How a Son and Daughter Responded to a Gay Dad Coming Out

Mark Clark with his granddaughter, Lyla

Today’s post is from guest blogger Mark Clark, a retired journalist who is a regular volunteer at New Ways Ministry, a member of Dignity/Washington, and the Board treasurer of BHT Foundation (formerly “Brother, Help Thyself”), an LGBTQ philanthropy in the Baltimore-Washington region which raises money to support organizations and programs that support LGBTQ equality.

On this Father’s Day, some 34 years after the death of my own father, I reflect on my two amazing children, who were the best enablers I could hope for when I came out as a gay man.

My marriage ended for reasons having nothing to do with my sexual orientation. In fact, I was not even fully aware that I was a gay man when we parted ways after more than 15 years of married life. It gradually dawned on me that I was not the straight man I had been simulating all my life.

As improbable as it may seem, my Catholic upbringing and schooling had little to do with why I held back well into my fifties. The hostility of bishops and many other clerics was off-putting to be sure. Yet those negative, sometimes cruel, rebuffs from the leaders of my native church had been baked into my psyche from an early age with hardly any conscious notice.

What did matter to me, quite a bit, were the feelings of my family members. As years passed in my newly single life, one or another sibling would try to be helpful in setting me up on blind dates. Sparks never flew, and from those trial runs, so to speak, I confirmed my misgivings about wanting to find another partner of the opposite sex.

My greatest apprehension during this time was if my kids, Sean, then 24, and Rachel, then 17, could deal with their father being gay. Both Sean and Rachel are highly motivated, extraordinarily bright, attractive, creative people. Sean took up magic at the age of seven and quickly became proficient. Rachel displayed a gift for dance that was recognized by amateur and professional instructors over many years. The last thing I would wish on them was being the cause of trauma in their lives.

I would obsess over the thought of how I would have reacted if my father had dropped on me and my six siblings that he was gay. That would have been life altering. I reasoned that telling my children I’m gay would surely stun them like dropping a pallet of bricks on them. Would they break down? Express resentment or anger?

Unfortunately, I had plenty of time to stew over this. For one thing, I was determined that they would hear about it only directly from me. I was also intent on not burdening Rachel, who was still in high school, until at least she had graduated. High schoolers have plenty of life challenges to cope with without my adding one of this magnitude. So, to make sure that I would be the one to tell them, I had to keep my secret from my siblings, siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews and, of course, my ex-wife.

Fast forward a few years. I was now at a point of having the one sibling to whom I had let my secret slip to pledge secrecy. The next phase of my plan was to speak in person to the other five and their spouses. I managed these steps without a hitch. Then I was left with my son, his wife, and my daughter, just out of high school. My son and daughter-in-law joined me for dinner at my house. Afterward, I told them I had something to share with them, and we sat around the table. It was one of the tensest moments of my life, although I had tried to conceal my anxiety, and I hadn’t hinted that what I was going to say was cause for dismay. Both were affirming and supportive, bless their hearts. When I raised the issue of telling my daughter, they suggested that I do so in their presence to make it more comfortable for her. This proposal turned out to be presciently helpful.

When the four of us were together I told Rachel that I had something to tell her that I hoped would not be upsetting. I told her “I am gay,” and described a bit of what I had been going through the last few years.  I included describing my sadness at breaking up with a male partner the year before.  After I stopped, she started to tear up. I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. No. She was upset, she said, because of the news of the break-up I had related. She recalled my being sad at just about that time. She now realized why I was feeling low back then.

Being a gay father has meant many things to me, including becoming a grandfather four times. I am one of a growing number of gay men with children. The experience of fatherhood is a privilege that I treasure. I will always cherish moments like when Sean and I held our breath together while he glued a fragile crosspiece onto a balsa wood bridge for an “Odyssey of the Mind” project. I love the memory of picking out Rachel as she entered the stage for a pre-school dance recital.

But nothing gives me greater satisfaction than the pride and dignity of having two children as positive about my sexual orientation as mine are. Part of the reason for their affirmative response is no doubt owing to their being mature enough to process the revelation. But I also think also they are two very special and especially sensitive persons.

I say that, of course, with no bias whatsoever.

Mark Clark, June 21, 2020

14 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    Hi Mark from Australia and Happy Father’s Day. Great story. As a fellow gay father with four great, now adult, children and two grandchildren, I know how important it is for our children to know we are still their Dad and we love them (and vice versa!). I met my husband a year after separating from my former wife. We have been partners now for near on 17 years and were able to be legally married in Australia in 2018. We are blessed to have been in welcoming Catholic parishes, and recently found another one after our move interstate this year due to my husband’s work. You, Sean and Rachel are in my prayers this week!

    Reply
    • Mark Clark
      Mark Clark says:

      Tim, thank you for your message. I am glad there is a circle of gay Catholic dads who can have one another’s backs.

      Reply
  2. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Inspiring, but not surprising. Our children are often our greatest supporters.

    In my own case, my marriage broke down while my children were still young, and when I later came out, they were not living with me, so I did not have that problem to deal with. However, as they grew older, they did spend time with me and my new male partner.

    Years later, my daughter went on the record in a newspaper letters page in defence of gay parents, with the clear statement, based on her own experience, “gay parents? I recommend them”.

    Reply
  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Through Dignity/Washington, I have known Mark for many years. I suspect his children were accepting of his coming out because he must have been a fine father full of faith, talented, generous, and loving. That it took him a bit of time to fully share who he was just showed how full of care he is.

    Reply
  4. Rob Darrow
    Rob Darrow says:

    I had a similar experience when I came out in my 50s. When I told my 24-year-old daughter, she said her credibility went up with her friends because it was “cool having a gay dad.” Happy Father’s Day!

    Reply
  5. Dick Reid
    Dick Reid says:

    Similar story. Following death of wife of 48 years, at age 75 I walked the Camino Santiago, where I had my first experience of being identified as gay by friends. Back home, I struggled with the process of coming out to myself for three years or so, then confidently came out to my five adult children and a few friends. I thought of myself as coming out to the whole community when I joined and sang publicly with our local gay Men’s chorus. Romance? Not yet. Taking steps to start a ministry to LGBTQ students and others at my Catholic parish and Newman Center.

    Reply

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