“I’m a better father when I’m living an authentic life.”
For 10 years, Ann Marie and Bernard Shondell were the loves of each others’ lives.
Together, they welcomed three children to the world: Allie, Nick, and Joey. They were best friends and partners, devoted to their family.
Then one day, tragedy struck.
Ann Marie was diagnosed with cancer. She fought valiantly against the disease for five long years, but ultimately, she lost her battle. Bernard, Allie, Nick, and Joey were on their own for the first time.
Losing a family member is devastating at the best of times. Losing a matriarch is even harder. Fortunately, the Shondell family was tightly knit, with family members and friends surrounding them to ensure they felt loved and cared for as they grieved. Not everyone is lucky enough to have that.
Having a tightly bonded family and support network for his kids helped Bernard, too. About a year after Ann Marie passed, he made a revelation: He was gay and always had been.
The decision to come out wasn’t made easily. Growing up in the 1970s, Bernard watched a lot of people face discrimination and alienation after they came out. But ultimately, he knew he needed to be true to himself.
“I’m a better father when I’m living an authentic life,” says Bernard.
Rather than alienating him, his family — including his wife’s family — embraced him.
“I was scared when I was deciding to come out, ” he says. “I was worried that my kids could be taken from me. And when the time came to tell my mother-in-law, she greeted me with a hug, and with love, and she said, ‘You know, we’re going to raise these kids, and it’s going to be fine.'”
Since coming out, Bernard is the first to acknowledge that he’s been the recipient of much love, generosity, and care — especially from his children.
“My kids have shown their love and support to me in just so many ways that it’s almost hard to pick individual things,” he says. “My daughter asked me to do the ‘No Hate’ campaign with her. I was so proud that my daughter wanted to do that with me, and it meant a great deal that she was in support of marriage equality for everyone.”
Last summer, after the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Bernard’s youngest son brought the family’s pride flag to a televised game where there was a moment of silence in honor of those who lost their lives. “He was the only person in the end zone who had a pride flag,” Bernard added.
As his children become adults, Bernard is confident that the values of care and generosity that he and his wife instilled in them are here to stay.
“I always taught my children that they could never use the death of their mother as an excuse to not do something because someone else always has it worse,” says Bernard. “I think teaching them to care about what other people are going through is very important.”
“My heart swells that they turned out OK and that they’re going to go on to build great things for themselves and for those that they love,” he said.
Watch Bernard share tips for sharing care in this short video with his employer, Hallmark: