Family Secrets

This is going to be a very long post.

About a month before the family holiday to Florida last May that I mentioned in a previous post, I found out that my dad and his “flatmate” were in a relationship and had been together for over 3 years. I’d suspected this for absolutely ages, ever since dad’s partner (who is great at cooking) first started joining us for family meals/ doing most of the cooking of family meals that we often have round at my dad’s flat. This had been happening for probably between a year and a year and a half, and I’d strongly suspected it all that time, with my suspicions growing stronger and stronger over time, but I had never had any solid evidence of the two of them being together, and had never actually spoken to my dad or anyone else about it just in case I was reading too much into things or over-analysing things like I sometimes do. I suppose I assumed that if they really were together, my dad would have told us, and would have introduced the man he’s in a relationship with as his partner/ boyfriend, rather than as his flatmate.

As I said before, I’d suspected that they were together for probably up to a year and a half, though I’d definitely “known” since the family party a few months prior, on Boxing Day, though still had moments of doubting my intuition. It was a great party (with only close family left for the second half of the party), and that’s quite possibly the most drunk I’ve ever seen either of my parents! My dad’s partner is extremely extroverted and is always the life and soul of the party, and much hilarity ensued at this particular party. At one point, however, I remember them playing an extended version of ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat, with my dad’s partner and my mum singing along to it. This may sound slightly odd but I remember listening to the song and suddenly experiencing intense empathy for my dad’s partner, who is indeed from a small town where attitudes are rather old-fashioned, and where growing up as a gay person must have been very difficult. I later found out, when I ended up telling my dad’s partner about my self-injury scars, a few weeks before we went to Florida (and a couple of weeks before finally having my suspicions about him and my dad being in a relationship confirmed) that my dad’s partner had been bullied terribly for being gay when he was younger, at both primary and secondary school. It sounded absolutely horrendous, and it sounds like he never got much support from his parents (who apparently know absolutely nothing of his relationship with my dad or of his sexuality), who it seems took the “tough love” approach, and wanted my dad’s partner to fight his own battles. Given the society that my dad’s partner grew up in, given that he still lives with his parents due to not being able to afford a place of his own, and given that his family members are all very religious, with his brother often using the Bible to back-up his homophobia, I can completely understand why he is so reluctant to tell his parents about his relationship. I couldn’t, however, understand why my dad and his partner would not tell us (my siblings and I) about their relationship, or why they would actively try to hide their relationship from us. I have always been very pro-LGBT+, and while my brother was perhaps a little bit ignorant when he was younger, my siblings are much the same. Did they think that their being together would bother us or that we would think less of them? I was a little bit annoyed but mostly saddened by the fact that they apparently felt they had to hide their relationship from us. I felt that perhaps I’d failed my dad in terms of not doing enough to show him and his partner that they shouldn’t have to hide anything, and that we love and accept both of them for who they are.

It was rather bizarre finding out about my dad and his partner’s 3-year relationship not from either of them, but from a card on my dad’s mantelpiece. While round at my dad’s place for a meal, I noticed a card that simply said “Love” on the front of it. As I was placing something onto the mantelpiece, I noticed my dad’s handwriting inside, thanking his partner for a wonderful 3 years together. I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to ask them about it, but ended up asking my youngest sister (who had also been there) about it in a vague way on the drive home, simply asking her how long she’d “known about” my dad and his partner. It turned out that she’d also suspected that were together for ages, and definitely since the Boxing Day party. About a week later, when my other sister was back from university for a few days, we broached the subject with her and she said she’d suspected it for quite a while too. We weren’t sure whether or not our brother knew (he can be a bit oblivious at times, when it comes to this sort of thing). We also weren’t sure whether or not we should say anything to our dad and his partner, or to our mum about it, or whether or not they even WANTED us to say anything about it. I didn’t know whether they even wanted us to know about their relationship. So we decided we’d just leave it for the time being and see if they said anything before or during the family holiday.

I think the penny finally dropped for my brother when we were trying to decide who should have each bedroom in the house we were staying in in Florida. The house was amazing, with 5 bedrooms, so my brother and I both got a room to ourselves, and everyone else shared. My brother seemed so confused when my middle sister suggested that the older adults had the 2 largest (double) bedrooms downstairs and we young adults took the rooms upstairs. Like I said, he can sometimes be a bit oblivious with this sort of thing. He couldn’t seem to get his head around why my dad and his partner would possibly want to share a double room rather than one of the twin rooms.

About a week into the holiday, my dad and his partner still hadn’t mentioned anything to us about their relationship, and still appeared to be acting as if they were just friends. Having to hide the fact that they were together was clearly taking its toll on their relationship (more on this in a later post). I could see how much it was hurting my dad’s partner in particular, so I eventually brought it up with my mum, telling her that my sisters and I knew, and asking her if she knew why dad and his partner had never said anything to us about their relationship. We found out a number of things from the conversation that followed, including that mum was annoyed and baffled as to why my dad had never said anything to us about his 3-year relationship, though she reckoned that he was worried about how my brother (who he has always been very close to) would react. It turned out that my dad’s sexuality was the reason that my parents separated when I was 15. Their relationship had been very rocky and very on-off towards the end, but apparently my dad had an affair, which my mum eventually found out about. She confronted him about it and he denied it at first but then finally admitted that he’d had an affair and that he was gay. She told him that she felt they should tell his parents about everything, and while they were shocked, my dad’s parents were very supportive and understanding. I’m so glad that my mum took everything so well despite effectively being lied to all those years, and probably feeling as if her whole world had just fallen apart (she is from an abusive family, so my dad and his family were the only ones she could trust). I’m also really glad that my paternal grandparents have been so supportive and accepting.

I also found out from that conservation with my mum that my suspicious about another old flatmate of my dad’s being an ex-boyfriend were correct. It must have been so difficult for my dad, hiding who he was for all those years, effectively living a lie for nearly 2 decades of marriage. I was angry at first to find out that my dad had cheated on my mum, but I can understand now. This was in the age of AIDS, and back when the general public hated gay people. I see him in a new light now. While it doesn’t excuse anything he said or did to me, I can now understand how having to hide such a large part of his identity could have contributed a lot to his anger and frustration, which he often took out on me, in the years before my parents split up. He has never admitted to it, but I think there’s a good chance that he has also suffered from depression himself.

After our conversation, my mum and her then fiancé suggested that we try talking to my dad and his partner about their relationship, but after events that took place earlier in the holiday (again, more on this in a later post), I wasn’t too keen on the idea, or at least wanted to leave it a while.  I was still so confused as to why they hadn’t told us in all this time. Did they think we wouldn’t accept them? I think even at the ages we all were when mum and dad separated, we would have understood, or at least I certainly would have. My brother might have taken a while, but even still…Perhaps my dad felt the need to protect us while we were still in (a rather homophobic) high school. But I don’t think high school could have really gotten much worse for me, and even if it had, I would have put up with it if it meant that my dad didn’t have to hide who he was. It may well have made things much worse for my younger siblings, mind you.

A week after we got back from Florida, my dad and his partner finally (with much persuasion from my mum) spoke to my sisters and I about their relationship, when we were round at his place for tea. Dad’s partner was quite open and again mentioned how badly he’d been bullied for being gay when he was younger. He reiterated what we had already learned from our mum, saying that he didn’t know my dad back when he split from my mum, and that he wasn’t the reason for my parents’ separation. My dad said very little and sort of just let his partner do the talking. I don’t know if this was simply because he’s never really been a touchy-feely person, or because he was still so worried about how we’d react. My sisters and I reiterated that we loved and accepted them, and that our boyfriends (in the case of my middle sister and I) and their families, and our friends (in the case of my sisters) would also be accepting of them. We asked why they had hidden the fact that they were a couple for so long, as it did very much appear to be about my brother (who wasn’t there) and how my dad feared he/ his friends might react.

My mum told my brother a couple of days later. Like I said before, my dad and is partner had been really worried about telling him, and my dad was really worried about losing the close relationship he’s always had with my brother, by my brother has been absolutely fine with. My brother is generally a man of few words. After my mum explaining to him that my dad and his partner were together, she asked “So, are you okay with all of that?” His reply – “Yeah, what’s changed?” – was I think all the confirmation that my dad and his partner needed to finally relax around us all. Even now, they still never hold hands, dance together, hug, or kiss each other around any of us, despite us telling them that we have absolutely no problem with them doing any of this. I think they’re still too worried about how we might react to do any of this. I hope one day they will be able to.

The main thing I’ve taken from all of this is that I’m glad my parents have both found someone who makes them happy, and that my family have all reacted so positively. My grandparents can be a little bit old-fashioned about certain things, but I’m glad that they’ve been so accepting. They’ve taught us all how a family should be. I’m also glad that my mum took everything so well, despite how mum being lied to and cheated on must have hurt her. She has said previously that forgiving my dad is one of the best things she has ever done. It’s certainly one of the best things she could have done for our family. I’m so glad my parents are still good friends and that their partners both get on so well too.

It’s unfortunate that my dad’s partner treated me the way he did during that family holiday. It put me in a bit of a difficult situation at the time, but I will do what I can to get over that. I can understand why he reacted as disproportionately as he did, and I think I have nearly forgiven him. More on this in a later post.

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