I came out to my 20-year-old son on Saturday. Another Rubicon crossed. I had been waiting for him to return home after being out of the country for several months, and I was hopeful, yet apprehensive: hopeful that he would take it well, but apprehensive that he would not.
I am very close to my son (whom I call Justin), and my relationship with him is one of the treasures of my life. (Which is why I chose the above picture as the lead-in for this post: I felt that it reflected this love and because, in my mind, even though my son is 20, I still picture him at times as the little boy I once carried on my shoulders.) I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that relationship, but I knew I had to tell him because of the situation that exists in our home right now: when he left a few months ago, everything was “fine” between my wife and me; when he arrived home, I had moved into the guest room and there was (and is) a distinct chill in the air between my wife and me.
I also wanted to tell Justin because I felt that, because of our relationship, I simply couldn’t pretend that everything was the same. I had changed a great deal while he was away, and I wanted to be honest and open with him about the cause of these changes.
So, I had decided some time ago that I was going to tell him as soon as possible after his arrival back home. On Saturday, we arranged to go to lunch. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to approach the subject. With my daughter who is two years younger than Justin, the decision had been made for me (as I related here). With Justin, that wasn’t the case. How does one broach such a subject?
As I cast about in my mind for a “hook” – a way to launch into these unknown waters – it occurred to me to begin the conversation by discussing how my attitude towards the Church had changed while he was away – something I had mentioned in several e-mails to him over the past few months. This turned out to be an inspired approach.
As we headed toward the place we had chosen to eat, I started off by stating the obvious: things were “different” between Justin’s mom and me. I told him I wanted to explain what was going on and how we had arrived at that point. I reviewed what had been happening over the past few years between my wife and me and, in particular, discussed how my feelings toward divorce had evolved (a topic for another post sometime). I also talked about some “epiphanies” that I had experienced this past summer (also a topic for another post) that had helped me to understand some things about myself (and which had prepared the way, I am convinced, for my eventual coming out).
I then segued into a discussion of how these changes had affected my attitude toward the Church and had led me to question a lot of things – not so much my “testimony,” but more my feelings about the role of the Church in my life. This, in turn, led right into a discussion of President Packer’s talk at October Conference. Without having previously mentioned anything about homosexuality, I simply read (I had pulled over to the side of the street by this point) the offensive passage from Packer’s talk.
I then took a deep breath and told Justin that I had known since I was 12 that I was attracted to men. After that point, I’m not sure exactly what I said, except that I know I told my son that I am gay, that hearing Packer’s talk had caused an eruption within me that had practically forced me to finally accept this about myself and to finally stop hating myself because of it. I described how I had decided to come out to my sisters, then to my wife. I described her initial reaction, then the events that followed, leading up to her unequivocal “request” for a divorce.
By the time I had launched into this part of the discussion, I don’t think I could have stopped if I had wanted to. As all of this came pouring out of my mouth, I occasionally glanced over at my son to make sure he didn’t have a look of disgust on his face. He didn’t. What I saw was a look of intense concentration. When I finally stopped talking and looked at him and asked him “what he thought,” he simply said, “Dad, I will always love you.”
We reached over and hugged each other as we sat in my car, parked on the side of a busy street. He then continued, “This will have absolutely no effect on our relationship or what I think of you, Dad. When I think of my Dad, I think of the times, starting when I was little, of when you played ball with me in the back yard, and when you brought me home candies from your office. Those are my earliest memories of you. You have always been a special person to me, Dad, and you always will be. I love you.”
Of course, by this point, I’m not ashamed to tell you, I was pretty blubbery. Justin then said something else that warmed my heart. “I think that part of the reason that I don’t have a problem in accepting this,” he said, “is because of the way I was raised.” Those of you who have read my post about being outed by my teenage daughter may recall that she said much the same thing: because my wife and I have tried to raise our children to be open-minded, tolerant and accepting of others, including gays (in no small part because they have a close family relation (besides me) who is gay), she and Justin both felt that it was easy to accept this revelation about their father.
Justin said other things, as did I, before we finally continued on our way to lunch. I expressed to him how much happier I am now – despite the difficulties between my wife and me – and how I believe my coming out will allow me to be a better father because I will be a much happier person.
We discussed the realities of the current situation and what will likely lie in the future – all of which he is okay with. I had been somewhat concerned that the “break-up” of our marriage might upset and depress him, but such was not the case. So much has happened in his own life in the past couple of years that he had already let go of the “perfect picture syndrome” – i.e., the belief that, if the façade of the perfect Mormon family cracks or shatters, life will no longer have meaning, will be over and cease to have lost meaning. We are both on a journey – Justin and me - and we are both creating a new meaning in which the Gospel has and will have a place, a role; but neither of us are quite sure at this point what this role with look like.
Knowing that my son knows and that I have his love and support is tremendously empowering to me. This gives me added courage to continue down the path on which I have embarked. The journey continues …