And you guys believed that."

"Granted, it was a fear-based belief," says Michael, 46, who ran away from home when he was a teenager.

"Of course, but you know it was still something I had to try to fix," Bryan replies.

As each one of Bryan's siblings got kicked out of the house or moved away, he made an effort to contact them and become their big brother again. But many of them were initially resistant.

Michael admits he didn't want to know anything about gay people. It took a long time for their relationship to grow.

"But, after you started to accept it, every time you met another gay person, you would say 'Oh, you've got to meet my brother,' and hook me up with every guy that you thought was gay," Bryan says, joining in laughter with Michael.

"I always thought that was really sweet," Bryan says. "And that's when we started coming back together, you know, as brothers and sisters: Bryan, Pam, Chris, Mike, Jude, Amy, Josh and Luke-Henry."

'I Really Finally Got To Be A Big Brother'

Luke-Henry had just been born when Bryan was kicked out the house, so the two never met. But one day Bryan got a phone call.

"The voice on the other end said, 'Bryan? This is your little brother Luke,' " Bryan recalls.

By that time, Luke was already estranged from their mother and father, and he wanted to attend college at the University of Dallas. So Bryan used his savings to buy a one-way ticket and round-trip ticket to Dallas.

"Mind you, this is a Catholic school, and I'm the big, gay brother. I'm running around getting him set up for his dorm room," Bryan says.

At the end of the weekend, Bryan gave Luke a huge hug and kiss, and told him how much he loved him.

"And I was just watching after him, like, 'Wow, I really finally got to be a big brother,' " Bryan says.

"And at that moment, he turned around and mouthed, 'I love you.' It was the most beautiful moment I had ever experienced. And I called you from the hotel, sobbing. Do you remember this?" Bryan asks Michael.

"Yeah," Michael replies. "You brought eight siblings that were so far apart to be as close as we all became."

"I just want you to know how much it means to me that you have loved me like this," Bryan says. "And for that I will be forever grateful. It is what I built the foundation of the rest of my life on."

"And let me say that 40 minutes isn't enough," Michael says, referencing the StoryCorps session. "I could do this for four hours, four days, four months. You're a good man."

"Well, thank you, Mike."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Fridays, we hear from StoryCorps, recording conversations about the important moments in our lives. Today, how a family that fell apart came back together. Bryan Wilmoth is the oldest of eight siblings. They grew up in a strict, religious household, and all of the siblings have become estranged from their parents over the years. Bryan, who is gay, was the first to get kicked out. At StoryCorps, he told his younger brother Michael what happened.

BRYAN WILMOTH: Dad found a love letter from a guy, in my box of things. And he read this letter - and lost it. He took me for a ride and dropped me off in the middle of the night with $5 bill. That's sort of all I remember; sleeping outside, in the country, that night.

And I really missed my brothers and sisters, when I left home. I remember hearing that if you guys talked to me if I'd call the house, that you'd get a beating because Dad didn't want you to catch gay. And you guys believed that.

MICHAEL WILMOTH: Granted, it was a fear-based belief.

B. WILMOTH: Of course, but, you know, it was still something I had to try to fix. And so as each of you guys moved out, or got kicked out of the house...

M. WILMOTH: ...or ran away.

B. WILMOTH: ...or ran away, in your case, I would make an effort to try to contact you guys and be a big brother again. At first, you were really resistant. You didn't know anything about gay people.

M. WILMOTH: Didn't want to.

B. WILMOTH: Didn't want to, and it took a long time for our relationship to build. But after you started to accept it, every time you met another gay person, you would say, oh, you've got to meet my brother - and hook me up with every guy that you thought was gay. You know, I always thought that was really sweet.

And that's when we started coming back together, you know, as brothers and sisters - Bryan, Pam, Chris, Mike, Jude, Amy, Josh and Luke-Henry. Now, Luke-Henry, I didn't even know because he wasn't born till I was like, 19 or 20. And I hadn't seen him in - ever. And I got a call, and the voice on the other end said: Bryan? This is your little brother Luke.

By this time, you know, he was estranged from Mom and Dad, and he wanted to go to University of Dallas. So I took my savings, which wasn't a lot; and I bought one, one-way ticket and one, round-trip ticket to Dallas. Now, mind you, this is a Catholic school; and I'm the big, gay brother. I'm running around getting him set up for his dorm room. And we go through this whole weekend and at the end, I gave Luke a hug and a kiss, and told him how much I loved him. And he started walking away. I was just watching after him like, wow, I really finally got to be a big brother.

And at that moment, he turned around and mouthed: I love you. It was the most beautiful moment I had ever experienced. And I called you from the hotel, sobbing. Do you remember this?

M. WILMOTH: Yeah. You brought eight siblings that were so far apart, to be as close as we all became.

B. WILMOTH: I just want you to know how much you mean to me, that you've loved me like this. And for that, I will be forever grateful. It is what I built the foundation of the rest of my life on.

M. WILMOTH: And let me say that 40 minutes is not enough. I could do this for four hours, four days, four months. You're a good man.

B. WILMOTH: Well, thank you, Mike.

MONTAGNE: Bryan Wilmoth with his brother Michael, at StoryCorps in Los Angeles. Their ful, 40-minute interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Get the podcast at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.