by Mitch Butin
I’m 54 years old, divorced, father of three. I am gay. Of course, I always knew I was attracted to men, but I denied this and followed what I thought was a more “normal” path. But this story is not about that, or why I finally chose to come out. This story is about how I happened to (managed to) come out to my children.
After my divorce, about six years ago, I still dated woman, going on a series of unsuccessful (and expensive!) dates. But I did allow myself to connect with other gay men physically, emotionally, in ways I never had before. After meeting someone with whom I thought I was in love (puppy love, age 50!), I realized that if I ever wanted to be in a loving relationship with any man, I’d need to be out to my family, especially my children. I made the conscious decision to find a way. But, how?
I stopped worrying about personal ramifications. I didn’t care if I lost all my friends (I knew I wouldn’t), I didn’t care if my brother would tease me (he didn’t), and I didn’t care if my colleagues thought less of me in my career (nope!). My big worry: “How will this affect my children?” Would they be hurt by my dishonesty? How would they deal with their friends? Would they think I betrayed their mother?
I googled “Fathers coming out to children,” “Children of gay fathers,” “Gay dads.” I talked to people, asking questions. I found lots of advice. Some advocated telling your kids before they hit their “sensitive” teens (too late, my son was 15, my daughters 10 and 13). Some advised waiting until they finished college (could I wait that long?) Most advocated speaking from a “happy, self-accepting” place (agreed).
I also wanted to tell my ex-wife and try to have her on board this train. What to do, what to do?
So, being a good, obsessive neurotic boy, I did the only thing I could…I found a therapist. A wonderful lesbian woman, a mother herself, to guide me through this process. The “counseling” (advice on how to come out to my kids) turned into “therapy.” I did examine some of the reasons it had been hard for me to be myself but that’s another story!
I began to develop a plan. I’d meet with my ex, give her the scoop just before my weekend with the kids, so she wouldn’t sit with this too long, and could be prepared for their questions. I’d tell my kids towards the end of the weekend, so they’d have some time with me, but would go back to their own place, not “trapped” with me, in case having a gay father was not all it was cracked up to be. I’d prepare for tears, laughs, shocked stares…whatever.
Nice plan, yes? But, as John Lennon said, ”Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
This is how it went down:
Saturday afternoon and I’m driving my two daughters back from the city after dance lessons. We’re dropping off my younger daughter at a movie/sleepover/birthday party. My older daughter will be dropped off at another sleepover, and I’ll pick up my son after football practice, to see a “guys” movie (blood and guts), just father and son. So, we’re in the car, the girls and me, my phone rings. It’s my friend, Paul, who happens to be gay.
Now, Paul and I had been friends since college…we did the whole backpacking through Europe thing. I had no idea Paul was gay then. In fact, on a gondola in Venice (yes two “straight” guys on a gondola…well, it was Venice!) Paul told me he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him (can anyone say “homosexual panic?”) Fast forward 15 years, and Paul, after marriage and children, came out. When he told me, I wondered if I would ever have the courage, but said nothing to him about myself. Eventually, he was the first person I came out to.
So, back to the car with my kids and me. I finish talking to Paul, my older daughter says,”Was that your friend Paul, the gay guy who was married and has kids?” I say “yes,” that was Paul, and yes, Paul is gay, and was married and has kids. There’s a long pause…and then, my daughter says, “wouldn’t it be funny if…(my heart stops a little here)… if Mom is gay?” Huh? Okay, let’s go with this. “So, what if Mom is gay?” I say. Well, they say, that would be a little weird, but, it’d be okay, she should be herself. I’m thinking, now that’s a good start. Next question: my younger one says, “What would be weirder, if Mom was gay, or Dad was?” Hmm?…Well, the older one says, it would be weirder if Mom was, because she’s moved on, has a new man, so why would she bother if she’s gay? Whereas, Dad’s not dating, no talk of woman, no girlfriend… so…? Okay, these kids are a lot smarter than I think…are they on to me? Another pause, then the little one says, “well, Dad if you were gay, I hope you have a boyfriend who likes to shop, that’d be so much fun!” We laugh, but I’m thinking, okay, I’ve gotta say something. I take a breath, “So, you wouldn’t think it was that weird if I were gay?” Wow, did I really just say that? Suddenly, my older daughter, turns to me with wide eyes, saying, “Wait! are you trying to tell me that you are…” Her phone rings! She’s onto a new conversation.
So, we drop off my little one at the movies, it’s just me and my older daughter. She’s off the phone, and asks to stop in a store real quick? We do, and though she’s moved on (after the $64,000 question) I haven’t, and my thoughts are flying. Although this wasn’t exactly my plan, the stars do seem to be aligning. Should I say something? This could be a perfect scenario. I’m alone with my older daughter now, later tonight, I’ll be alone with my son and have a chance to talk to him. Tomorrow, we can all tell the youngest, who I thought would have the easiest time, and model her older siblings’ responses (hopefully positive!)
Okay, I’m going to have to bring it up again…find a way. Well, I’m bored with the shopping (I guess we’ll scratch that stereotype off my list), and I say, “Too bad I don’t have a boyfriend who likes shopping!” This catches my daughter’s attention, brings her right back to that moment, “Oh, yeah…wait…are you..what…really…? Oh my god!”
I take a breath, say “Yes” but, I’m smiling! And she is, too, though she’s also crying…then I’m crying. We find a private space and talk, I answer questions, but it feels right. She’s actually relieved that I have the possibility of a social life…she was worried about her divorced dad being alone…I mean, how great can a kid be! We then strategize on how I will tell the other two.
Later that evening, before the movie with my son, I tell him. He’s like, “Okay, Dad, that’s cool, no problem.” What?! Okay, maybe this has to sink in a little. Later, we talk more, and he says he’d sensed something was up, was worrying that I’d say I’m sick, and was relieved that it was “only” that I was gay.
The next day, at lunch we all tell the youngest. She thinks it’s a big practical joke, it really takes some convincing. But she gets it, and she’s okay. Oh, and in the midst of all this I did get to call my ex-wife, who said, “Congratulations!”
Although it was just a few years ago, it now seems like a lifetime. In a way, I was reborn that weekend. I could say “I’m gay” and could tell anyone. And now, I’m proud to say, my teenage kids are as sarcastic as ever…well, they ARE teenagers! And I’m still the same annoying dad, even if I found a new affection for Broadway show-tunes…Kidding!!!
But what’s really remarkable is how easily my children accepted my sexual orientation. And that gives me hope for the future for LGBT men and women…that when the cool kids of today are older, marriage equality and other important gay rights issues will be accepted.
Although this story is about coming out to my kids, I realize now that it really is about coming out to myself. I knew my kids would be fine, I knew that love would take care of that. It was just hard to be honest with myself. I’m so glad I was. Living the truth is so much better than the alternative…and a helluva lot more fun!
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