I’m a 21-year-old college senior who recently learned that my father is gay. It was a relief, actually, since I suspected it for years. There’s one glitch: For the last five years, he has been dating a man who is now 24 years old (my dad is in his mid-50s). I am troubled by the difference in age and maturity. Dad is divorced with two kids, holds postgraduate degrees and spent his career working in upper-level management. His boyfriend graduated from high school six years ago, enjoys video games and installs air conditioners for a living.
My dad admits that the relationship is not intellectually fulfilling and that his boyfriend is more emotionally attached to him than the other way around. He also said that it would be impossible to come out to the rest of our family in his current situation. My older sister and I are troubled that Dad is dating someone practically our age. I have no desire to meet the boyfriend, but I don’t want to force my dad to choose between his boyfriend and his daughters. It seems that my dad just doesn’t want to be alone and enjoys the affection of an exuberant (and closeted) 24-year-old. I want my dad to have healthy relationships with men. What should I do?
Examine your heart. If there is even a wisp of fear that you are being supplanted in your father’s affections, remove it. Your father’s boyfriend may be a threat to your belief system, but he is not a threat to you.
Now, a confession: When I was in my early 20s, I preferred dating 40-something professional men. They knew things about the world that I wanted to know and appreciated my curiosity. They had fascinating careers (attorneys, doctors, businessmen and photojournalists) and shared insights about human nature, politics, commerce, culture and the arts that men my age could rarely offer me.
In return, I offered them a chance to be genuine. I was so young and open that there was no need to try to impress me, play games or compete. They could be completely vulnerable. When they told me stories about failed marriages, difficult childhoods or troubled romances, they could do so without fear of reproach. As I grew older, the age difference convinced me that these men were, well, old. My interest waned, and the relationships reached a natural end. The moral of my story? Patience.
Of course, there is often a darker side to relationships featuring vast age differences. Sometimes the older partner is predatory, controlling or abusive. A younger person may tolerate such behaviors more easily than someone with more life experience. In those cases, intervention is imperative.
There also can be emotional issues. For example, let’s imagine that your father’s initial realization of his sexual orientation occurred when he was 18 years old (the age of his current partner when they met) and then was subjugated. By engaging in this relationship with self-awareness, he can heal that sexually immature part of himself and bring it to maturity.
If there is no evidence that your father or his partner is being harmed by the relationship, then the relationship is none of your business. Frankly, the only potential for abuse revealed in your letter is this: “I don’t want to force my father to choose between his boyfriend and his daughters.” It would be abusive to pressure your father to prove his love for you by ending his relationship with his partner. Sure, you prefer that your dad date someone with whom he connects intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically, but what he has is what he wants right now. Your disapproval simply separates you from his love. So, shake off your worries, open your heart and accept the boyfriend.