‘Say’ Tetralogy

What Do I Say?

by Graeme


As I sat in my study, I glanced down at the clock on my desk. Only thirty minutes to the time I’d been dreading.

I should’ve expected that this time would come and planned a response, but somehow I’d managed to ignore for a year the possible consequences of my youngest son’s announcement. Had I just been naïve, or had I been purposely avoiding the issue?

It took me months to understand what Will had meant when he told me that he’s gay. I had hidden from the topic of sexual orientation for a long time before I was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. I finally accepted that Will isn’t ever going to bring a girlfriend home to meet his parents, and it’s obvious to me now that I should have taken it that one step further, but I didn’t. Maybe everyone else thought I had and didn’t mention it. Now I was about to be dragged into the twenty-first century when I’d only just got used to the twentieth.

The evening before, at our weekly family dinner with Scott, Ivy and their partners visiting, Will dropped his bombshell. My wife and the rest of the family seemed to take it in their stride, but I just shrank back inside the shell that I had built when I had first learnt that my son is gay. Stupidly, even childishly, I had hoped the problem would just go away. It didn’t. In half an hour it was going to happen.

What would I do, what should I say, when Will brought his boyfriend home to meet his parents?

With Scott it had been easy. I understand what it means to bring a girlfriend home, so I knew what I had to look for before I gave him a smile of encouragement, or a frown of disapproval. It wasn’t just appearance, though that was part of it. It was watching for the look of pride on Scott’s face, and the smile of joy on his girl’s. It was making sure that it wasn’t simply lust — that there was a stronger bond than that. I expected him to be having sex and had drilled into him the consequences of not using protection to prevent a pregnancy. Sex is fine, but if that is all there is to the relationship, it’s doomed before it starts. There has to be something outside of the bedroom, or the couple are just two individuals selfishly relieving themselves of tension. Love goes a lot further than sex. It starts when you care more for your partner than for yourself.

Even with Ivy, I knew what to watch out for. Did her boyfriend show her the tender care that she deserved? Was he taking her for granted, or did he show that he was prepared to listen and try to understand her needs? Knowing the look of the predatory male from that time of my own life, I guarded my daughter as best I could, without trying to smother her. Educating her on the danger signs was hard, as she has a stubborn streak as big as mine. To her credit, she, more than anyone else, made me face up to the truth about Will. I’m not sure, but I think she also did some re-educating of her current boyfriend. Leo has always struck me as the strong, masculine type who refuses to suffer any nonsense from anyone. If it weren’t for the way he showed how much he wanted to protect my little angel, I would have taken him as a sexual predator who was just after another notch on his gun. He was cool towards Will at first, but under Ivy’s stern eye he quickly warmed to him and would even take him to the occasional football game.

Scott’s and Ivy’s situations were not the same as Will’s. I was avoiding the current issue, again, by thinking of Scott and Ivy. I just didn’t know how to react!

What does a forty-six-year-old father of three say when he’s introduced to the boyfriend of his seventeen-year-old son? What should he look for, and what questions should he ask?

The evening before, Will had been so effervescent about this boy of his. I know he had been through a period of depression when he thought he’d never find a boyfriend, but now he’s as high as a kite. It’s obvious he’s in love. It’s also clear that while he’s that ecstatic, he won’t be able to see any flaws in his beau. That’s my job, but I don’t know how to do it!

Despite my resistance, I’ve learnt a lot over the last few months on how hard it can be for a gay young man to find a partner. Unless the other guy is openly gay as well, Will runs the risk of abuse, or even assault, each time he tries to approach someone. One night, while my wife was out visiting a friend, Ivy had ordered me to go see my youngest son. Every bit of her demeanour showed me how serious she was. She was the spitting image of her mother as she conveyed the depth of her concern with just a look. There is little physical similarity between them, but that night Ivy showed me how much her mother has moulded her personality.

I went into Will’s room to find him lying face down on his bed, sobbing helplessly into his pillow. As I sat down on the side of the bed and placed a hand on his shoulder, a shudder ran the length of his body.

“Why can’t I find someone to love?” His cry was muffled by the pillow but still filled with anguish.

Over the next hour, I slowly learnt about the emotional pain that he had endured that day. Over the previous few days, he had been opening up to one of the other boys at school. Just as he was about to ask the boy out, he found out that the target of his affections had fallen in love with one of the cheerleaders. He had been sure the boy was gay, but he had been sadly mistaken. At least he was spared the humiliation of finding out after telling the boy how he felt.

I made the mistake of using the tired old platitude of there being plenty of other fish in the sea, causing him to roll over and let loose a tidal wave of anger, fuelled by frustration and pain. He left me in no doubt as to how unfair that saying was to him. Unless I could tell him how he could find those “fish” amongst all the straight guys out in the ocean, I had better learn to keep my big trap shut and out of his business.

That incident really made me start to think about what life would be like for my little boy.

How can he find someone to spend his life with when he can’t tell who is gay and who is straight? Will comes over as completely straight. That’s one of the reasons that I was thrown so completely when he came out to us. I was in denial for so long because of that, that I hadn’t given him as much support as he needed. If I had been thinking, I wouldn’t have said what I said that night. But thinking of what life is like for my gay son is something I’m still not good at.

Seeing him lying devastated on his bed, and then having him attack me with such venom for being blasé about finding someone else, I just subconsciously concluded that he would remain single.

Even when he started to brighten up and show spontaneous bursts of joy in recent weeks, it never occurred to me what the real reason was.

Until yesterday, when he made it all so clear.

As I sat there slowly swinging the swivel chair from side to side, my eyes remained fixed on a picture at the side of the desk. A picture of happy times.

It had been taken a couple of months before Will told us he’s gay. He’s never confirmed it, but I believe the happiness that the picture exudes is part of the reason he came out to us when he did. In it, Will and his best friend Eric are standing, laughing, arms across each other’s shoulders. It was taken just after they had won a race at the local carnival while our families were on holidays together.

Eric and Will had been inseparable for years. As much because of them as for any other reason, our families always shared our holidays. To the two boys, they had two families and two houses, which they used interchangeably.

One month later, Eric and his family were gone. His mother had taken a promotion at work that required her to move to the west. The opportunity was too good to pass up. It may have been a mistake, but we didn’t tell the boys until after the end of the holiday. The fights that followed were memorable. Neither set of parents could blame the boys for their reactions, but they had to accept that life did not revolve around their wishes. We tried to find a compromise that would allow them to stay together — I even went to the extent of exploring the option of transferring out west myself — but we failed.

Four weeks later, after moping around like a lost soul, Will announced to the family that he’s gay.

We thought we had broken up two best friends, and we’d all felt pain at doing it. Now, as I stare at that photo, I’m wondering if we did more than that. Did we break up a couple? Did we crush my son’s first love?

Ever since he came out, Will has refused to discuss his relationship with Eric. All he will say is that we knew what we were doing and we went and did it anyway. We have spoken a few times to Eric’s parents since they’ve settled into their new home, but we have not told them that Will’s gay. Initially, I wouldn’t speak of it because I was ashamed, and later, when I saw the pain my son was experiencing in his efforts to try to find love, I withheld the information as something that was his to tell at his own time and place. I couldn’t see how telling them would help, and I could easily see how much more pain it could cause.

Perhaps that relationship could be my guide on how to judge if this new boy was right for Will?

As I pondered the problem, I realised that all I knew for sure was that Eric and Will had been best friends. That was a good start for any long-term relationship, but more was needed. If Will was a girl, I would also be looking at how attentive his boyfriend was to him. If Will was bringing a girlfriend home, I would be looking for how much they spoke to each other without words.

But Will isn’t a girl and he wouldn’t be bringing a girlfriend home in less than thirty minutes. The standards I use for his brother and sister just don’t apply to him. What’s acceptable behaviour for a gay couple? How was I going to I judge if what they are doing is fair and reasonable, or if their relationship isn’t one that has a strong enough base to build a long-term partnership on?

While he generally showed good taste, for one of Scott’s previous girlfriends I had to express my disapproval. She showed no interest in Scott as a person; only as a body. Scott was still young enough at that stage to believe that that would suffice; that he could build a relationship based on physical attraction. He wouldn’t listen to reason, and I knew that at his age I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention either. All my wife and I could do was to gently steer him into making the decision that needed to be made.

But the way a girl shows these things is different to the way a guy does. Does a gay guy show things in a different way again? Would I be able to pick up on whether Will’s boyfriend is interested in Will as a person, or just as a sex buddy?

As I considered how little I knew and how much less I understood, I slumped further and further into my chair. I was going to be failure as a parent, and if things went badly, I would have to take some of the blame as my wife and I picked up the remains of a shattered boy. Despite the length of time it took me to accept my gay son, or maybe because of it, the last thing I wanted was for him to give away his heart and then receive it back in pieces.

“They’ll be here soon. Don’t you think you should wait in the living room for them?”

I jumped as my wife’s calm voice interrupted my musing. As I spun the chair around to face her, some of my agitation must have been obvious as a worried look appeared on her face.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned.

“I don’t know what to say! How do I know if this boy is right for our son?” I pleaded, looking up at her as she stood in the doorway.

Entering the room, she walked over to me and gently turned the chair back to face the desk. Standing behind me, she started to massage my neck and shoulders.

“What is the one thing we’ve always said we want for our children?” she asked me gently.

Slowly relaxing under her tender ministrations, I answered as we had always agreed, “For them to be happy.”

“Then that’s what to look for. Will he make our son happy? And don’t forget that he’s someone else’s son, too. Can Will make him happy? These are the only things that matter,” she stated calmly.

With a clarity that shone through the confusion of my mind, I realised she was right. Everything I look for in a partner for each of my other children is with the goal of making sure that they will be happy together — that they can have a good life as a couple. I haven’t realised that before as as I have been focused on the steps to that goal, rather than the goal itself. I don’t know the steps for Will as a gay son, but I do know the goal.

Feeling better, I twisted my head to smile up at my better half. I reminded myself, yet again, that I had to stop bottling up my worries. While I don’t like bothering her, we are a partnership and have to deal with things like this together, not apart. If I had spoken to her sooner, I wouldn’t have had a day ruined from worry.

Rising to my feet, I put arms around her and pulled her into a gentle hug. Finishing with a light but slow peck on the lips, I walked with her into the living room.

When the doorbell finally rang, I opened it with a light heart. Standing there was a smartly dressed young man with my anxious son hovering behind him.

“Hello, Mr. Stephenson. I’m Aaron,” he said nervously, as he discretely wiped a sweaty palm on his pants before he extended it to me.

As I shook his hand, I smiled. He was squeezing a bit too hard, but from my experience with Ivy’s boyfriends, I knew that was just nerves.

“Welcome, Aaron. I’m happy to finally meet the boy who’s stolen my son’s heart.”

Copyright Notice — Copyright © October 2004 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form -- physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise -- without the author’s expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

I would like to express a special thank you to everyone at The Mail Crew for their ongoing support with my writing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure. Aaron of that crew edited both this story and “New Brother” for me.