A family story by Rich Paschall
It was not like Billy’s dad to just walk into his room. At 17 years old he really expected his parents to knock first. He quickly closed out of his chat and turned around to see what his father wanted.
“What’s up, dad?” Billy began.
“Son, I think there is something you should tell me.” Billy’s father paused and waited for a response. Billy was clueless. He could not think of a thing he should say, so there was this long awkward silence as the two of them shot puzzled looks at one another.
Over the last two months, Billy’s father had noticed the nature of his son’s friendship with a handsome young classmate named Josh. They went everywhere together. They studied together and they spent hours on the phone together. Going to the movies on a Saturday night was just like the dates Billy’s dad had with his wife when they were teenagers. Billy would spend a lot of time getting ready. He picked out his best date-night type clothes and he absolutely lit up when Josh appeared at the door. Dad felt he could not be mistaken.
“No, Dad, I can’t think of anything,” Billy finally said in his best “I’m innocent” voice.
“Are you gay?” his father shot back. All of a sudden something heavy fell on Billy’s chest. It must have been the weight of reality hitting him. He was unprepared.
“Yes dad,” Billy responded as boldly as he could after the truth was already out there anyway.
“And this Josh fellow, is he your boyfriend?” Billy did not want to out Josh to his father but he figured that he somehow knew so he gave up that truth too.
“Yes, dad.” Once again they stared at one another until Billy could finally throw that weight off himself and speak up.
“So, it’s OK then?” Billy asked. His dad did not want to say “yes” because it was not alright with him, but he did not want to say “no” because he recalled how difficult teenage love could be and just figured that gay teenage love was even harder. After a few moments deep in thought, Billy’s dad had a course of action in mind.
“Son, I want you to tell your mother this week. Am I clear about that?”
“No dad, please,” the boy replied in horror. “Can’t you tell her?” If his dad was not all “open-arms” about this he could not imagine his mother’s reaction. She was far more right of center than dad.
“Billy, if you think you are old enough to be making out with another boy, you are certainly old enough to man-up and tell your mother exactly who you are.” At that, Billy’s dad left the room and quietly closed the door on the way out.
For the rest of the week, Billy was a nervous wreck. Every time he saw his mother he could feel a knot in his stomach. His father started shooting him angry glances for failing to tell his story. Billy did tell two people though, Josh and his sister, Mary. The latter was a tactical error, to be sure.
One night when they all happened to be at the dinner table at once, a rare occurrence for two busy parents and two teenagers, Mary could not hold her brother’s secret any longer. “So, little Billy, did you tell mom yet that you’ve been kissing boys?”
Billy’s mom immediately looked like she had seen the ghost of her dear departed mother glaring at her. “Robert, did you know about this?” Billy’s mom shouted across the room at her husband. He did not respond but she could tell after twenty-three years of marriage what the response would be. “How dare you!” she screamed at either Billy or her husband, neither was quite sure and then she stormed out of the room.
Over the next few weeks, Billy’s parents argued often about why the boy was gay. Each thought the other had a hand in it, but only mom was mortified and angry beyond reason.
“If you had been a stronger father,” she took to telling him almost daily, “This would not have happened.”
To which he frequently responded, “I tried to discipline the boy but every time I did he would run to you and get off the hook. I would say you are the reason he’s a mama’s boy.” From there it only got worse.
After one particularly stormy session, Billy’s mom finally declared she was through. “I want a divorce. We can not continue these fights in front of the children.” Robert agreed and went to their room. A stunned Billy, eavesdropping in the next room, began to cry.
Robert called his brother and asked to stay a few days. He packed a bag and prepared to leave when Billy ran into his room. “No dad, please don’t leave. I am sorry, it’s all my fault. I’ll change, I promise. I won’t be gay anymore. Please.” Billy buckled at the knees and went down to the floor. His dad helped him up and sat him on the edge of the bed.
“Look son, my marriage was over years ago. It took something like this to point that out. You can not change this anymore than I can change who you are.” At that, he reached over to hug the boy. He planted a kiss on his forehead, got up, grabbed his bag, and walked out the door.