We were The Duncan 5. United. Tight-knit. Loving, goofy, fun, and a little bit of crazy chaos. Keyword: were.
Telling Our Children Their Dad is Gay
Matt and I didn’t know how to tell our boys and friends that he had come out as gay. We asked a counselor for guidance and nothing seemed quite right. Honestly, there’s just not one right way to do this, and no matter how much you prepare, there is no way around the fact that this is going to be one heart-wrenching discussion. I felt that it was Matt’s story and that he needed to tell the boys in his own way. My only request was that we were all together as a family. I wanted to appear united as a “couple”, and I needed our boys to hear the news at the same time and in the same words.
Matt told me that Ethan was flying home to surprise me for his first visit from college. Well. He was in for a surprise. A horrible surprise. We decided to tell the boys when Ethan arrived. In the weeks before Ethan flew home, we kept the “news” hidden. However, Aidan and Nolan sensed something was wrong. As hard as I tried, I simply could not hide my devastation.
At one point, Nolan asked “Mom, is there bad news? Am I dying and you’re not telling me?”
Hiding was causing the boys unbearable angst. I felt so guilty for my silence and devastated for what I knew was coming.
Saturday morning of Ethan’s “surprise” visit, we called the boys into the kitchen for “a family meeting”; in retrospect, our last. We gathered around that beautiful island that I loved and that had witnessed so many amazing memories, birthdays, parties, celebrations, traditions. As he had shared with me, Matt simply stated “I am gay.”
Oh God. Heart-stopping. The looks on their faces. The stillness. The silence. The blank stares.
“Does this mean you are getting a divorce?”, Aidan finally asked. “Yes”, we answered. My heart shattered.
The disassembly of our family as I knew it, set in motion, with no way back. I told Ethan, Aidan, and Nolan that I was proud of Matt, loved him, and supported him. This was not a secret we said; they could share the news however and with whomever they so chose. We did not want the boys to carry the burden of a secret – as Matt had for so long. We learned all too well the devastating impact of a secret.
The conversation was brief; as with so much from that first year, I don’t recall many of the details. I remember how I felt. Empty, lost, devastated, afraid, guilty, like the worst mother in the world. Like I had failed my children in the most colossal way, failed as their mom. Yet trying to remain strong, positive, graceful, loving for our boys. They didn’t say much; what was there to say? News like that requires time. And processing. The boys hugged Matt and retreated to their rooms.
My first podcast interview is with our oldest son. Ethan recounts his memories of that day and the months and years to follow. He shares his struggles being a teen son of a (newly) gay dad and his brave journey to recovery. To say that I am proud of Ethan for sharing this personal, uncomfortable, painful story is an understatement. I applaud his bravery and vulnerability. Wow.
Telling our Friends My Husband is Gay
Now. How to tell our friends? Matt struggled. I struggled. I mean, what’s the protocol? Who do you tell first? Do you pop by with a bottle of wine, and after “cheers”, slip in “Oh hey, I’m gay.” Do you invite friends over for dinner and then drop the news during appetizers? Should you text, email, call? Post it on Facebook? Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to minimize this. It was excruciating. I pulled away from friends; they knew something was terribly wrong. I – we- didn’t know how to find the right words. I was at a loss. So we suffered in silence.
After a few weeks, a friend texted me. “Kirsten, I know.” The gig was up. I was terrified yet relieved. I let Matt know; initially upset, thinking I had shared the news before he was ready (though truly…one is never really ready for this). Aidan had shared the news with a friend, who shared it with his mom, who shared it with a friend, who shared it with another friend. I wished there was a heat map of cellular activity of that day! That news spread – and fast. It was like an un-fun game of telephone, and yet the garbled outcome remained the truth. As much as I wished it were not true…the end message – that Matt came out – was successfully delivered.
In some ways, it was a relief to not have to find the words to tell our neighborhood. And as a bonus, most found out at the same time. No worries about playing favorites and who gets to hear first. After years of living in fear (see my blog, Sleuthing), I felt free. After nearly a month of suffering in my grief alone, I was finally able to turn to my friends for support.
Advice for Parents
- Let your children know you love them
- You know your family best, no-one else is inside of your home, your family. You and your spouse need to tell your children in a way that is comfortable for you and yet honors your children. There is no single way to do this.
- Give your children space and make yourself available for questions; answer them honestly
- Don’t expect your children to carry this secret; grant them the freedom to tell (or not) who they wish, how they wish
- Check in often with your children; ask them how they are doing
- Encourage (don’t force) your children to see a therapist
- Throughout the process, allow your children to see you processing your emotions
- Let your children know you love them
Note: Because I was in such a state of shock, I did not initially seek out resources on-line. As I felt alone and filled with shame, I didn’t ask for help. I wish I would have known about COLAGE (“COLAGErs are people with one or more LGBTQIA+ parent or caregiver – they are skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities”). Their website has excellent resources, and I highly recommend perusing this site if you have children or are a child of an LGBTQIA+ parent.