Five years ago when I was 40, I came out. It was a rough process, to the say the least. Coming out at that age means dealing with a lot of emotional baggage, especially if you’ve been living a publicly straight life up until then. Coming out at 40 meant not just starting a new chapter in my life, but actually rebooting my life altogether.
My biggest goal was to come out responsibly. That meant being sensitive to my family and long-time friends, not all of whom might be comfortable with the idea of Straight Me becoming Gay Me.
About three weeks after I came out to the people in my immediate circle, my parents flew to town for a visit, and I came out to them.
That first conversation with my parents isn’t the actual story. That went fine. My parents are incredible people. They were great about everything. They said exactly what I’d hoped they would: that they loved me. They wanted me to be happy and healthy. And that was that.
After their visit ended and they flew home, though, I still worried about them.
In particular, I worried about my dad.
My father and I are close. I’m an only child, the only son, and even though he and I didn’t always see eye to eye on every issue, we always recognized how lucky were were to have each other. But like many men of his generation, he’s never been one to share difficult emotions.
So a couple weeks after they’d flown back to their home in Colorado, I emailed him. At the time, I was living day by day, ending a 10-year marriage, watching and worrying about my 9-year-old daughter, spending time in therapy, journaling the crap out of every fear and anxiety that was washing over me. I emailed my dad to check in.
How are you doing out there? I asked. I just wanted to let you know that we can talk, if you like – I don’t know what you’re feeling right now about me being gay, but I’m here if you want to talk.
His first email response to me was short. He said he was fine, life back at home was proceeding normally.
Normal, that is, except, for one thing. His answer to my question about how he was feeling:
I’m feeling a sense of profound loss.
A busy work day kept him from elaborating, so I wrote him back to say that, when he had more time, I’d like to learn more about what loss he was experiencing. I wanted to help. The next day he followed up with another email:
My sense of loss is not because you’re gay. I haven’t lost anything. You’re still my son and I love you.
Every morning, I look at the sleeping lady with whom I have shared my whole life. I think about how profoundly blessed I am to have experienced this unbelievable relationship I have with your mother. She and I have shared everything from the beginning. We were poor together; we counted her restaurant tips on the bed when we lived in the mountains. She always had total faith in me and believed I would make it. When we got married she had a year's worth of college. Fourteen years, I watched her graduate from law school. She is everything to me.
I am saddened because I fear you will never experience anything like the relationship I have had with your mom. That is the reason I feel a sense of loss.
I read that email many times. My father wasn’t mourning something he’d lost. He was mourning something he thought I would never have after coming out.
My dad has known other gay people, of course. He’s a fan of equality. He wants good things for all people. But he’s also someone who has lived 60-plus years in a culture which tells us that gay people, at their core, are different from everyone else. It’s one of the foundational ideas that makes some people still question gay marriage: the notion that gay relationships lack something important, that the integrity of that relationship is compromised. Gay couples aren’t really “together.”
I wanted my dad to feel better. I needed him to not worry about me, to not worry that my life after coming out as a gay man would be one of solitude and isolation. So I wrote him back.
Thanks for articulating what you’re feeling. I understand your concern about the life I will have now that I’ve come out, and I hope you’ll feel better when I tell you this:
I am not sacrificing the ability to have a meaningful relationship by coming out. In fact, the opposite is true. Now that I'm going to live openly and honestly, there's a much stronger possibility that I WILL meet someone with whom I can have such relationship. It will be different. I'm essentially starting over at age 40. This scares me a lot.
But the thing is, coming out is the first step I have to take in order to find that person: the guy with whom I can share everything, just like you and Mom do; someone I can support, who will support me, someone in whom I can have faith, who will have faith in me; someone I can stand beside and know for certain that we're on a road together. In fact, the only way I’ll be able to find that person is if I live my own life openly and honestly.
I sent him the email, he sent me a thank you note. We never discussed the topic further. I’m not sure if my words convinced him, or made him feel better.
But a couple years later, I flew home to visit my folks, and I brought my boyfriend with me (who would later become my husband). I watched my father shake his hand. I watched as the three of us sat out on the sunny patio in the backyard and drank a few beers in the late spring afternoon. My dad asked all the basic Dad Questions, and my boyfriend shared stories about his life, his travels, his job. I saw the relief and understanding on my father’s face when he looked at the two of us sitting next to each other. He saw I was the happiest I’d been in a very long time.
My husband and I have been married for two years. We’re just getting started on our adventure. And here’s what I can say:
Every morning, I look at the sleeping man next to me, with whom I’m sharing my life. I think about how blessed I am to be with him. He’s the person. For hundreds of reasons, he’s so the one.
I’m good here, Dad. I promise.