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Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 3

Today we have the third part in a guest commentary by Robert Riley. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his significant other, it asks those parents to examine not only the fears they have but also the potential good of their son having an older partner. At the following links you can find part one and part two.

So, now you’ve had a little time to get used to the idea… There are two possible ways you can attempt to deal with this. Three if you count “ignoring” it. I’m going to assume that doing nothing is not an option. Pretending that you’re okay with this when you’re not is equivalent to pretending that the six hundred pound gorilla in the corner is a Barbie doll. You’ve got two choices, act on your opinion and demonstrate your surprise and displeasure or take a second and think what would happen if you had an open mind? You’re here, so I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe you’ve decided to have an open mind, perhaps for only a bit, but that bit might be all that’s needed for you to break through the wall you’re operating behind and see something special.

Let’s start with a couple of givens… Nobody is going to question that your son is less mature than someone who is thirty years older than he is. You’re going to interpret this as he’s likely to be taken advantage of, and he might well be, but why? What ‘qualifications’ does your son’s friend bring to the table? Is he a bartender at a gay club that caters to young guys that want to meet older guys? Is he a porn producer? Maybe he works in human services, could be a therapist or something? Maybe he’s been doing things that help people for his entire adult life? Maybe he’s as surprised as you are at this development? He might have been a social worker who’s been in the business of defending or supporting people for thirty years? Does this kind of thing have an impact on your thinking? Perhaps it should. What does your son have to offer someone who is established and has roots in the community? Perhaps this relationship is about companionship, love, trust, caring and things like that? Now that’s a novel idea! What would happen if the man your son is involved with was actually a decent, considerate and caring person that wants to have a real relationship with your son rather than take advantage or abuse him? How do you tell the difference?

In today’s “day and age” it’s expected that one’s partner is going to be “scrutinized” by family and friends. It’s likely that he’s expecting it. Is your son’s friend supportive of your son’s life and choices? Does he endorse your son spending time with friends and family? What would happen then? You have to wonder huh?? What if that mindset that you’re so prepared to operate in catches you by surprise? Could it be possible that despite all of those reasons that society has for damning their relationship they’re just two guys who care about each other? Maybe there’s a possibility that the old guy and the young guy have negotiated a way to be equals in a very different kind of relationship than you were expecting, than they were expecting? There’s only one way to find out. What would happen if you were to embrace your son’s choices here? If it all comes apart six months later your son would be heartbroken most likely, but isn’t that true of any romantic relationship that he might enter into? What’s the likelihood that your son would have a relationship with someone his own age that it would end and both of them could get hurt? What might transpire if one of them had a healthy amount of life experience to draw upon and could carry that sort of foundation into the relationship? This is could give your son a rock to stand on, couldn’t it? This could very easily provide the stability and solid ground your son needs to be able to learn how to be a partner in a relationship. What would happen if your son didn’t have to endure the trial and error with relationships that you did? Maybe he might discover the blessing of getting it right the first time? So the question may be for your son or his friend, but you.. What are you going to do from here

I’m pleased that you’ve had a mind open enough to read this, lots of parents would have simply shut down, operated from a place of pure protection and told their son that they must not see him again, threatening to take car keys, eviction, etc. I know because that’s some of the things that would go through my mind, you see… I’m a parent too! I find it easy to put myself in your place and wonder: What the hell is going on here? If on closer inspection I would discover that these two people appear to truly care about each other and I was satisfied that there’s no abuse going on what could I say then?

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Guest Post: Rodney and Me pt. 2

Today we have a second installment of Robert Riley’s open letter to the parents of his new significant other. You can read the first installment here.

Seeing my own words in print elsewhere besides my coffee table is gratifying and I appreciate you, the gentle reader… I’ll continue if it pleases you.

 

If your son is anything like Rodney, and his relationship with someone older continues as I am certainly hoping that ours will, at some point you will have a conversation and parts of it are going to sound like this:

“But that’s a whole generation”, “He’s old enough to be…”, “Are you crazy?”, or “Son are you sure you want this?” There’s a few bazillion other things you might say as well, some couched in your own prejudice, assuming human nature is as much a part of your makeup as it is anyone else. Then you’re going to “repair” to your own thoughts, perhaps thinking that if you object you’re going to drive him in a direction you’d prefer he not go. It’s okay to not want your son to be in a relationship with some guy who is twenty five years his senior. You’ve got a right to your feelings. I’d suggest that you really take a bit and experience them. You’re going to think things that will range from “What kind of pervert…?” when you imagine my face to “Well, it’s his life; he needs to make his own mistakes” when thinking about your son. Being frustrated and fearful that your son is making a terrible mistake is part of being a parent, and you’re probably already used to it. The difference is this may be an area in which your input is not going to be so quickly wanted or heeded, you’d better get used that too. Somewhere along the line in this process you’re going to get curious, so go ahead and get that other crap out of the way. After all you’re concerned and rightly so, on a couple of points at least: You don’t want your son hurt, he’s your child – of course you don’t. You don’t want to see him taken advantage of or in a situation where he is operating at a disadvantage. You see the difference in years as something to be worried about. You could easily be thinking that he’s being taken advantage of or just being used sexually. As much as it pains me to say, you could be right, there are some real bad people out there and it’s entirely possible that your son might have stumbled on to one of them. Try to equip your son with the knowledge of what the “red flags” look like and be careful that you don’t over do it.

In the midst of all of the negative you might be thinking (and forgive me if I’m terribly wrong about you) I would like to raise a point here. Have you considered that there might be some advantages too, or are you just stuck on what’s wrong? (That part of me that wants to be supportive is battling with that part that wants you to remind you {loudly and with maximum prejudice} that “no” isn’t the only answer to a question) Parents are used to saying “no” aren’t they? Speaking from my own experience, our kids present us with lots of situations in which we need to “parent”, we establish rules, guidelines and expectations in the hope that they’ll follow all of these instructions and somehow ferret out the right path. We want them to take advantage of our mistakes because we recognize how much pain our errors have caused us and we don’t want them to have to endure what we have endured. When our kids stray from the rules we say “no”, when they’re not following the guidelines we say “do it like this” and when something goes wrong we explain the expectations we had for them… am I correct? Then if that still doesn’t get the point across we follow that up with discipline or worse, punishment. I’m hoping that you don’t go down the punishing path… (oh yes, you can still punish him despite the fact that he’s reached the age of majority) You can isolate him, let him feel that you’re angry because of his choices. I’d like to take moment or two and remind you of something…. Something that gay people over the age of 30 (and a great many younger too) have come to know. Young people that happen to be Gay spend a lot of time being punished, many of them do it to themselves, they really don’t need you to help them to more punishment. Rodney is doing it to himself but I think he’s gaining ground on this. At one point he had convinced himself that you’re going to be so completely disapproving that he’s keeping his seeing someone a complete secret. My guess is that he’s terrified about telling you about this person he’s been seeing once or twice a week.

I don’t want to scare you but this needs to be said because it’s epidemic.

The greatest cause of death among people who are under 25 and identify as GLBT of any variety is Suicide, driven by both real and imagined non acceptance of people they love. Please don’t add to the burden your son already feels, allow him to be who he is without editorial comments, kindly, carefully express your concern but for the time being at least, for his sake keep your judgmental perspective to yourself! If I’m wrong and you are a supportive and affirming parent, don’t pass up the chance to tell him you love him more than life itself, you’ll have my unending gratitude as well as everybody’s from under the rainbow.

 At some point in the last couple of years you might have thought: “We’ve spent all this time and energy trying to teach him how to get from “A” to “B” and then he throws a curve ball” I can almost hear it in the wind. “Mom, Dad… we need to talk” “What’s wrong honey?” His Mother says with a hint of alarm, his Dad sits, quietly. They both look at him as he fidgets a bit. “I have something to tell you”. His pronounced adams apple bobs gently and then he says: “I’m gay”. His Dad exhales sharply, and says “Oh, is that all. I thought you were, um… I mean I thought somebody was pregnant”. His Mother looks at her husband… mouth open wide, “is that all, Tom what’s got into you?” A year later, you’ve still not really dealt with the “Gay” thing and you discover, quite by accident that your son of 20 is in a relationship with someone as old as his Father and you have no idea what to do. Let me make it easy on you: Sit down, relax, let me help you here a little.

Guest Post: Rodney and Me

Today’s guest post comes from a GtD reader. Written in the form of an open letter to the parents of his new significant other, it addresses the concerns of outsiders looking in at a may-to-december relationship.

I’d bet you’re here for a reason… there was a reason for me too. When I discovered this site I had only had a need of it for just a few days… I was rapidly becoming emotionally involved with someone in excess of twenty five years my junior. Not only is he significantly younger, he’s significantly young. This is of course going to trouble a great many people, being a responsible and moral person I’m one of them, the first I expect. This collection of people may have just recently grown by a few, could be you and your spouse – Rodney’s parents, are a bit troubled too.

I’m glad you’re here; I hope you can find the answers you’re looking for. Please know that this site is about supporting people who are in, could be in or are otherwise somehow related to someone in an intergenerational gay relationship. It’s a fair assumption that you might feel the need for some support, if nothing else you’re concerned for your son or other family member, probably worried that he is being taken advantage of. As we might have someone in common that we care about I’d like to offer you some support. You’re possibly wondering why I’m here offering this to you; I’m thinking that its possible that you’re seeing me as the “enemy”. While I’m certain that you are mistaken on this count, nothing will change that impression if I am not willing to step forward and extend my hand, taking ownership for my part in this situation.

I’d like to offer up a few things for you to consider. First, you’re probably not here by accident. Your Son or another family member gave you a link to this website on purpose or you were looking for information on your adult child’s intergenerational relationship. Somebody has something that they’re trying to tell you. It’s in the spirit of openness and consideration for your feelings that you’ve been sent here, if you arrived by accident you’re curious because of someone you know. Please keep that in mind and if you are upset, scared, worried or otherwise feel that your family member is being victimized take a moment to relax and have faith in your son, while I bring you up to speed on a couple of things. While I can’t speak for everyone in this situation, I can present my feelings to you and offer you the possibility that I may not be the only older half of an intergenerational gay relationship that is willing to be open and forward. It’s not easy as I’m thinking that you may see me as an enemy, though I am far from it. I believe in Rodney, truly want the best for him and am willing to open myself up to scrutiny.

When I discovered my attraction for (and we are going to call him Rodney) Rodney I was more than surprised that things might take this kind of turn. We had communicated online a month before we met, most of that was about when are we going to get together, my schedule, his schedule etc. Once we finally got together, had opportunity to spend some time together we found that like other people we just enjoyed being together. It did not take long for me to realize that this young man was not cut from the same cloth as others his age. He has a deep sense of compassion with still waters running very strong and deep, nor given to childish pursuits. One would quickly call him an old soul without hesitation. I will confess that by the end of our first date I had long forgotten his age as he seemed much older. Our third date was a disaster, but as parents you could not have been happier with his bravery and willingness to deal with a crisis.

We had arranged nearly a week ahead of time to have brunch on New Year’s Day. I expected that we would eat and then catch a movie; my absent mindedness would change our plans. While cooking I had turned on the wrong burner on the stove and there was a frying pan handle over the burner, when I noticed this I corrected the situation and put some oil in the pan and then was distracted. It didn’t take long before the pan had gotten too hot and was smoking. I reached out to move the pan without thinking and burned the inside of my fingers on the frying pan handle, dropping the frying pan on the stove, the oil splashed out burning the outside of three of my fingers. Standing next to the sink I immediately went for cold water but that wasn’t enough. I was rapidly going into shock and were it not for Rod I might’ve have collapsed or worse. Most people would have politely excused themselves and ran out as quickly as possible, but not your son. It didn’t enter into his mind, not for an instant. He just saw that I needed someone to help then ran out and got snow to cool the water even more, then helped me make it to the couch and eventually the bathroom. An hour later after I was no longer in shock he drove me to the hospital, staying with me until the emergency room people were done with me. Afterward that evening we had dinner and came back to the scene of the injury for a movie.

I’d like you to know that whatever you taught Rodney, it was all worth it. You look at him and see your barely adult (chronologically) son, of course. It is clear to anyone that while Rodney may be young when it comes to the calendar, he handles himself and crises like an old pro. He was there for me when I needed help and possesses a maturity well beyond his years. I look forward to being there for him should it be necessary at any time in the future.

Best Regards,

Robert Riley

It’s a Nice Day for a Gay Wedding

This afternoon John and I are going to a lesbian wedding, and it feels like a particularly auspicious time to have one.  Sure, we don’t live in a state that currently recognizes same-sex marriages, but in the wake of the Proposition 8 overturn it gives the proceedings and even greater celebratory mood.  Watching this couple preparing to make this commitment to each other in front of their friends and family underscores how ridiculous the claims made by proponents of Prop 8 really are.

Opponents of gay marriage claim they are standing up for American values, but at the welcome dinner yesterday I saw the friends and families of these two wonderful women.  At the wedding they are expecting about a hundred guests and they are from all walks of life, all sorts of ages, both gay and straight, and many traveling in from hundreds of miles away, all to show their support for a loving couple.  There is no monopoly on “American values”; we are America too!

Interestingly, at the dinner I met a woman who flew in from California who had voted for Proposition 8.  She said she had to come to make it up to one of the brides; she now regrets the vote she made.  I wonder how many others, after the campaign machine came to an end, let cooler heads prevail and regret their decision.

Anyway, enough reflection on what could have been; it’s time to go celebrate the future to come.

Earlier thoughts on Proposition 8.

Homeland: Perhaps We Can Go Back Again, Pt. 2

In the last post I began recounting my experience of coming out to my parents.  Today’s post concludes the narrative.

As Christmas of 2008 drew nearer both John and I became more anxious about how my parents might react to us.  During phone calls they were generally pretty reticent to discuss my relationship, but I knew that my return home for Christmas would advance the conversation.

Fairly early on, John decided that it would be a nice gesture if he sent them a little gift.  Eventually we decided it would seem less presumptuous if we sent a gift together, so we ordered them a gift basket to be delivered directly to their house.  John also sent along a Christmas card wishing them the best and included a photo of the two of us together.  I had already sent them photos in the past, but this one ended up taking on greater significance.

By the time my trip back home came around I was pretty nervous.  I was only going for a handful of days and each was scheduled with family events long before I headed to the airport.  Overall I was pleased by my return home.  I feared that an atmosphere of tension might permeate my whole visit, but from the outset my parents seemed comfortable with my return.  However, it did seem that, on the drive home, the issue of my coming out was a proverbial elephant in the room that no one wanted to bring up.

Once getting to the house my parents thanked me again for the gift we sent; it had arrived quite early and they had previously thanked John and I over the phone.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that they had framed the photo John had sent and had it sitting with other family photos on a shelf in the living room.  It was a subtle but reassuring sign of my parents’ position on our relationship.

Throughout the trip it was my father that made the most direct overtures of interest or approval.  At one point, while my mother was out doing shopping, he broached the subject.  He managed to stealthfully complement both John and I by saying that I had good judgment in people.  At that time he mentioned that he’d also like to meet John and that perhaps he and my mother would come out for a visit.  Unfortunately when the subject of a visit was broached again later with my mother she seemed much more resistant.  She cited the economy as a primary factor, and she’s never been one to travel much anyway, but I can’t help but think that a sense of discomfort about my sexuality and the age difference between John and I were contributing factors.

I have been a little surprised that my parents waited as long as they did to ask questions about the age difference between John and I.  I sent them photos of John early last year, but it wasn’t until my Christmas visit that they pressed me on John’s age.  One morning while we were together in the living room my father asked “How old is John anyway, in his forties?”  I couldn’t help but laugh; John looks quite young for his age, but no one could reasonably mistake him for being in his forties.  My mother immediately responded “No! He has to be about my age”.  My mother, just turning 60 this year, was getting warmer.  “No” I said “he’s around dad’s age”.  I feel a little disingenuous not sharing John’s precise age, but, with my dad having just turned 70, there was no longer any pretense about the age gap between John and me.

Ultimately my visit with my parents was reassuring, but not earth shaking.  There were no tearful revelations or heartfelt late night talks.  For them the nature of my relationship was clarified and to a certain extent they were probably reassured that I hadn’t lost my mind; I’m the same son they knew and loved.  On my part, I received no profound embrace of John as the newest member of the family.  However it was encouraging to find that our family wasn’t fundamentally challenged by my revelations either.cookies There were no hidden rifts in my relationship with my parents to be revealed only when we finally met again face to face. In fact I found small signs of encouragement, signs that my parents could accept my being gay, signs that my parents might be willing to get to know John and not just tolerate his presence in my life, signs that come in the form of a photo on a book shelf or a tin of home baked goodies my mother sent home with me for John.

Homeland: Perhaps We Can Go Back Again, Pt. 1

I have mentioned before that I thought that telling people that I was interested in older men was like coming out a second time and that the age difference between my partner and I was where I felt I would encounter the most resistance about our relationship.  I visited my parents over the holidays and really confronted the consequences of coming out to them face-to-face for the first time; thankfully without much anguish.  It is also now coming upon one year of being out to them and, in a way, that means one year of really, truly being fully out to the world.  It feels like a good time to reflect on the past year and this final, monumental step of coming out.

During November and December of 2007 I began seriously considering coming out to my parents.  For the first time in my life I was in a committed relationship, and the idea of coming out started to feel less like a lie of omission and more like a bold faced lie.  I began reading a number of books about coming out; I found Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward’s Now That You Know exceptionally helpful.  The idea of coming out to my parents filled me with anxiety.  We were always the sort of family that never talked about controversial topics, so sex and religion were generally off the table.  I had no concrete idea of how my parents felt about homosexuality.

When I went home for the holidays that year I intended to come out, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  There was another sort of family crisis happening at the time that was already affecting the mood back home, and so I decided not to add to the stress of the season.  However, the visit was incredibly stressful for me;  having to make secretive phone calls to John, being unable to talk to my brother about the relationship for fear of being overheard, and the general dis-ease created by denying my relationship.

Upon returning home I decided that I needed to come out sooner rather than later.  In late January I mailed a coming out letter to my parents.  This isn’t a method I’d necessarily recommend to everyone, but I decided for my parents and I it was the best option at the time.  In my letter I discussed how I came to identify myself as gay, my personal journey with that identity, and how I now felt happy and successful in my life.  However I did not state that I was in a relationship or discuss John;  I decided I’d let them acclimate themselves to the idea that I was gay for a bit before jumping into the relationship side of it.

I waited about two weeks after mailing the letter before I contacted them.  I had hoped that they would call me first, but after giving them some time for the letter to reach them and for them to process what they read I called.  I spoke to my father first and was buoyed by his reception of my letter.  He told me that the thought that I might be gay had crossed his mind in the past and said that “people are they way they are, you can’t try to change them”.  He also related a story about someone he had gone to school with that had gotten married and had kids, but later came out and now lived with a partner.  I was elated at my father’s willingness to try to relate with me.

During the first call my mother hadn’t been at home, so I called back a couple days later.  She was clearly much more uncomfortable talking about the subject than my father was.  She asked some questions and didn’t seem too upset, but overall she seemed to want to avoid the topic.  She did ask me if I was in a relationship with the man I was living with and I admitted yes, but said I’d prefer to discuss him more later after they’d become more comfortable with the idea of me being gay.  I did convince my mother and father to check a copy of Now That You Know out of their local library.  I think it helped them innumerably as well.

Over the proceeding months I began to reveal additional information about John.  Eventually I wrote them a second letter.  Through both the letter and phone conversations I explained that I had always been attracted to older men, that John was exceptionally important to me, and that I considered him my partner.  I also sent them some photos of John.

By the time it came time for me to return home for Christmas of 2008 they were getting a pretty full picture of John.  They knew he was much older than me, though I still have yet to give a precise age, they learned he has adult children, and I often spoke to them about our life together.  However they seldom asked about John or even alluded to him in conversation unless I brought him up first.  I was anxious to see my parents face-to-face, to see if they would be more willing to discuss my homosexuality in person, and what questions they might ask about John.

Coming up:  My visit home during Christmas 2008.

Coming Out Intergenerational: a Poll

portalOver the Christmas holiday I returned to the American South to visit my family.  This was the first visit back since I came out to my parents and told them about my relationship with a man more than forty years my senior.  I plan to write a post about my experience of coming out to my parents, but I want to take a little more time to reflect on my most recent visit.

In addition to this visit, John and I recently watched the film Milk.  In it we see Harvey Milk imploring his gay compatriots to come out, that only by being visible will the gay community make any political progress.  In one scene he almost forces one of his campaign aids to call his parents to come out.

Combined, these events have had me thinking about and reflecting on coming out quite a bit lately.  I first started coming out to friends about ten years ago.  The first person I told was a mere acquaintance, a young woman that lived in my freshman dorm.  Over the years I’ve found it easier and easier to come out to people.  But, I remember having a very difficult time coming out to friends from high school that had known me a long time and it took me a long time and a change in personal circumstances to finally come clean with my parents.

For those of us who are attracted to individuals who are significantly older or younger than ourselves, an additional challenge is thrown into the process of coming out.  I had lots of friends to whom I had come out to, but never told them about my attraction to older men.  After I became involved with John, I realized I had to, in a way, come out a second time.  I had the same sort of anxiety telling these friends about my attraction to older men as I did when I first came out.  However, by far I worried most about my parents’ reaction to my intergenerational relationship.

For you, who do you think will be, or was, the most difficult to tell about your attraction to individuals of a much different age? Feel free to leave a comment as well as respond to the poll below.