My dad came out as gay – and then my mum did too
You could say I had a typical suburban middle-class upbringing.
I grew up in Stanmore, a commuter town in north-west London. Our family was financially comfortable and my dad was a successful businessman. My mother assumed the duty of doting housewife and mother to a slightly spoilt only child – yours truly.
I went to private school all the way up to university and enjoyed a happy, stable and normal childhood.
But as soon as I left home everything changed. My parents separated in my first year of university. It was an amicable split and they soon became closer friends once the stresses and strains of the marriage was over.
Then the first real bombshell: Dad took me out for dinner and told me he was gay. I simply wasn’t expecting it – it was a complete shock. And there was more.
Two weeks later, Mum took me out to discuss the news, except she also had some of her own – she was also gay. Within the space of a fortnight, my perception of both my parents had changed profoundly – it was a lot to take in.
My main emotion though, after I had got past the initial jolt, was happiness. Happiness that they could both be finally true to themselves. They seemed happier, relieved almost, and Mum had even found a partner with whom she was in love.
My father later told me that coming out to his son was the most difficult thing he’d ever done. I’d never seen him so nervous, but then it became clear that a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
I realised how difficult it would have been to be gay when my parents were growing up. In the UK, ‘homosexual acts’ were only decriminalised in 1967.
The pressures of society coupled with what friends and family would have thought at that time must have made them feel they had no option.
It was easy for me to understand why they’d kept it a secret, but there was also an existential factor for me – if my parents had grown up at a later time when views were different, they would never have married and I would never have existed. It was a strange thought to ponder.
The only concern I had was with something my father said – he was hinting to me over dinner that he was ‘having fun’ with other men. I found myself reversing the role of the parent-child dynamic by insisting he ‘stayed safe’. It was a strange moment.
As many would agree, discussing sex and sexuality with one’s parents can be uncomfortable to say the least. I think it’s partly because even as grown-ups, deep down we want to imagine our parents as being above the animalistic, carnal instincts of other humans.
They are somehow superior, simply because they’re our own mum and dad and we put them on such a high pedestal when we’re kids.
However, I felt forced to broach that subject because ultimately, my father’s wellbeing was more important than avoiding a cringeworthy albeit necessary conversation. His reaction was dismissive, which made me even more uneasy as the months went by.
The relationship I had with my parents didn’t change that much – if anything I became closer to them. I felt I now understood them better, and for the first time I was more on their level, conversing with them about their new-found sexuality in a mature, adult way.
Of course there were other factors that affected my relationship with them both: my mother’s terminal illness – she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer – crystallised our time together and we became incredibly tight over the final year and half of her life.
Conversely, the relationship I had with my father was put under immense strain as he fell into drug addiction and drug dealing. Despite all that though, I stuck with him, knowing that I was the only one he could truly rely on. And once he went to prison, I had my old dad back, free from drugs and fully rehabilitated.
He missed my wedding, as well as the birth of my first daughter, and it’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life.
But thankfully, the end of the story is one of redemption – Dad is back to his normal self and enjoying life with his family once again.
James Lubbock is the author of Breaking Dad: How my mild-mannered father became Britain’s biggest meth dealer
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