Dear Sohn –
Thank you so much for reaching out to us. I hope I can help you heal a bit from the pain you described in your letter.
I’m so sorry you were not able to come out to your family in the way you wished you could have; it’s a challenging situation in the best of times, and not being able to control the flow of information makes it even harder. I’m glad, however, that you received such love and support from your mother. It’s awful that your dad was not able to step up to the plate with the same kind of love for you.
Here’s what I’m hearing you ask: What can I do to heal an already tattered relationship with my father? I have been told I need one and he is my father but I just can’t.
First of all: you do not NEED a relationship with your father. It’s a wonderful thing when our parents treat us with love, support and respect. It can be a terrible, painful thing when they act in ways that are cruel and disrespectful to us. You get to choose whether or not you want a relationship, and what form that relationship will take. It’s up to you. You get to set the boundaries for the relationship you want with your father. This can be very hard for all of us with any type of relationship, but especially with our parents; we’re not used to saying to them, “I want this in our relationship” and then sometimes “and I’m not going to stand for less.” (I can see now that the word “relationship” is going to get way overused in this letter!) Developing adult interactions with our parents is something we all have to learn to do, and it takes a lot of conscious work on both parts. Standing up for who we are, to people who may have always seen us in another way, can be hard.
The behaviors that your dad is displaying are his issues, not yours. You may not be able to change his behavior – that’s up to him, and he alone controls when he will do that. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to maintain a relationship with him, whether he continues his painful behaviors towards you or not – it’s ok whichever way you choose. You can say, “He’s my dad, and I want him in my life, even when he’s a jerk; so I’m going to do (whatever works for you) to protect myself from his homophobic actions” and then do those things: talking with other people about your feelings, setting strict time limits for how long you’ll stay with him, leaving the situation when he gets abusive like that. Or you can say, “I’m not willing to have him in my life as long as he demonstrates these homophobic behaviors, and until he can demonstrate consistent caring and supportive actions towards me I’m not going to communicate with him at all.” EITHER WAY IS OK. What’s important is that you let him know what you’re thinking – communication is key. If for now you choose to have no contact with him until he can be more supportive and less homophobic, tell him so. Send him and email or letter if you don’t feel you can say it in person or on the phone. Be clear about what behaviors he is doing that are causing you pain, and (if you are willing) that you will be willing to check back with him in xxx amount of time and see if he is ready to stop those behaviors. If you want to maintain a relationship but you want to set boundaries, tell him: “When you start calling me a f**, I’m going to leave the room/the house/the city for a least a few hours until you calm down.” This is assuming you have a way to leave the situation – if not, leave the room or go for a walk. Let him know what he is doing that causes you pain, what you want to see change, and what you’re going to do until he changes. He then gets to decide whether or not he’s going to change those behaviors.
Another choice is, of course, to do nothing right now and that’s perfectly valid as well. Keep away from him until you feel more able to deal with it. That’s ok – we all do what we have to to protect our hearts. Please find someone with whom you can talk about it though – maybe your mom, or another trusted adult (although you’re an adult, it’s always good to have a few more on your side!) like a teacher, coworker, or pastor if you have a religious tradition, or a counselor. Going through this stuff is hard, and you need someone (or a few someones) to help hold you up while you’re going through it. You can also always call the Trevor Hotline at 1-866-488-7386 to speak with someone, or go on TrevorChat (for IM communication) or TrevorSpace (the social network site) both available on www.TheTrevorProject.org .
So, remember, you don’t HAVE to have a relationship with your father; but if you choose to do so, you get to choose what you want that relationship to look like. It’s ok to ask him to respect the boundaries you set up, and it’s just as ok for you to choose to put up with behaviors that you don’t like, if it’s more important to you to have him in your life. Be clear about what you want and don’t want in the relationship. Find other people in your life who will support you while you’re working on this. You are a worthwhile person and deserve to be treated with respect and love, and I send you all the wishes that you find more and more love as your life goes on.
Good luck and take care of you!