Imagine thinking that all it takes to eradicate love is to say, ‘I’m gay.’

It is very difficult to accurately describe the terror, trepidation and insecurity that accompanies a “coming out” moment. Especially if that “moment” is to a parent. The only way I can describe it is: Imagine all the things your parents love about you, all the things they admire and all the things they are proud of when they talk about you to their friends.

Me and dad, many years ago.
Me and dad, circa 1973.

And imagine feeling that there are two words you might say that could destroy all of that.

Two words that could ruin a history of “trying to do good,” a lifetime of “trying to be a good guy” and a childhood filled with “trying to gain mom’s and dad’s approval.” Imagine thinking that all it takes to eradicate love is to say, “I’m gay.”

That’s how I felt.

I came out of the closet to my father, who is a former marine, 22 years ago this month. And what is surprising to me, when I read this letter more than two decades later, is that I remember the feelings and the fear almost like it was yesterday.

I have now reached the age that I have been out of the closet longer than I was in. But the fear that accompanies coming out to parents often is built up over years and years. It is incredibly intense. It is insidious and ferocious and creeps into every crack and crevice of your being.

And this is how it went…

I was basically a decent guy. Oh sure, I was most likely a bit more self-absorbed and selfish than I’d like to remember, more ambitious than is healthy and more desperate for approval than is realistic. But that probably just made me a typical 21 year old. The kind of 21 year old my parents, when it came to the good stuff, probably said, “Jack is a good kid,” and when it came to the not-so-good stuff, I was probably quietly excused with, “Oh well, that’s just Jack.”

I had just finished college and was about to start law school. I was, for the most part, someone my parents could be proud of. And yet, when I handed this letter to my father, folded up and sealed in an envelope, I was shaking and tears were creeping down my cheeks. Tears I had promised myself I wouldn’t allow.

All I could think was, “Will everything else about me that my dad is grateful for suddenly be irrelevant once he knows I’m gay?” I told my father to read the letter and said that I would come back in an hour. And without a word, I left him standing in the entryway of the house I grew up in and left. And to this day, I have absolutely no memory of what I did for the next hour.

Dear Dad, continue reading (next page)

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