Abigail Garner

Teen discovers gay father’s infidelity.

Q:

I am a gay father of a 16-year-old daughter who is very angry with me. It has taken me almost 18 years to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be able to change my sexual orientation.

My 25-year marriage has been was wonderful. Not only are my children here because my wife and I wanted them, but also because we were very much in love — and we did enjoy sex together! But long before I was married, I knew I was attracted to men; I just happened to grow up in a climate where homosexual feelings, let alone actions, were considered wrong. There were no positive role models for what it might mean to be a gay man in a happy, committed relationship.

Unfortunately, on-and-off throughout the years, my path of discovery took me outside my marriage into a number of casual sexual encounters of which I am not proud. My wife has known of my struggles, which surfaced a few years after we were married. She has been patient and hopeful that I would be able to change, or at least control, my homosexual longings.

Now, after 25 years we have both concluded we must divorce. As sad as I feel, and as angered and hurt as she feels, neither of us feel that clinging to our marriage is going to solve anything; we don’t wish to exercise false hope in the possibility of change.

Presently my daughter can’t stand me since she found out I was unfaithful to her mother. We were once very close, but now she goes out of her way to ignore or belittle me, calling me “faggot” and “prostitute.” She professes not to have any feelings of dislike for homosexuals in general, but I’m convinced neither she (nor my wife) understand how I couldn’t just “turn off” my homosexuality to live as a heterosexual.

Please could you write something for my daughter to help her understand why her 52 year old father can’t “shake off” being gay?

A:

This response is not for your daughter, but for you. “Helping her understand” is not what is most important here. Even if your daughter understood your sexual orientation the way you wish she did, you can’t undo your infidelity.

Nowhere in your question do you mention that you apologized. Have you?

If you want your daughter to let go of her anger and forgive you for your infidelity, you must apologize for hurting her mother and for hurting your entire family. The apology must stand alone, without qualifiers such as “but I tried” or “but you have to understand…” Don’t blame societal pressure or sexual hardwiring for your infidelity. You made choices, and if you want your daughter to forgive you, she needs to hear that even though you regret some of the decisions you have made, you take full ownership of those choices.

Why is it so hard for gay men leaving marriages to apologize? Because they confuse the issues. Newly out men often think apologizing for exploring their same-sex attractions — which is infidelity — means having to apologize for being gay. They tell me: “I refuse to apologize for who I am.”

You don’t have to apologize for who you are, only for what you did.

Next, the issue of accepting a father as gay is a related, but additional issue. There is no set schedule for when your daughter should come around. If it took you 18 years to accept that you are gay, certainly you can understand that it will take a while — perhaps years — for her to accept it. Our attitudes about sexuality are greatly influenced by our parents so it’s not surprising that she has internalized some of your shame about homosexuality, treating it as a condition that needs to be suppressed.

Finally, don’t let your guilty feelings impede your ability to be an effective parent. Your daughter has a right to her own feelings, but she does not have the right to call you names. Her name-calling needs to stop immediately. Not only is it disrespectful to you, you are doing her a disservice by allowing her to believe this is an acceptable way to treat another human being.

11 Responses to “Teen discovers gay father’s infidelity.”

  1. BTon 03 Mar 2004 at 5:00 pm

    Hi AG,

    Thank you for separating the issues of infidelity and coming out.

    I always have mixed feelings when I hear that someone’s coming out was accompanied by infidelity.

    The infidelity makes it hard for me to celebrate the coming out.

    If you’ve been close to someone who’s been “cheated on” or you are someone who has been “cheated on” you know it is extremely painful!

    So yes, the unfaithful ones must apologize for their infidelity: as you say, for that behavior, not for their identity.

    I also understand that it may be difficult or impossible to have everything happen in the perfect order. That is fine. The important thing is to apologize for any wrongdoing along the way and try to find ways to make some kind of amends that keep everyone’s integrity as intact as possible.

    Thanks for your insight — as per usual.

    BT

  2. Anonymouson 03 Mar 2004 at 11:48 pm

    I am new to this list, and I want to thank both the father who sent in that question, and the daughter of a gay father who responded to it. it is healing to read about a dynamic I experienced in isolation so clearly articulated. The advice was right one. I want to add to it with my own experience.

    This to me sounds like a classic divorce scenario. I hear a man going through an amazing, world-transforming transformation that is bittersweet — it sounds like a painful birth. The death of the societally defined identity, something nurturing and rewarding, and the birth of life lived from an authentic part of yourself you have never fully embraced. I saw this transofmation in my own father. He seemed so happy, so free, so relaxed and so full of life a couple years out of the painful divorce.

    For me, my father’s bittersweet experence was not bittersweet. Sure many years down the line as an adult, eventually, I got to know my father in a way in a way I probably never would have had he remained closeted. He is wise, and empathetic. He has wrestled with his demons, and is stronger for it. And he has helped me and my sister to do the same.

    But when my father first came out after cheating on my mother, and after the two of them tried and failed to work it out, my world was shattered. Your daughter is in a world of hurt right now. You may have made the right choice, to follow your heart, to be the best man you can be, to live the kind of life that you believe in — one with integrity, courage and all the magic and good things that come with following your heart and soul. But no matter what you do, there is probably not that much that is good about it for your daughter. Her family and her reality has been destroyed in the middle of angst-ridden adolescent.

    This is the price you pay for making the choices you made. It does not mean you are not a good man. But you hurt your daughter and you have to accept that. And she has every reason in the world to be furious right now. The worst thing one can do is give in to the temptation to fixate on the word faggot, and blame it all on society. Society is irellevant in this case. Your daughter is trying to make you feel her hurt, trying to convey to you just how much damage you have done to her world. And she is pulling out the nuclear bomb of advisarial language.

    Don’t lose sight of the love you that can never be erased between the two of you. Realize that, in her place, you would be angry too. But even more significantly, you would be utterly devastated. All you can do is try and process the anger you must feel toward her, the rejection, the same and anything that might make you strike back — all you can do is try and process that on your own. So you can be clearheaded and present with her. Because you are still her father. And if you really feel the responsibility, whatever you do, don’t give up the high ground. Let her vent, accept that maybe she hates you right now. Speak openly, and give her the space to behave in any way she wants that isn’t utterly destructive. But try to respond with love and patience.

    Trust me, 10 years from now, you two can respect each other. And like i said, the wisdom that comes from wrestling with your demons and living an honest lifge of integrity will place you in good stead to help her get what she wants in life after the teen years, when she has long since developed an identity independent of her parents and family. This wil all pay off. But it will be so much easier if you deal with it in a healthy way. Don’t dismiss her anger as homphobia (even if it is homophobic that is secondary). Don’t project your own shame and defensiveness onto her.

    Continue the process you have started by embracing your sexuality. Live a courageous life paying the price you have to pay to live an honest life of integrity: in this case, patience, wisdom, love and understanding. Good luck.

  3. Julie B.on 30 Mar 2004 at 3:49 pm

    I am 16 years old and over the past 3 years I have found evidence that led me to believe that my father was gay. About 2 years ago my brother confronted my parents about this and they went to counseling. My dad completely denied being gay, and said he looked at homosexual men magazines because he felt he didn’t match up to other guys. The counseler was convinced and my mom believed him. Just recently, i guess my father couldn’t stand lying anymore and came out and told our family that he is gay. He said he felt this way his whole life, but could not change they way he felt (similar to this situation). It upsets me to know that my family life will never be the same…

    I used to think that my family was close to perfect compared to other families. I know, and have been told, that he is still my dad and he loves me, but I don’t want to see him with a man. It will take me a while to be completely normal and happy with him like I used to be.

  4. Anonymouson 06 Apr 2004 at 9:51 am

    I like your views on this! I am a daughter of a lesbian Mother, and the soon to be ex-wife of a gay male. I didn’t know that my ex to be was gay, until I he cheated on me and our children. Yes I feel that he not only cheated on me but our children. I have no problem with someone being gay, but I do have a problem being married to someone that is gay. I would have much preferred that he discussed this matter with me, rather than cheating on me. Then we could parted, and he could have homosexual relationships as he wanted. Instead of possibly exposing me to STD’s, and cheating.

    After finding out that he was gay, I tried to except him for who he is and remain friends with him. (Only friends) I told our children he is still the same person.On the other hand, he has told my daughter that the divorce is 50/50, that I made his life miserable. He told me that he wanted to stay in the marriage until the children were out of school, then come out of the closet but I made it difficult. He has told our daughter that he would have divorced me anyway, even if he was not gay. I am very angry now, more than I was when I found out that he was gay. I felt like I delt with that better. But to be blamed for someone being gay is ridiculous.

    Our daughter is excepting of her father being gay, she still loves him. But there are times when she is angry. She has the right to be. Why shouldn’t she be, even when there are two straight people getting a divorce children get angry. Everyone want’s a “Normal” family. A family that stays together, where the parents get along, where their is a Mother and Father in the picture. So there is anger when this dream is disrupted. But it is even harder when you are dealing with a parent that is gay. I remember thinking my Mother is a wonderful Mother, but if someone finds out that she is gay they will think that she is a child Molester or a bad person. That’s one of the biggest reasons that I didn’t want anyone knowing that she is gay. I didn’t want people thinking bad thoughts of her.

    You do owe your ex-wife and your daughter an apoligy, and not for being gay. You are who you are. Give you daughter time to deal with her anger. Let her know that you were wrong to cheat. Even if you were not gay, she would be angry about this.

  5. Angelaon 09 Apr 2004 at 1:53 am

    Dear Abigail,

    If I was his daughter, it would take me years to accept my father as a homosexual. She used the names “faggot” and “prostitute”, I would also use a little more respectful terms when talking to my father. He should understand the fact that it will take her a while to come around to accepting him as he is. Also he should realize that he was straight for her whole life and then all of a sudden after all of those years he breaks out of the nutshell. If he were in her place he would know how she feels.

    Since his daughter is only 16 it would take even longer for her to get used to his lifestyle. I know this from my own experiences, I was 15 when my mother told our family that she was a lesbian. It took me a lot longer to accept her than it took my little sister, she was only 9 or so. I’m 20 now and I just recently accepted the fact that my family would never be together again.

    This was a total and complete shock to my father a month after her revealance.He was only 40 when he tried to commit suicide. I was just getting ready to go leave with some friends to go to the movies, when I decided to go touch up my makeup. I walked in the doorway to find my limp father hanging from a pipe with a belt around his neck. Luckily I came soon enough to get him down and call 911. Once he came home we talked it through and he promised that he would never take his life into his own hands dispite my mother ever again.

    For the past 5 years my father and I have gone to a family counselor. Since I just recently accepted my mother’s ways, I have just gotten in contact with her. I now visit her frequently and can talk openly with her and her girlfriend. She has appologized for all of the havoc she has brought upon our whole family. My little sister who is now 14 had no problem with it from the start so she lived with my mother. Because she lived with her I didn’t apperciate my sister so I didn’t visit her very often, breaking our strong sister sister relationship. In conclusion I now respect my mother as much as I do my father, and now my parents, though not together, have redeemed their parentlike roles.

    Although it might take the daughter in the original story a while to accept her father’s ways hopefully now he will realize that someday she will, no matter what. Hopefully they can keep the family together through good and bad times as my family does.

    Sincerely,

    Angela
    P.S. DON’T EVER GIVE UP!!!!!

  6. MSon 13 Apr 2004 at 8:57 am

    I am a 48-year-old husband and father who was unfaithful to his wife. From our second date, she knew I self-identified as bisexual, and she was okay with that. But she believed that I had been faithful to our marriage vows over 13 years of marriage, until I told her otherwise this past fall–five months ago. I have apologized to her for my infidelity.

    But the more I think of my infidelity in recent months, the more horrific my betrayal seems. It is not that my homosexual desires were or are wrong, but acting stealthily on those desires, in defiance of my vows, was a deep betrayal of my wife. We had always considered ourselves best and most-trusted friends, and that trust and openness has been shattered and is only now, perhaps, beginning to be rebuilt through communication and therapy. Until I told her, I was able to live in a “false paradise.” But since I told her, the enormity of my actions continues to sink through. Even with the best healing, our relationship could never be the same as before. It could be good, but it can’t be the same. That is gone forever. So “rebuilt” is the wrong word, because I can’t rebuild what I have destroyed. I can only hope for something new to be built.

    At one point years ago, I asked my wife if we could consider some form of open marriage, but she declined, which was her right. She was acting in accordance with her own sense of identity, integrity, and deepest values when she declined. She told me then that if I must have same-sex relationships, she would work with me so we could have an amicable divorce and a strong post-marital friendship, and be good co-parents to our children.

    At that point, if I felt I could no longer be faithful, I should have told my wife, and we should have started therapy, or separated, or divorced–whatever would have been the most loving solution. Betrayal of my vows was not the answer, and yet this is the road I chose to take.

    Since I revealed my infidelity to my wife five months ago, we have decided (at least for the time being)–and also based on our therapist’s advice–not to reveal my infidelity to our children, although my first impulse was to tell them, and my wife s first impulse was to tell them, tool–but for different reasons.

    I wanted to confess, but also to get it out in the open, so there would not be something  secret that could be held over me in the future, or that could simply slip out or be overheard. My wife initially wanted to tell them because said that if our marriage ended, she didn t want to be blamed by the kids because she couldn’t accomodate my homosexuality. At this point, my infidelity is still the  elephant in the room because it s always waiting to be revealed. I am not sure if concealing it from the kids is a good long-term solution. However, it is where we are, for right now.

    We are fortunate, in one sense, because we have been open about my sexual identification with our children (in an age-appropriate way, of course), so they have  always been aware that their Dad has same-sex attractions. Our children also have been raised to be accepting of gay relationships.

    However, I dread the day they will learn of my infidelity, which is a separate issue from my gayness. If I ever wanted to confuse them about the acceptability of being gay or bisexual, or sour them on the idea that gay people can be good, mixing my betrayal of my wife with my own sexual orientation issues was a sure recipe for disaster.

    Yet I feel that some day they must learn about my betrayal. Either their mom will tell them in a moment of anger or sadness, or I will tell them in a moment of guilt or sadness–or of fear that my wife will reveal it to them first. Or they will overhear a conversation or comment that tells them without our planning to tell them. I suppose I hope somehow to escape from their being told in the most damning way possible. But this is foolish, because my own actions will have damned me, in their eyes, once they know.

    Once they know, they will never see me the same way again, just as my wife can never see me the same way again, or offer her love to me in the same open and unguarded way she once did and that I can now treasure only in memory. My kids will never have the same respect for me they have now–respect I now only continue to receive under false pretenses because they don’t know the truth about what I did. So even though I still get their innocent respect, I can’t enjoy it as I once did, because I know I don’t deserve it.

    I don t know where our marriage will end– in a good reconciliation and recommitment or in divorce. I don’t know, if our marriage lasts, if monogamy with be the path it takes or some kind of negotiated open arrangement will be worked out.

    I do know that as the father of a teenage daughter with whom I am close, I dread the hurt that will come to her — and to me — when the scales are ripped from her eyes in terms of her learning about my betrayal of her mother. I have a younger son, as well, and he, too, will have to deal with this knowledge. Their love for me may take years to recover, and assuming that it does (which takes faith on my part) it will never be the same innocent love, innocently offered. Because if I betrayed once, always in their eyes I could betray again.

    I realized only relatively recently–after revealing my infidelity to my wife–that, even if I had left my marriage years ago, if I had done so with integrity–able to hold my head high, without adding betrayal to the situation–the future could have been different for all of us. My children and my wife might have been angry and hurt with me, but I wouldn t have lost their respect–or my own self-respect.

  7. elisabethon 06 May 2007 at 4:55 pm

    I have recently turned 20 and have known my father is gay since I was 15. Unlike the other authors on this site it is my mother whom I can’t forgive and have had no contact with since I was 16. Her lack of support and devious deceitfull ways I am still trying to forget. I have always had a close relationship with my father and in some ways knew he was gay before he said it, at the same stage he raised me to appreciate people for who they are not what they are. I agree with the previous posts that your daughter is suffering from shock at the moment that her world has changed, nothing will be the same for her, or you for that matter. just hang in there and always be there for her because you are the same person. The same person she laughed with, cried with, joked with, played with and who she loves. That is all I can say, try to help her because she will help you when she can.

  8. anonon 08 May 2007 at 2:27 pm

    i’m in my mid 30′s and have recently tried to understand my father’s lifestyle (and more importantly my feelings toward him). my folks divorced when i was very young because of my father’s homosexual tendencies. to this day i can’t forgive him. i don’t know that i will ever forgive him. we don’t have much of a relationship – we speak a few times a year and maybe see each other every three or four years. and when i do see him all my anger comes flowing back. i’m embarrassed to see him, to be around him. i have gay friends, gay co-workers – so i don’t consider myself homophobic, but i can’t find it in my heart to forgive my father. my father has tried to have a relationship with me but i have always tried to hide it. i know it hurts him and i truly don’t want to hurt him, but i seem to be the one who can’t understand and accept his lifestyle.

    i wish you the best of luck with your daughter – but if she never understands or accepts your choice then that is something you’ll have to live with.

  9. Paulon 09 May 2007 at 9:51 pm

    Hey my name is Paul and I had the same problem. I had been married for 15 years with 3 kids. Around the time my youngest turned 10 I was feeling happier around men. And then out of nowhere I find my self reading and watching gay pornography (I have not watch anything movies for about a couple of months now). Soon me and my wife are having a divorce. It was much easier then to except myself being gay, but I had to tell my children. My daughters most angry. My son was more cool. At that point I was worried he was gay too. He assured me he wasn’t gay. After awhile things got back to normal and I met a boyfriend. My ex-wife still hasn’t excepted me but my children had.

  10. Mereton 17 May 2007 at 7:57 pm

    I found out my dad was gay by (Bi?) accident when cleaning out his things after his death. The grief numbed the shock of it for years. But then I dated a man who disclosed bisexuality and I was thrown back to that day when I discovered the truth. I wish gay men would not marry straight women, I don’t think they have any idea the horror and shame they inflict on their families when they run around having sex in odd places with odd people and then come home trying to be Ward Cleaver. Am I angry. You betcha and I am not a child. You need to be patient and give her time because you just set off a land mine under her feet.

  11. Rosaon 23 Sep 2007 at 6:49 am

    i left my husband after 15 years of miserable marriage. we have two kids and i was the major breadwinner and family caregiver. my husband was uptight, mean and controlling and we never had any intimacy. i couldnt live together anymore because nothing i could do could make him happy. he was devastated. after 9 months separated, i discovered that he was likely gay…and everyone i knew always ‘knew’ or suspected he always was gay and would likely never come out. i have not confronted him. he tells everyone i ended the marriage and he is devastated. he has a girlfriend but continues to live a very secretive and mysterious life. we have joint custody of our two kids…son 9 and daughter 13. this week our daughter asked if he was gay. i said i thought so and suspect it but am not 100% certain but likely he is. she is struggling and i dont know if i should finally be strong and confront him, or encourage our daughter to confront him if she wants to. i dont want to cause HIM pain, so instead the kids and i suffer for the aftermath of the broken family, and i suffer with his secret and the lies of our marriage and the sadness i have lived with, with him in an unloving marriage, and now. i need to help my kids and i am not sure what the best way to deal with it is. please send your suggestions.

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