A mostly-closeted divorced man who lives south of the Mason-Dixon line recently found evidence that his son is also gay. The son is in his teens and has struggled with an exceptionally low self-image for years.How do you react to this? Do you feel sorry for the son? For the father? For both?
Finding proof that his son is gay made the father feel profoundly sad. He fears for the difficult life he will have. He says the last thing he wanted for his son is to be gay.
My reaction surprised me. I felt anger - white hot anger. I can't believe that any man who has experienced an attraction to men himself would consider discovering his son's homosexuality to be such a horrific event.
I get the father's point that being gay is not easy. I also understand that this was his private reaction. What I can't get over is that the boy already hates himself yet the father's reaction implies that the self-hate is warranted. Or, at least, he believes the boy deserves his pity. Either way, he's validating the boy's self-hatred. As a parent, that deeply offends me.
There are a whole lot of really shitty things that can happen to a child: disease, abuse, accidents, stupid life-altering mistakes...but when those horrible things happen, in my view, it's a parent's responsibility to wrap their arms around their child and tell them, with rock-solid confidence, that they love and support them, no matter what. Offering pity might seem like a kind and empathetic thing to do, but it only provides adult confirmation that the kid's fears are legitimate. It's like telling a child who is already depressed about his grades that you feel bad too - because those grades are likely to be the best he'll ever have.
Maybe I shouldn't have said anything to the father, especially because he said he did not want advice, but I was so upset that I couldn't help myself:
As his father, your opinion about your son's sexuality is probably more important to him than anyone else's. To be loved and completely accepted by you will give him tremendous confidence and reassurance. If there was ever a moment in his life when he needed you to stand tall, be proud and exude supreme confidence, this is it.I don't know if any parent who suspects their child is gay will ever read this, but just in case, I must take the opportunity to say that your child's decision to love or hate himself - possibly for the rest of his life - might depend on your reaction when he or she comes out to you. In my view, as a parent, there is only one appropriate reaction and that is to celebrate - celebrate your good parenting and celebrate that you've shown your child unconditional love and support. Any negative reaction on your part, including pity, will eventually come back to haunt you. Either your child will internalize your negativity and take it out on himself in horrible ways, or, he'll grow to resent you. There is no possible good outcome if you react negatively. None.
Homosexuality is no different than being born with blue eyes, red hair, left-handed or albino skin. More and more people are realizing there's no difference between those things, especially young people. Treat his news as you would if he was any one of those things. Truly, it's not a big deal, and anyone who wants to make it a big deal is just going to reinforce whatever ignorant, negative ideas he already has in his head. Show him pictures of many of the incredibly successful athletes and performers who are gay. Wouldn't it be awesome to be Neil Patrick Harris, Matt Bomer or Robbie Rogers? Yes it would!
Your son is gay? Good for him. More power to him.
This applies to many other "bad" situations too. Your daughter gets pregnant? Or elopes with no warning? Freaking out won't help, nor will talking smack about your new son-in-law. Love and support - that's what your kid needs, not a lecture and criticism.
As a parent I realize it's impossible to always be positive. And in some less important situations, being negative can be actually be helpful. But for the really big stuff, for the things that can never be changed, there's only one way to respond and that's with a big smile, open arms and unconditional acceptance.
I'll step off my soapbox now. If you'd like to share your thoughts on the subject, please do so below.