Photo: Getty Images/Comstock
By Rick Clemons
Kids may say the darndest things … but when it’s about their truth and their sexuality, we’d better listen. However, when my daughter came out as bisexual, considering I’m a gay man, I was surprised how much my supportive listening skills were tested.
I knew something was up. Her actions weren’t just moody 15-year-old theatrics. Something underneath the pouty face, silence, and sullenness was eating at my youngest, and by God I was going to get to the bottom of it.
You know, that’s what us Dads do. We go digging (a.k.a. pestering) until we get the truth, because we’re hunters and victors. Even if the outcome of that hunt is a truth we we’re not quite prepared to hear.
Man, I wish I hadn’t.
No, that’s not right … I’m glad I explored, but I sure the heck wasn’t ready to hear what my daughter had to say.
I wandered down the hall towards her bedroom—my heart beating out of my chest—subtly knocking on her door, asking if I could come in. When no answer came, I knocked a little bit louder, assuming she had her headphones on, entranced in Blink-182 or Ed Sheeran.
Finally, I heard a forsaken, “Come in.”
In the midst of the typical teen bedroom clutter and disheveled chaos, my second born sat staring at me with a look of, “So you’re in … is there some reason you came to invade my planet?”
Not sure where to start, I chose to just dive in. I didn’t beat around the bush and asked, “I sense something is really bugging you and I want you to tell me what it is!”
Foul #1 dad. Don’t bother with ease, caring, or real compassion! Just default to the standard, highly successful parenting model—Me parent, you child, do as I say.
Of course that approach led to the default teen response—"Nothing!“
Sigh. This was going to end up being either a really long night, or one where I stormed off in frustration. The latter was the outcome, but not because of the frustration that you’re imagining, nor that I anticipated.
"Is it schoolwork, a teacher, a boy, someone bullying you? What is it? I’m here to listen!” Of course, my alter ego whispered in my ear, Yeah right, Dad. You just told her in no uncertain terms to cough it up. I don’t think you’re getting anywhere here.
The next voice I heard was the shaking voice of my 15-year-old angel, saying, “Why do you always assume it has something to do with a boy? What if it has to do with a girl? I’m bisexual, you know, and you never seem to get that!”
Uhm, no, I don’t get that because this is the FIRST I’m hearing of this. (FYI: You’d think after my first-born told me she was dating a girl her freshman year of high school, I’d be a little more observant … guess not!)
Of course, that “phase” passed with my oldest daughter, so obviously my blinders went back up with my youngest. Much the way my own parents’ blinders went up about my sexuality after I married my now ex-wife. Even though I told them I was gay, I guess they thought the counseling sessions with the hot, young pastor of the church “cured me” and led me to the sacred and holy “I do’s!” Wrong.
So, how ironic that as a gay man (who took ages to come out about my own truth and sexuality), there I sat, being a judgmental parent and wondering, “How the heck do I do this?” … Gay I get, but bisexual? Not sure how to navigate that one except to just do it.
Rather than grill her like she’d just robbed a bank—even though, in the moment, I did feel like she robbed me of who I thought she was—I knew it would be best to do the following:
Ask her to write down how/why she knows she’s bisexual. Once she’s got that list put together, then we can set aside a special time to go over her discoveries.
Take a couple of days to process the new information. In other words, let’s create space and breathe.
See if there are any local PFLAG meetings happening that I could attend with other parents whose kids are also bisexual.
Talk to my husband, my ex-wife, and other gay friends about this new information to see what insights they might be able to impart upon me.
Let my amazing daughter know I LOVE her … no matter what.
Of course, the biggest challenge I had internally was the voice saying, “Boy, can’t wait for Mom and Dad to hear this one. They’ll be so thrilled to see that you screwed up her sexuality just like you did your own!”
Yeah, whatever! Take a chill pill, Mom and Dad. I had no more to do with her sexuality being non-heterosexual than you did with mine.
Yet, even as I massaged these new insights into my being, my lens of parenthood, and my filter as a gay man, I couldn’t help but feel scared, proud, curious … and little bit disappointed.
Scared that she may get hurt or bullied for being her truth.
Proud that she is able to speak her mind and be herself at this age.
Curious if she really understands what she’s saying.
Disappointed that I may have not been supportive enough.
In those mucked up, mired thoughts I also realized that all those thoughts were about me, not her.
I needed to kick myself into parental pants, simply be there when she needs me, and give her space and grace to grow into herself.
As I sat there contemplating the curve balls that parenthood throws me, I also felt a smirky little smile crawl across my face, knowing I wouldn’t have this experience any other way … curvy bisexual balls and all.
What’s a parenting curve ball you’ve been thrown? Gay, bisexual, transgender, nose piercings, or no interest in college? No matter what the curve ball, all you might need is a coach to help you navigate these new plays on the field. Give coaching a try with a complimentary session today!
More from YourTango: