I was talking with one of my straight mentees about Father’s Day and birthdays. He didn’t think birthdays were that big of a deal, that they should be like any other day unless you’re still a kid. I told him I had stopped celebrating birthdays a long time ago, that I’ve only ever had one birthday party in my life: the surprise party I threw for myself at 36.
I told him I had planned the whole thing while my brother had organized it, and I had to act surprised. The only thing I didn’t know about the party was the gift everyone got me.
My mentee thought it was pretty sad that I had to plan my own surprise party. Then he realized he had forgotten the following day was Father’s Day, freaking out about what to get his dad. He sent me photos of various shirts and asked me which one I’d wear since his dad and I are close in age.
“I would never wear any of those,” I told him.
“I’m pretty sure my dad wouldn’t either,” he said. “That’s why I hate picking out stuff for him. I’m just going to get him an Arby’s gift card.”
I told him that was cheap, then changed to a completely different subject.
“What would you do if your dad came out to you tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “He’s never given me any indications that way. Why would you ask me that?”
“Because I know people who had to wait until much later in life to come out. People my age didn’t have much of a choice back then. They had to hide who they were to fit into society.”
I went into the history of the Stonewall riots with him, how the police waited outside gay bars and clubs to arrest people just for who they were. They had their photos taken for newspapers, their names and addresses published for all to see. Police ignored gay bashings, and gay people lost their jobs and positions in churches.
The majority of gay people just weren’t willing to go through all of that and instead lived a life of secrecy.
Of course, my mentee didn’t know any of this history — not only because he’s straight, but also because he’s 29 and never learned any of this in schools.
“People my age had to learn to be good liars if we didn’t want to get beaten up or humiliated,” I told him. Again, I asked him, “What would you do if your dad came out to you tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. I know him, so I think I’d know if he were that way.”
To be honest, I don’t think it’d be an issue for him — maybe an initial shock, but then he’d be fine. After all, he didn’t have a problem when I shared my story with him earlier this year. If anyone would have a problem with his father’s sexuality, it’d be his mother.
After finishing this conversation with my mentee, I started thinking about men I’ve known who waited years to come out to their families. Some waited until their kids were grown and out of the house to be their true selves. For some, their kids were happy for them; others were furious at their dads for living a lie and hurting their moms all those years.
A couple guys got tired of living the lie and just came out to their wives while their kids were still young. One wife left her husband for a couple of weeks because she needed time to think. When she returned home — to my surprise, learning this — she allowed him to see other guys, but he could never bring anyone into the house because of their young daughter.
The husband agreed to those terms; of course, he didn’t stick to that agreement. He figured what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her and brought guys to their house during his lunch breaks.
One day, his wife came home early and caught him in their bed with a guy. She kicked them both out, and he called me. He honestly didn’t understand why she was upset.
I had to give him a reality check. “She gave you permission to have sex with guys. All you had to do was keep them away from your house, but you couldn’t do that. So, why do you think she’s upset with you? You were wrong. On top of that, your 2-year-old daughter was in the next room. She had every reason to be upset.”
They ended up getting a divorce and now live in different states, sharing joint custody.
Another guy waited until his wife died before coming out to his kids. Though they respected his waiting until her death, they also no longer speak to him. I guess they figured he was meeting up with other guys while still married to their mom, though he said that never happened.
He did admit to flirting with guys now and then, though harmlessly as it never led to anything other than hand-holding and heads reclined on chests. I don’t know if he ever shared those details with his kids, but if he did it would make sense why they’d think he was seeing men behind their mom’s back.
I know this post was originally about fathers coming out to their kids, or the hypothetical possibility of their coming out, but I wonder how many of us have had to deal with hurt from our fathers upon telling them about our sexuality?
How many of us have decided not to come out to our fathers because we knew it wouldn’t go well? How many have been wrestling with the idea of telling our fathers for fear of the unknown? And how many of us have already come out to our fathers, a topic never again spoken about?
Well, I’m here to tell you that not only do you have a heavenly Father who cares for you just the way you are, but many of you have spiritual fathers who feel the same way. And for those of you who don’t, I hope God puts someone like that in your life soon.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
John 15:18 (ESV)