Dear That's Just How It Is
Years ago, my Mom and Dad split up. It wasn’t really clear why they did because it seemed to me and to my brother that they got along. Several years later, my Dad came to a family event with Bill, a friend of his. Bill was nice and at the time we didn’t really think much about it. As time went on, Dad would come alone or now and then would bring Bill. Not until I was out of college by 10 years, did I realize that Dad was gay. He and Bill were more than friends. It was confusing and hard. They lived together. My brother wouldn’t speak to my Dad and still doesn’t. That’s just how it is. I spend time with Dad. It can be awkward. Bill passed away last year. Dad is 78 and he has health problems. Dad says he’s scared to have help or to go to a facility because he’s gay. What can I do?
Dear, That's Just How It Is,
You have laid out a number of concerns. I will do my best to touch on each of them. It seems like you are saying that “it’s just how it is” but… that it may be somewhat cumbersome or awkward at times for you to truly embrace that your Dad is gay, let alone your brother’s feelings. Not sure if you are really asking about what you can do within yourself about your comfort or lack thereof and or what you can do about the fact that your brother has in essence “disowned” your father. You are also mentioning that your father has expressed a fear of needing assistance in direct relationship to being gay.
Let me address this entire challenge in a general way and then maybe hone in a bit to what your experience is and that of your brother. There is no question that in this society in 2018 we are seeing and experiencing sexuality in a very different way than years ago, but let’s not fool ourselves to think that it is all okay for people who have self- identified as LGBTQ+. It is far from okay. Yes, there are many more people who are gay or lesbian or trans* or queer who have found it “easier” to come out in recent years opposed to 30 or more years ago but we still have a long way to go. We will continue to do all that we can as allies to ensure that everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is afforded their rights.
Let’s go back to your comment about feeling “confused, okay, and hard.” You grew up at a time that you were most likely not exposed to friends who had gay parents. Most kids you knew had a Mom and a Dad who were together under one roof or may have been divorced and living separately. You may have grown accustomed, to a certain extent, to the challenges of going back and forth from one parent’s home to another home. Adding to that set of factors, that you have a parent who became true to themself and came out to family and friends in the community. This may have created more for you to understand, and to hopefully, accept and support.
While you have found your way to relate to your father given his sexual orientation, your brother has not been able to do so. You may have to focus on yourself, work through the feelings relative to your brother’s stance with how you relate or do not relate to him as your sibling and keep your eye on Dad. Dad is without Bill, is likely mourning that loss, and is anticipating that his own health problems may require a skilled caregiver to assist him. It makes sense that he would feel anxiety about this because he was raised at a time that set a foundation of “caution” in him. It is unfortunate that the majority of our professional caregivers have not received cultural competency training. The vast majority of facilities including our hospitals have not provided cultural competence training nor set policies in place to protect individuals/residents who may identify as LGBTQ+. Your father’s fears are legitimate.
If you can comfortably become your father’s shepherd through the health care and housing arena, so be it. You may want to consider retaining a culturally competent licensed and well experienced Clinical Social Worker or Nurse in a specialized private practice as an Elder Care Consultant/Geriatric Care Manager/Aging Life Care Professional or a Case Manager in a public elder service organization to serve as an advocate for your Dad. This would be the case if your father identified as straight. As an elder of any sexual orientation, advocacy is necessary. Protect yourself and your father. He can live a good life, a true life with kindness, genuine understanding, and support. He can live where he wants to and he can live as independently as possible for as long as can be in an affordable place. Family and professionals will need to be on his Team to make that happen.