Something My Son Said
My son was fifteen when he came out to us. I had an idea that he might be a poof when he was thirteen and I caught him and his mate Todd in the back shed wanking each other. That discovery caused a bloody row, let me tell you. I told my wife about what I'd seen and you'd have thought the devil himself had moved in. We fought for months about that. She had the daft notion to forbid Aaron to see Todd again, but I wouldn't hear of it. Todd was my Aaron's only close friend, and I'd be damned if I'd see him lose the best mate he had, poof or no. Merry, bless her heart, had enough sense not to provoke an argument in front of the boy or let on how she truly felt, so I think Aaron didn't really comprehend what was occurring between his mother and me.
Merry eventually came around to seeing things as I saw them, because the arguing tapered off over time, as did the instances of Aaron running off with Todd to the shed or other places to be alone together. By the time Aaron was fourteen, he and Todd behaved as proper mates should and not as boys up to no good. Todd was a football star at the school he and Aaron attended. While Aaron was a good player, he had never matched the other boy's talent. Nevertheless, he persevered and earned his place every year. I was relieved that Aaron was acting a real boy, and thought that perhaps his activities with Todd were simply a phase that had passed.
I am a businessman with several concerns spread throughout eastern Australia, encompassing over fifty establishments in four different sectors from construction to retail outlets. My wife is the chief financial officer of our corporation. Our latest venture brought our family from Sydney to Melbourne, where we were setting up a corporate headquarters as well as restructuring a recently acquired chain of eating places. Most of my time was spent supervising the construction of our buildings and ensuring the restaurants weren't going to go belly up, along with the frequent overnight trips back to Sydney. Often I was out of the house before dawn and did not return until well into the evening, sometimes after my son had sequestered himself in his room.
On occasion, when Aaron was still awake, I would knock at his door and attempt a conversation with him, but because of my hours, we had little to talk about and no common frame of reference. The talks we had were short in duration and skirted around anything meaningful. I could see that the lack of closeness bothered Aaron, and it bothered me as well. However, I had no idea what to do to correct the lonely course our relationship had taken, so I left it as it was: distant and cold.
Aaron met Will a week or so after we made the move out to Melbourne. I only saw him once or twice in the months between our arrival and Aaron's announcement of their involvement. Will was a handsome boy, and it was immediately obvious to me that Aaron was attracted to him the first time I saw them together. My wife expressed reservations about letting the boys continue to see each other even before Aaron announced he had a boyfriend. She had thought all that nonsense was behind us and didn't want a poofter for a son. I wasn't thrilled about the idea either. In my dreams I had wanted to turn the business over to my son and see him pass it on to his son. However, somewhere in my soul, I knew that Aaron was not going to change. I didn't even know if he could change. I didn't want him to be subjected to the antipathy and abuse poofs face in our society. I wanted Aaron to have as much happiness and fulfillment as he could. In the end, the reality of our life won out. There was no way we could prevent the two boys from being together, with our travel to and from Sydney and the late nights when we were in Melbourne.
The night Aaron told us about Will is one I'll never forget. He was standing at the door, waiting for us to come in the house one night in the beginning of May. Merry and I were talking about the latest setbacks we'd suffered in the financial department. Aaron spoke as soon as we paused.
“Will and I are boyfriends,” he stated in a measured tone. When neither of us responded, he sighed and said, “I thought you might want to know.”
“How can you be gay?” my wife asked, her voice betraying her near panic. “You don't act like it, so you can't be gay”
“How I act has nothing to do with it,” Aaron said through his teeth. “Why can't you understand that?”
Merry and I exchanged a glance while Aaron walked away, his shoulders stiff and spine erect. I couldn't have that, but what could I possibly do to make my son, who was a virtual stranger to me, feel better?
I followed him to his room. He started to shut the door, but left it hanging open when he saw me behind him. I walked in and closed it behind me. He took a seat on his bed, and I sat in his desk chair. The uncertainty I felt disconcerted me. Now that I was facing him, I had nothing to say to him that didn't sound trite and cliché. Clearing my throat, I started awkwardly.
“Does he make you happy, Aaron?”
“Yeah, he does, Dad, ” he said flatly.
I looked at the young man sitting in front of me. He was only months from leaving for university, and once that happened, who knew what our relationship would become? I met his gaze for a long while. He did not lower his eyes, nor defer to me as he had when he was younger. He was challenging me to say anything disparaging about him or the young man with whom he was taken.
The smile I wore was forced, but not entirely false. I was happy that he had found someone he could share his life with, but I was also afraid of what might happen because of that.
“I'm glad, son.” His expression did not change. “Really I am.”
“Thank you,” he replied.
The silence grew between us, and I knew the interview was over. I stood, said a few meaningless pleasantries, and left him alone.
For the next few weeks, Aaron seemed to be happier than I remember him being for a very long time. It was nice to see him smile and carry on when he didn't know I was watching him. When he did notice, his demeanor sobered immediately. It disturbed me to an immense degree that my presence had that effect on him. The few attempts at conversation with my son were met with monosyllabic replies and grunts.
The months of June and July were terrible for our company. The new building was exceeding our budget by a sizable amount and causing Merry no end of problems. One of the new stores we had taken over was failing, and an investigation showed that the general manager of the store had been embezzling funds since before we had absorbed the previous corporation. These issues were forcing me to work seven days a week, often sixteen or twenty hours a day. Merry was faring no better, even sleeping at the office on occasion. The entire time we were struggling to prevent our world from crashing down around us, Aaron walked blithely through his life, carefree as you like. Sometimes I would find myself irrationally angry with the boy because he was happy and I was miserable.
There came a point in my own depression that I did something I swore I would never do to my child without cause: I invaded and searched his room with no reason to suspect anything. I took advantage of a two-night sleepover at Will's in the first part of August. Merry was traveling to Sydney for business, leaving me time to do the evil deed.
It took me a few hours to go through his things, and I found nothing that I didn't have when I was his age. I found no evidence of drugs or alcohol. Overall, I wasn't sure whether his lack of illicit possessions was a comfort or a worry. Either he was very good at hiding these things or he was genuinely clean.
After his room came his computer. I checked out the history and the cache and what I found surprised me. I expected to discover a significant amount of pornography on Aaron's computer, and I did find some, but not to the extent I feared. The number of images and movies on the hard disk was far fewer than I anticipated finding. What caught my attention was the other websites he had been frequenting. In particular, an American site, apparently run by a group of teenaged boys who called themselves The Mail Crew, was well explored. I took the time to go through the site thoroughly and read some of the material there, including stories they credited for their attitude toward life. I found links to many of those tales on Aaron's favorites list.
I wasn't sure what I expected from gay writing. I had a preconception that it would be full of nothing but graphic descriptions of sexual acts, and to be sure there were some of the stories where the descriptions got to be too much for me, but underneath it all l saw a common thread. Each of the stories, while few of them stated it implicitly, presented their gay characters as regular boys, not at all like what I thought a stereotypical poof would be.
For the past two years, I had thought that my son had been mistaken when he came out to us. If he didn't act like a poof, if he didn't talk like a poof, and he didn't look like a poof, how could he be a poof? This question bothered me from the time I caught Aaron and Todd in the shed. Neither boy acted like a fairy. They were both healthy, strong, masculine, normal boys who did things normal boys do. As I read those stories, I came to understand that one need not act the part to be a poof. Indeed, perhaps the majority of poofs out there were normal men who happened to be attracted to men.
On the second day of my investigation into my son's activities on the internet, I had read most of the material that stood out in my son's history. I sat back and thought about what I had learned. It wasn't only a fact that seemingly normal people could be homosexual, but it was also a fact that homosexuals, in many cases, are completely normal. It is a difficult distinction to make, but it was a powerful realization for me.
My son plays football. My son likes to ride his bicycle. My son loves to go to the beach and swim. My son is gay. It simply hadn't added up to all the sensibilities I'd had until those two days of discovery. I found I could no longer think of my son as a poof. I could no longer think of Will as a poof. They are boys, very nearly men, who are as masculine as any boy I have ever seen.
Why had I not seen this before? Why had I let stereotypes blind me to the obvious truths? I had allowed the rift between my son and me to grow so wide that it quite possibly was irreparable. I fervently prayed it was not.
As I sat reading the end of one of the stories Aaron had found irresistible, he and his boyfriend walked into the room.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“Doing something I should have done a long time ago.”
Aaron walked over to me and saw what I was reading. His face went white and his jaw fell open.
“You're going through my things?” he asked quietly, betrayal coming to the fore of his expression.
“Aaron, we need to talk,” I replied calmly. “Please see Will out.”
“No. Why are you violating my privacy? You have no right!”
“Aaron, please. I don't want this to turn into a yelling match.”
“You should have thought about that before you decided to search my room!” he shouted, pointing out the disheveled state of his belongings.
“Aaron, maybe I should go,” Will suggested softly.
“No, Will,” Aaron responded, fiercely defiant, “I want you here where you belong, with me.”
“Now see here, Aaron,” I began, but he savagely cut me off.
“No, you see here! What are you looking for, Dad? Trying to find out if I'm a poof? Is that it? I told you weeks ago that Will and I are a couple. I told you years ago that I'm gay! Just because I don't act all faggy or prance around doesn't mean I can't love Will!”
“Aaron,” I tried again, but again he interrupted me.
“Look at me! I am not a girl! I'm a man! I'm just as much of a man as you are, if not more, because I spend time with the people who matter! I don't walk away from them. I don't choose money over love!”
“No! First you spend all your time running that bloody company, and then the time you do spend here you invade my privacy!”
“That is bloody well enough, Aaron. Sit!”
“No!” he shouted, tears forming in his eyes. My son glared defiantly while his boyfriend watched me with a worried expression. “No. Go back to work, Dad. Go back to what you love. You certainly don't love me.”
His words struck me physically. “Please, son. Aaron, I admit to you now that I have no justification, but please hear me out. I have spent the last two days looking at the web sites you've been visiting. Please.”
I watched my reluctant boy drag his friend with him to the bed, and both shifted to sit close together. Aaron took Will's hand in his own. It was a gesture filled with love. I didn't wait for Aaron to launch another verbal assault.
“Before you wonder, yes, I found the pictures and movies you have, and although I don't find them… arousing, I can't fault you for having them. I had my own when I was your age. In any case, that isn't what I wanted to talk to you about.
“I read the stories you had bookmarked, Aaron, and they taught me something. You and Will are gay.”
Aaron rolled his eyes and Will looked away from me.
“Let me finish. You and Will are gay. I didn't believe it because, like you said, I thought for some reason that you have to act a certain way to be gay. It was because of that asinine notion that I… I pulled away from you. I didn't know any better!”
“So what now, Dad? Are you going to tell me you're sorry?”
“Yes, son,” I said softly, struggling not to cry. “I'm sorry, and not only for this. You have judged me, Aaron. I heard you, and you're right - about everything.”
“That makes me feel so much better, Dad,” Aaron grated, sarcasm thickening his words.
“Aaron, please, son. Let me try…”
“To make it up to me? How? How in bloody hell are you going to make up seventeen years, Dad?” Aaron demanded.
“Let me try, son!” I pleaded desperately. “Please let me try!”
“Too little, too late.”
“Aaron?” came Will's soft voice. “Give him a chance. You don't have anything to lose, and a father to gain.”
“Why should I?”
“Because he's your dad, and it seems like he means it,” Will replied. “I mean, look at him.”
Aaron and Will locked eyes for a long moment.
“What are you going to do, Dad?” Aaron demanded without turning, his tone less harsh.
I stared at them blankly. What could I possibly do to prove to my son that I was sincere? How would I know he was sincere if our situations were reversed? Pieces began to fall together in my mind, and shortly I had a plan outlined.
“Wait here,” I requested. “I'll be back in a moment.”
I gathered my cell phone and day planner and returned to my son's bedroom, where the boys waited. Sitting down, I flipped the phone open and pressed the speed dial for my wife. She answered on the second ring
“Hello, Merry. Not so well. How soon can you wrap up in Sydney? Is there anything that you absolutely have to be there for? Excellent. Catch the first flight back to Melbourne. No, no one is ill, but we need you here. Call me from the car. I'll explain then. I love you, too.”
As soon as Merry rang off, I pushed the next speed dial. My secretary answered.
“Hello, Julie. I'm going to be out of the office for the next week. George can handle all the routine business. Have him call me. While I'm gone, set up a general meeting of the board. I'll get you an agenda from my end. Add whatever business we need to cover as well. No, nothing like that. No. I need to reevaluate my work schedule. No, it was something my son said. He made me realise I've been neglecting something that is of utmost importance to me.”
I watched Aaron eye me intently as my secretary asked the obvious question.