Advice for a Gay Father on Coming Out Later in Life

He came out later in life, and his kids have cut him off; help from the pros on his dilemma, and what to do about that pesky “Relationship Status” button on Facebook.

Q: I am 57 years old, and while in my teens knew that I was gay. I did what was expected of me and married in my mid-20s thinking that my attraction to men would disappear while having a woman by my side. I did love my wife. Together, we had two children and were happily married for 31 years until my wife died from a long illness. A few years after my wife's passing, quite by accident, I met "William" at a party. Our chemistry clicked and we have been together for several years now. More than two years ago I finally came out to my two children, 30 and 29, and both have disowned me. They will not speak to me nor answer the phone. They are also keeping my two grandchildren from me. I am torn! I love William and we would like to spend our lives together. I also love my children and grandchildren. How would you suggest that I attempt to proceed for us all to re-unite and have an acceptable relationship? -- Heartbroken (P.S. Please do not print my name because I am not out in my small community.)

A: How sad that, during the week of Valentine’s Day, you can’t even share in your love for your kids and grandkids because of our society’s lingering shame and secrecy over homosexuality. But I want to applaud you for your decision. It takes an incredible amount of courage and strength to come out, especially in life’s later stages. And while celebrities such as Meredith Baxter and Kelly McGillis recently have put a face on the increasing number of older women doing it, the consensus among sexuality experts and therapists is that it’s even more difficult for men like you of the Baby Boomer generation, whose culture celebrates masculinity and stoicism.

So, what can you do about the relationship with your children? I spoke to a couple of experts at SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders; www.sageusa.org), Virginia D’Antonio and David Dinolfo, both licensed master social workers, and here’s what we came up with. 1) Check out the nonprofit PFLAG (Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays; www.pflag.org), which has 500 chapters nationwide and offers excellent articles, info and resources. Refer your children to the website, and check it out yourself. It’s known as a top resource in the GLBT community. 2) If you sense one of your children is less hostile, you might consider refocusing your efforts on him or her. That way, s/he can act as a sort of ambassador to the other. If not, perhaps another third-party advocate – a close family friend, or even a pastor – could serve as an intermediary. 3) Don’t give up, but don’t harass your children, either. If they’re not taking your calls, try writing a letter or an e-mail once a month or so. The idea is to demonstrate your love, not demand their acceptance. 4) You live in a small community where you’re not (yet?) out, so you’ll probably have to travel to a bigger city for some in-person support groups and/or interaction in the gay community. Do it. Being around people who understand what you’re going through is immensely helpful.

D’Antonio also pointed out that you “sound pretty comfortable with who you are and probably don’t need therapy [with respect to that], but in terms of dealing with the rejection from your kids, it might be helpful.” Well said.

I was encouraged to hear that in Dinolfo’s SAGE support group for older gay men, many adult children eventually “come around to” a parent’s coming out. I really hope that’s the case for you. But if not, remember this is your life to live, as your authentic self, with or without the approval of your children – or anyone else. I wish you all the best.

Q: What do you think about the fact that I sent my long-distance boyfriend an "in a relationship" request on Facebook and he never accepted it? When I told him I sent it, he was like "what are we, 15?". But I think that is a cop-out. It is like a guy not wearing a wedding ring, in my opinion. Especially given we have a long distance relationship! I mean, it is probably clear to anyone on his page that he is in a relationship given our photos, so why not just state it? I know guys are weird like that though. Not sure if I'm overreacting. – In a Relationship?

Facebook relationship status

This status update stuff is going a little bit too far. (Photo credit: Flickr/Jason Carlin)

A: There are plenty of people (yours truly, and maybe your boyfriend) who just want to say “byte me” to the avalanche of apps, requests, status updates and their ilk in today’s tech-flooded world and simply can’t be bothered with all of them. So unless your boyfriend’s Facebook page is bursting with messages like “Great to meet you last night, Sexy!” and “Can’t wait to see you this weekend!” from strange women, I don’t think you have much to worry about. But if it’s really that important to you, then try framing it as an easy, one-click way to make you super-happy. Don’t nag or demand — they’ll be plenty of time for that if you two get married and he doesn’t wear his ring.

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