I am one of three daughters. My parents have been married for forty years. Last year my father told my mother that he was gay and had had an affair with a family friend for 18 months. My mother didn’t throw him out and they didn’t separate. My mother wants a full explanation of what has happened, who he really is, and what he wants. My dad feels responsible for my mum as he has been the primary earner during their marriage but his (relatively small) income would not stretch to support them both independently with ease. Even though he is a Christian, he doesn’t seem to see that his affair, regardless of his sexual proclivity, was really wrong. They are living in a poisonous atmosphere. I think that the idea for my mum of starting her life again on her own at the age of 65 with no income is insurmountable. I want to support my mum, and reach out to my dad, but he is finding it difficult to talk about things. Having said that, my dad needs to know that what he did was wrong. Can you advise me on the best way to support both of them, in practical and emotional terms?
With difficulty I suspect. Making your bid at mediation from a judgmental starting point will make your task even harder. Having an affair is certainly not to be applauded but if your father has waited this long to succumb to his natural desires perversely he also deserves your respect. I’m presuming he too is in his mid sixties and that’s a very long time to suppress an integral aspect of your biological make-up. I sympathise with your mothers need for an apology and desire to ascertain just who she’s been living with for the last four decades but my suspicion is he’s exactly the man she thought he was.
Secret fantasies and longings are part and parcel of being a human being and though the sex you’re compelled toward physically is an ingredient of your personality it certainly doesn’t offer the full picture. These days the idea of suppressing urges, or choosing an alternative path from the one you’re programmed for is seen as an abdication of personal freedom but actually most of us, will in our lifetimes, present an intermittently fictional face to the world. The path we choose to navigate through the myriad choices available when anything is possible is what really makes us who we are. I don’t know the extent to which your father has denied his sexuality to himself, let alone the rest of the world but as father to three now grown daughters I imagine he’s no stranger to compromise. Your parents have been married for forty years which is a pretty amazing achievement if they were both wholly heterosexual and even more so in light of your fathers recent revelations. Perhaps a vote of confidence in them both from all three of their children, celebrating the enduring security they’ve offered you by staying together and sacrificing more than you’ll ever understand would be an encouraging position to start from.
Seen from a different perspective their marriage isn’t a failure, but an evolving partnership. If they can manage to reach a compromise, who knows, maybe they don’t even need to split up? By the time you hit your mid sixties you’re either desperate to blow the lid off the status quo, or comfortably shaped around the life you’ve created. Your father may want to ride off into the sunset with his lover but he’s just as likely to want to maintain the friendship his marriage must be but with a fresh honesty about their physical relationship. It may not be particularly romantic but it is a realistic proposal and not as unusual as you might think. In the long-term sex becomes a smaller element of the bigger big relationship, which is impossible to describe to impetuous youngsters but widely accepted among the more mature.
Admitting and accommodating the shifting sands of our emotional and physical lives is a continuing challenge for us all. I’d be very surprised if your father feels guilt free about his affair but I also imagine those feelings are laced with a degree of liberation at summoning the courage to reveal himself in an honest way. He may see apologising as an admission of guilt for his homosexuality, rather than an acceptance of responsibility for betraying your mother. I appreciate I’m taking a rather extreme, idealistic stance in a situation where there must be much emotional wear and tear, particularly on your mothers part, but I’m doing so for a reason. It’s far better to have an idealistic scenario to aspire to, from which you can negotiate backwards, than set a confrontational path that is unlikely to take any of you forwards.
By electing to help support them through this difficult time you’ve set yourself a tough challenge but having a child so committed to their welfare is to your parents credit. It suggests that they must have done quite a lot right together! Take it from me that’s always nice to be reminded of.