|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
28. The Parental Disclosure (1989-90)
The Au Pairs
amended and edited excerpts from a letter to my sister in Malawi,
…when I went to Blyth on the weekend
after Christmas, I decided to "come out" to Father and Sally
[stepmother]. The initial reaction was quite promising: Sally flung
her arms round me and kissed me, saying something like "Darling,
I always knew!", while Father said that he'd also already
realised and that there was no problem. However, it became
increasingly clear that he'd had absolutely no idea at all beforehand,
and that I'd dropped a huge bombshell on him. He went very quiet for
the rest of the evening (although perfectly polite) and went to bed
fairly early. When I tried to bring the subject up again that night,
he said "Can we just drop it for now, please".
The moment he went to bed, Sally said
that although she'd known about me and K for ages, she was amazed that
I'd told Father, and that it was a big mistake to do so. We then sat
up and talked about the whole thing for the next four hours, during
which time I polished off at least two full bottles of wine, plus a
load of brandy as well - God, did I need alcohol. Although Sally did
say the odd peculiar thing (she was asking me about little boys at one
stage), she was 90% totally OK about things, and was very accepting
and supportive. I explained why I felt I had to tell Father about me
and K, and she actually listened to me, accepted my arguments, and
changed her opinions.
Father remained quiet for the rest of
the next day: he's always behaved peculiarly, I know, but this was a
different type of peculiar. We went to this appalling lunchtime
"do" at GC's (the timeshare merchant - enough said?). At
these functions, Father normally pushes me round everybody in the
room, introducing me to all and sundry and showing me off:
"Michael's been to University, haven't you Michael?". Well,
there was none of that this time. However, there was one person who he
did introduce me to, who turned up completely out of the blue: Mrs.
A-----, who used to teach us both. She remembered me very clearly,
even though she hadn't heard anything of me since 1968, and wanted to
know all about me, in detail. When we somehow got onto my lack of
skill in the kitchen, she said kindly, "What you need is a
girlfriend to cook for you", at which point, Father just buried
his face in his hands.
Father gave me a lift back to
Nottingham, but first of all we went back to Blyth to pick some old
records up. Father opened the garage door, stood in front of all the
clutter inside, and said in his best melodramatic voice, "This -
is all that's left. These are the tatters - of what was once a
f***ing good family".
That was just about all he said
between Blyth and Nottingham; the journey was conducted in almost
complete silence, broken only by Father sighing very heavily at
regular intervals. I just didn't feel I dared say anything at that
stage - I felt as if I was setting next to a box of gunpowder just
waiting for someone to ignite it. So I decided to ride it out, keep my
head down and wait for a better time in the future.
When we got to Nottingham, Father
didn't even come with me to the door of the house, even though I was
laden down with stuff. This was very significant, as he normally
always comes in, says hello to K and has a quick drink of something.
As I got to the door, he was getting back into the car and banged his
head on the roof as he was getting in -it sounds ridiculous, but I
really think he did it deliberately. So as I was going inside, he was
doubled up and groaning loudly and repeatedly in a ludicrously over
the top manner.
During the next week, Sally rang me
twice, and on both occasions was friendly and supportive, wishing me a
Happy New Year and so on. I also had a phone call from [my aunt] that
week, who immediately launched in: "Now then, about your being
gay - it's no surprise to me and [my uncle], we put two and two
together years ago, but thought it best not to say anything."
Father had rung her up and told her everything. At this pitch, I
realised that every member of my family worth considering was fully
behind me, and had no problems about my sexuality. Only Father
This became startlingly apparent the
following Friday night - exactly a week after I'd dropped the
bombshell. Father rang up in a real state, and ranted on for about an
hour. At times, he was barely coherent, kept losing the thread of what
he was saying, went off onto all sorts of irrelevant sidetracks,
especially about his first marriage, and kept calling me
"Sally", which disturbed me as much as, if not more than,
the content of what he was saying, as getting people's names mixed up
is a clear sign that something is very badly wrong with him.
Well, he really let rip. He accused
me of breaking up his marriage with Sally by coming out, and said that
Sally was blackmailing him (she was supposed to have said something
along the lines of, "You keep quiet about your children for the
sake of my children"). He said that I'd given her ammunition to
use against him, even though he admitted that she'd been accusing me
of being gay for years. I would have thought that being honest with
her would actually rob her of a piece of ammunition, wouldn't you? He
said things like "Once again, a [mother’s maiden name]
offspring is destroying my life". He said that he'd been to
church and prayed for me. He said that he'd got out his Bible and read
it, and that he knew homosexuality was a sin. I don't believe a word
of it - what's with all this new found religious mania all of a
sudden? Throughout the whole conversation, he seemed to have lost all
grasp of the distinction between fantasy and reality; he was lying
continuously, but I think that some of the time, he didn't even
realise that he was lying. I tried to get an assurance from him that
he wasn't being violent towards Sally, and did in fact get a grudging
denial, given very hastily, but then he said, "If Sally calls you
a f***ing queer, I hit her". When I challenged him on the
morality of this, he said that just as he couldn't accept my
morality, so I would just have to live with his morality. That
was a good one, equating my love for K with violence against women!
The conversation ended with him ringing off while in mid-sentence.
Although I kept my cool and dealt with everything he said as best as I
could, when allowed to get a word in edgeways, I was absolutely
shattered by the end of the call. The first thing I did was ring up my
aunt - I needed to talk to someone who knows Father inside out. She
and my uncle were fantastic, calmed me down, and said all the things
that I would have thought for myself eventually, but needed to hear
someone else say at that time.
So after an hour with my aunt and
uncle, I had just got back downstairs, was handed a can of beer, and
was just about to open it when the phone rang again. This time it was
Sally, who was ringing up to give her side of the story, and to make
sure I was alright. The things she said and the things Father said
didn't match up at all - so one of them wasn't telling the truth, and
it was quite clear that Father was doing the lying. Sally was nearly
as upset as I was, so that was another hour on the phone. The
moment Sally rang off, and I was once again handed a beer by an
increasingly gobsmacked looking K, the phone rang again, and I
was on the phone to [my aunt] for another 10 minutes - she had spoken
to Father in the meantime, he was still in a real state, and she
advised me to keep my head down for a while.
What I decided to do was write a
letter to Father and explain everything to him: why I had told him I
was gay, why I had told Sally as well, why I didn't think he had
anything to fear from Sally, why I didn't accept responsibility for
the state of his marriage, how I didn't expect him to change his
attitudes overnight, how I had suffered myself for years on account of
being gay, that I was telling him because I loved him, that I wanted
him to be happy because I was happy, that I wasn't siding with Sally
against him, and much else besides. It was a long letter, and
surprisingly easy to write. I was speaking to him in a way I had never
done before, and I found it a positive and liberating thing to do. I
also remain convinced that I have done the right thing in telling him
- he was going to have to know sooner or later, as it would begin to
look increasingly obvious as the years go by, and I would rather the
whole upset was over and done with as soon as possible, so that the
healing process can get going as soon as possible.
There was the odd ray of hope in
amongst all the other things he said. He has not disowned me, or
rejected me in any way. He said that he "admired my courage"
in telling him. He said that he was "probably being very
bigoted", but that he couldn't change the way he felt. He also
said that he likes K a lot, and "has a lot of time for him".
Mind you, when I said that he could come and stay whenever he liked,
he said that he could never spend a night in the house knowing that I
was there with "That Man". K rather liked that bit; no-one
has ever called him "That Man" before and it makes him feel
rather glamorous and wicked…
Anyway - I haven't heard a squeak from Father since sending him the letter nearly a fortnight ago. Time alone will tell what happens next. But please don't be upset by any of this. I have taken the whole thing in my stride, in a way that has rather surprised me, and I don't actually think that Father is any more or less miserable/loopy than he was before I told him. It's something different for him to shout about, that's all. And I am very optimistic. Things can only get better.
-----Excerpts from a letter to my father, January 1990.
I do not expect you to change all your
attitudes about homosexuality overnight. I recognise that for you to
come to terms with who I really am will probably take a very long
time, and I intend to be patient. After all, it took me many years of
intense misery, guilt, shame and terror before I could learn to accept
myself, and that too was a slow and laborious process. It is also one
of the reasons why I left home 10 years ago, and why I have been back
so little. I had to find my own feet in my own way, and knew I could
never fit in with your world. However, I have not become a social
outcast - quite the opposite. The loneliest I have ever felt in my
life was while I was at The Leys [boarding school], where I was a
complete social leper for a couple of years, not because anyone knew I
was gay, but because it had made me so self-conscious and frightened.
You must remember yourself how peculiarly I behaved at that time. You
must also have noticed how I have gained dramatically in
self-confidence since that time. That is because I stopped trying to
fight what I really was, learned to accept my true nature, came to
respect myself, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and eventually found
love and happiness. No-one ever "led me astray". No-one ever
corrupted me. It took a lot of soul searching and courage to get to
where I am now. The final hurdle I had to face was telling my family
the truth, since parents are unfortunately often the very last to know
such things. It wasn't until 1989, after nearly 5 years of being with
K, that I felt ready.
I hope very much that you will come
to feel happy for me, rather than appalled at my sexuality. One of the
main reasons for my telling you is that I want you to know that I am
very happy, and I want you to share in that happiness, and not
be excluded from it, as you have been for so long. I also wanted to
tell you because I love you as a father. If I didn't give a shit about
you, I could easily have spared myself all the effort, couldn't I?
You are not being forgotten about by any of us in your family. None of us take any delight in seeing you upset. Please believe this. If you feel angry, then take it out on me, not on Sally. I will come and visit you soon, if you wish to have me.
-----June 1992. My father has rung, with news that my grandmother (his mother) is unlikely to make it through the night. This news comes just over a week after the death of my other grandmother. I am too numb to be able to process the information properly. K suggests that he drives me up to meet my father, so that the two of us can then go to the nursing home to be with her. This is quickly arranged.
In the car with my father, on our way
to the nursing home, he thanks me for coming up. I explain that it was
actually K who suggested driving me up to meet him. There is a
reflective pause. My father is not generally given to reflective pauses.
Eventually, he speaks again, softly and sincerely.
“He’s a good man, Michael.”
We spend the next few hours sitting
with my grandmother, who had finally lapsed from consciousness earlier
in the day. It is the single closest moment we ever share together.
Less than eighteen months later, at the
age of sixty, my father suffers a fatal heart attack. In the intervening
period, my stepfather also suffers a fatal heart attack. Two months
after my father’s death, my grandfather passes away peacefully. My
stepmother remarries, but the new marriage lasts less than eighteen
months before her new husband dies of cancer. Three years later, at the
age of fifty-five, and after a lifetime’s heavy drinking, my
stepmother dies from liver failure.
By coming out to my father, I know I upset him greatly. If I had known he had such a short time left to live, I might well have chosen not to tell him. But I do not regret what I did. At the end of the day, I think it was necessary.