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How to tell my sons


Graeme

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My wife and I have just discussed the topic of telling our sons that I'm gay.

It's a tough thing to do and we only have one chance to do it right. My wife is going to ring the counsellor that helped her cope with the news that her husband is gay, but I thought I'd ask for advice here. I don't know if anyone has gone through this themselves, but I'd really like advice.

For background information, for those that don't know, my sons are currently eight and ten. I have a strong desire to tell them before the oldest boy hits puberty, because I don't want things complicated by the hormones that'll go through his system at that point.

Any advice on how we should tell them that their dad is gay? I'd probably have to explain that what means, too, since they'll only have a vague understanding.

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I won't presume to say I know how to do what you want, but I have a few comment that MIGHT help, or maybe make it even harder for you. Kids blame themselves if 'something goes wrong' with a marriage, and it is incredibly common to have them blame themselves for a divorce happening. Whatever you do, you must absolutely make it clear that this predates them even being in existence, therefore cannot be their fault. You also need to make it clear that there is no 'fault' at all, as nobody has done anything wrong.

Now for the possible help. I have found that leading up to a very serious announcement with implications of doom and disaster about to happen, and that I have something horribly momentous to announce, has made the clarification seem totally anti-climactic and almost unimportant. If they think you are maybe dying of cancer or some other disease, or maybe planning a divorce and never see them again, your orientation is going to be a relief. If you can somehow compare your orientation to maybe one of them being left handed, or having a stutter, or some other permanent and non-standard attribute, so much the better.

My feeling is that emphasizing that you are telling them because you want to be honest, as you have expected them to be honest, but that nothing in the family will change unless they make it change. You have already made your peace with your wife, and both of you are working together to make the family a loving one, and that will not change just because of you telling them. The thrust of the talk should be about having an honest, open, and loving relationship amongst you all.

Kids are generally remarkably flexible as long as their core support is not eroded or threatened. Rather than that happening here, you are increasing their participation in your family dynamic, not taking it away from them.

Good luck.

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Can you articulate the reason you feel the need to tell them? I can see for and against arguments, but your individual reason perhaps would suggest an avenue to take in talking to them.

C

Firstly, I want to say that my wife and I are not getting divorced. I came out to her five years ago and, after some initial angst, I'd like to think our marriage is stronger now than it was before, because I'm no longer keeping secrets. She's a very, very remarkable woman, to be able to cope with having a gay husband, but she loves me and I love her, and so I'm staying faithful.

My number one reason for wanting to tell them is simply honesty. I don't want them to find out some other way, and to believe that we've been keeping secrets from them. That's why I want to do it before the eldest boy hits puberty -- the hormones will just complicate everything.

It is not urgent to tell them, and since I'm a non-practising homosexual, there's no obvious urgency, but I don't want them to find out when they're older and wonder why we were keeping secrets from them.

Does this help?

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That certainly speaks to my suggestion, doesn't it?

It does :hug: You picked the motivation perfectly. Unfortunately, it's the execution that I'll looking for advice on. I honestly don't expect anything concrete because only I and my wife know the precise circumstances and the nature of the boys, but any suggestions will be gratefully received :hug: You have certainly helped there, and I'd like to say thank you for your advice. You're reinforcing the basic approach we intend to take -- being honest.

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I guess I have another take on it.

Everything I've read tells me kids don't want to know what goes on in their parents' bedroom. It's simply something they refuse to think about. It's gross.

At the ages they are now, they don't understand sex at all. They don't understand the emotions involved with it, it's importance in a marriage, even how adult relationships work. And if they do have any understanding of what you're saying at all, the effect will be to scare them, knowing your marriage might not be as solid as they've felt it is.

You'll be telling them something they have no context to understand. If you'd tell them you're dying, or you're going to have an arm amputated, or you're going to get divorced, or you're adopting another child, they can understand those things. If you tell them you're interested sexually in men, but are keep the marriage alive through communication and counseling and love, they'll have no idea what you're talking about. And if you try to explain it, you'll be bringing up all sort of things they're not ready for. How do you tell kids that age you're a non-practicing homosexual in any way that will be understandable to them, that they can understand the impact of?

Kids don't want to know, or think about, their parents' sexuality. My recollection, all those years ago, is that when I started thinking about and feeling sexual urges, I sort of felt I'd invented it. Then I found out my friends were experiencing the same things. But my parents, in my mind, were blissfully unaware of any of this.

I simply don't see a need to tell them. Honesty is fine and good, but you don't tell them everything now, and by not doing it, you're not being dishonest. You're simply insulating them from things that aren't age appropriate. I doubt you tell them how much money you make, or how much life insurance you carry, or about the time you cheated on a test in school, or about any of the many other things that aren't part of their existence. This isn't being dishonest. It's controlling their environment and allowing them to be kids, unburdened by the cares and realities of the adult world.

I just think this isn't anything they need to know about, and I don't think they'll find out later and be irked with you for not telling them. This isn't something they'll learn on the playground at school. How would they?

This of course is simply my opinion, one way to look at it. I see lots of problem that can come for giving them too much information, and not much downside for not doing so.

And I feel for you, facing this issue and not sure what to do. I'm sure whatever it is, it'll be the right choice for you.

C

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Cole, I understand what you're saying, and that's why we haven't said anything until now. However, since my wife and I discuss gay issues from time to time, and discuss my stories, it's only a matter of time before the boys find out I'm gay. I would much prefer to tell them myself than them to find out and either accuse me, or hold it inside, wondering if what they think is really true. As the eldest boy will be going through puberty sometime in the next couple of years, it could be very, very confusing for him. I want to short-circuit that confusion.

However, what you've told me is to not let matters of sexuality dominate the conversation, and I can see that you're right in that respect. The boys do not need to know anything about my sex life -- they just need an age-appropriate understanding of homosexuality (which I think we can do) and that I love my wife and nothing is going to change.

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Yes, that approach is certainly best. From my understanding, kids always face everything from a standpoing of, how does this affect me? Being entirely nonthreathening when telling them this is important. They should understand what you're telling them is simply something that you want them to know, not something that will have any affect at all on their lives. I think if they understand that, then they won't worry about it, and that should be the main thrust of what happens.

Good luck, man. This is tough stuff.

C

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Graeme-

I have no idea what to tell you. The culture is just different enough to make anything that I might add irrelevant.

All I can do is say that I am confident that your gentle good nature is probably the most important thing that you will bring to that conversation.

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Just to throw in another wrinkle: what if one of your sons turns out to be gay? If you have hidden away your 'dirty little secret' there is likely to be a lot of unneeded angst there. If you are open, honest and proud (I didn't say flaunting) then if one of them turns out to be gay there will be a much easier time for him as he can be honest and open too.

Although parents' sexuality is not quite appropriate for 'soon to be' teens, there is the consideration that the family is more than just parents with sheltered and helpless offspring, and that EVERYONE is part of the whole, and needs to be trusted with important information. At 6 years old, I knew about our family finances, and unlike other kids who would whine about wanting an ice cream or something else, I helped out by not doing that (and therefore not causing stress to my parents) and collecting pop bottles to save towards an ice cream for us all to share. (Yes, we were poor as hell and shared a single ice cream cone. There was always food and shelter, but luxuries were scarce.) Although some think this is cruel, I have to look at my own upbringing and say that I think it teaches true family values, as opposed to selfish values. A man and a woman, two men, or two women together don't make a family, it is their attitude that makes the family. Parents and kids don't make a family either. It is the attitude of inclusion that makes the family.

Appropriately encoded telling the truth is going to be infinitely more beneficial for your family than keeping it all secret.

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Graeme,

I'm probably closer in age to your sons than others on this forum. Even though the difference (roughly 10 years) doesn't sound like a lot it is huge. But not so huge that I can't relate to when I was their ages. When I was a senior in high school the younger of my two sisters was 9 years old.

So from that perspective what do I think?

Your sons are still too young for this conversation. I'd wait one year before discussing this subject with your older son, then another year before discussing it with your younger son. I agree with what Cole said about what young kids think about sex. Other than knowing terms for genitals and using them as swear words I didn't have any real concept of adult sex. I especially didn't have any concept that my folks would have sex... Ewww!

You need to be ready for whatever questions you get from your sons: "Are you a fag?" "Will I be gay?" "Do you look at guys?" "Do you like guys instead of girls?" "Do you still love mum?" "Do grandma and grandpa know?" "What are my friends going to say?" "Why did this happen?" "Are you going to change back?"

Another thing you need to think about is the possibility that one of your boys might accidentally "spill the beans" to a friend and the story would spread. You need to head that off, but be prepared if it happens.

Colin :hug:

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I agree with Cole and Colinian. I think that, while fathers and sons should be open and honest with each other, there's still things that can be kept private.

At the same time, I wouldn't lie. When I came out more than 25 years ago, my policy with my friends was never to volunteer anything about my personal life, but not hide anything either. If they asked directly, I told them the absolute truth.

My thinking is, kids don't need to know anything about your personal life, especially at an age where they don't understand sexuality. If you still love your wife and intend to keep the marriage going, then my advice would be to let this be only between the two of you. As the great philosopher Michael Jackson once sang: "ain't nobody's business but mine and my baby's."

If your children grow to adulthood and the subject comes up, then I'd tell them the truth, but emphasizing that you still have great affection for your wife and that you chose to stay together. (I'll leave it to you to decide where you are on the Kinsey scale.)

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Oh boy.

In general I think as do some others who've commented that your boys are too young to need that information, but I see two reasons why you want to. Your fatherly instincts, it seems, are driving you to tell the boys - you've said you have a strong desire to tell them before the oldest hits puberty. Well, you know your boys and if your instincts have served you well in the past maybe you should trust them this time. Secondly, gay topics are discussed in your household and you think your boys will find out sooner or later anyway and you'd rather tell them than have them find out, and maybe suspect you were hiding it from them? That too seems like a good reason to tell them.

But WHAT precisely do you want to tell them? Daddy is attracted to other men? That could make them feel terribly insecure and since, pre-puberty, they won't have experienced the power of sexual attraction first hand, they may struggle to grasp the meaning of what they've been told. It might come across as 'Daddy has an obsessional mental illness'!

I've read expert guidance (we all know how 'helpful' expert guidance on parenting can be!) that suggests that much of a child's sex education can be delivered in the form of answers to his questions. At age 5, when he asks 'where do babies come from?' the answer is 'out of Mummy's tummy' but there is no need at that stage to explain how the sperm got in there and fertilised the egg which grew into the foetus.

Is there therefore scope for maybe just expanding the amount of discussion on gay topics that takes place in the household until one or other of the boys asks a question about it, and then simply include in the answer something like 'Grown-ups feel very strong attraction to another person, and that sometimes helps them fall in love, which in turn helps them make a strong and happy family together. Usually they're attracted that way to someone of the other sex but sometimes it works differently and the attraction is to their own sex. It doesn't have to be a problem, and it doesn't always make a difference to who you fall in love with. A man might have that sense of attraction to other men, but still fall in love with a woman. That's how it happened with Daddy. Either way it's good if there's love.'

Once you tell your boys, you are effectively out of the closet for good. Either they will be fascinated and will tell all their friends immediately, or they will take it in their stride and will then mention it casually in conversation to their friends at some point in the future. It isn't fair and wouldn't work to tell them, and then ask them to keep it a secret.

There is nothing more despicably hypocritical than someone offering advice on a difficult moral issue, to someone who has acted honourably and wishes to feel their way to acting honourably again, when the adviser hasn't even got to first base on the self-same issue. Nevertheless, somehow I have sufficient temerity to attempt it.

My heart goes out to you. I admire you and your wife immensely for what you have achieved and I wish you the very best of success as you contemplate this further step. From what I can glean from reading your stories and your posts, you are a wonderful parent and there's little doubt that the boys will grow up well-balanced and secure, loved and happy.

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I think you teach as much by example as by discussion. Since you and your wife are actively working at developing a lifestyle that includes accommodation to your orientation and open conversation about your writing, this will, over time, offer your sons ample opportunity to perceive that yours is a solid, established family situation with features of openmindedness and inclusion. That is who their mother and father are, and that is the example they will see for themselves as they mature and become more aware. As they come to you with questions about sexuality, or as you perceive the need to provide them with "the lecture" about sexuality, you will have already provided the groundwork they will need for you to include discussion about the orientations available to men and women, and about how you and their mother have worked it out.

James Merkin

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Graeme, I have looked at all the very sensible replies, but still have some misgivings about what you actually tell your sons.

I cannot help but wonder what your boys have heard at school about gays. Have they been under peer pressure to adopt a negative attitude? Have they adopted a negative attitude to gays simply because of what they have overheard at school or on the media or in movies? These are not questions, for you to answer publicly. I want to merely draw your attention to my concern that you need to ascertain their attitude towards gays before talking to them. They may have no knowledge of sex or gays, or they may have an idea that it is wrong from their peers or teachers, or church.

Even if they have no knowledge, or if they are not biased against gays, I would be inclined to initially let them (almost) overhear your wife and you agreeing that you both believe, "people should be able to love whom they want."

Same sex relationships are discussed in the media and in some schools. Do you know how much they already know?

Have your boys had the stranger danger talk? Do they know to report anyone who touches them in private places?

These again, are only questions I mention for your consideration and I appreciate they are difficult for any parent to find out and discuss with their children, but I think you need to know, because it may affect how you talk to your boys, and how they respond to anything you tell them. Kids can misunderstand what they are told. The emphasis has to be on them feeling that you will not condemn them if they are gay or straight, that you will love them regardless of whom they love.

Once you have set this standard of love for them, then they will hopefully adopt it as well. You cannot know how their attitude will alter as they grow older, but it makes sense to me that they should be exposed to you as their father, having a loving attitude that accepts diversity, even if you do not quite express it in those terms.

From the above I then believe it is only necessary for you to let your boys know, when they are older, that you yourself might have been tempted to explore a gay relationship, if you had not fallen in love with their mother. You can add that their mother knows this and accepts it, if you want.

I really think that is honesty enough, as you do love your wife and your sons, and in your own words, you are a non-practising homosexual.

As such you stand by your family and try to do everything you can to raise your sons lovingly, giving them every chance to maximise their potential as loving human beings without prejudice.

Frankly, I think you are above all else, an honest loving man who regards himself as gay, but is in truth a loving father and husband.

It is that honesty I would share with your boys in your situation.

I wish I could say that this will ensure your boys will understand, but I cannot and neither can any of us know how they will come to regard you or themselves as they grow. I do think they have every chance of growing into young men you will be proud to call your sons.

It is difficult Graeme, and I hope things turn out for the best.

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I of course, have no help to offer you Graeme, just encouragment and support for whatever decision feels right for you and your family.

And here's :wav: for your remarkable wife for her courage and commitment, and the multitude of personal resources that one must call upon to find creative, and ultimately liveable solutions to challenges that nothing in life has prepared us for.

A fine example of a deeply personal experience having Global, Political, and Universal implications.

Effective soutions have to work for everyone concerned, or they are just another part of the problem

When the world is ready for effective solutions, you'll have some stories to tell.

:hug: Follow your heart, then, it has some history of being reliable.

Tracy

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Thank you, everyone :wav: You've certainly given us a lot to think about.

One thing -- both my wife and I are very much aware that once we tell the boys, the news will almost certainly get out. While scary, we're prepared to live with the consequences, up to and including having to move the boys to a new school. They go to a Christian school and while I would like to think that the teachers there are kind and generous, I'm not too sure of all the parents -- at one school meeting someone asked if the school would boycott playing sport with another Christian school because that school was owned by the Uniting Church which allows practising homosexuals to become ministers (and that was the precise reason that parent wanted the school to do the boycotting).

Colin -- there's one piece of your advice that my wife and I have already decided not to do (before you mentioned it). We will be telling both boys at the same time because we think it is unfair for one boy to keep secrets from the other. However, I'll pass on your comments regarding the timings. I'll admit that I'm the one who thinks that soon is the right time to tell them -- my wife would be happy if we put it off for a bit longer.

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Graeme,

I'm still thinking of what to say. (I did comment some at CW.)

However, I have a different take on this than some of the other replies.

Your being gay, yet happily married to their mother, is part of the larger issue. More to that point in a bit.

Your sons do need to know. It's part of who their mom and dad are and it makes up some part of who your sons are. Being open and honest with them now, and telling them as much as they can absorb, will help them grow into the young men you and your wife see already beginning within them.

It is not "too early" for either of them, and that relates to my "more in a minute" larger topic. For that, I'd like to offer something from my own growing up.

I have said before that at 11, I was a naive, shy boy who knew next to nothing about sex. A classmate and I got in over our heads, and we had a bad experience because of that. If I had known more, if I'd been more comfortable, and if my friend had been, then things might have been much different and far better for us.

My point there is simple: Age 11 (or 10 or even 8) is not too young for a child to learn about his or her body and what is and is not appropriate for him or her, in teaching that is fitting for the child's level of understanding and emotional maturity.

Far better for your sons to be taught by you and your wife, in what you know and in what you believe is right, than to learn the hard way, or to be hurt in any way, or in ways that may have a lifelong effect on them.

From what I know of you and your wife, you'll be careful and have already probably been teaching them.

They do deserve to know and need to know. If they understand now that the two people they love and trust the most, can be a loving family, when one of those partners is gay, and when they see that a gay man is a good father and friend...that will make a great difference in their lives.

All that talk about gays that we all know happens? What better way to learn than by example, of how and why the talk is not true. -- Your stories are some of the best examples of how to teach your kids that I can think of. Codey's are too, naturally.

Above all, follow your hearts. You both love them. Trust your abilities to bring them up over time, the best ways you know how.

I happen to admire you and your wife, Graeme. You have better common sense and a lot of love between you. What more could the boys need?

...And I was going to write you about it later. LOL, you know I likely still will.

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I've seen good arguments here for telling them and not telling them.

Cole said some very wise words, though. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't do it and wait, for the same reasons.

But that's easy to say, from this distance. You are the only one who can know how your sons will presumably react.

One thing to add; if you are going to tell them, do it together with your wife. Let them see inmmediately that you both sorted it out, that they immediately can see that things are good between you and that there still will be a loving, caring and solid family.

Because there is, I can see in what you are telling here.

Respect. For both of you. And your boys.

Wish you good luck with this situation. But you all will manage, I'm sure of that.

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