Happy Father’s Day?

LGBT children often have challenging relationships with their dads

by Jack Kirven    
Published: June 14, 2008 in A&E / Life&Style


What if you don’t want to buy dad a tie?

It’s that time of year again. And as horrible as it sounds to your friends and family who enjoy calling their fathers, you have admitted (yet again) that you hate the obligation of talking to dear old dad.

And why shouldn’t you? Even television has moved beyond the family myths portrayed in “Leave It to Beaver.” Roseanne Barr’s series was far more accurate, wasn’t it?

The fact is that a higher than usual proportion of LGBT people have troubled experiences with one or both parents compared to heterosexual offspring. Obviously each person’s situation is unique, fraught with its own personal dilemmas and nuances, but the results are common and similar: LGBT people whose beliefs do not align with that of their parents often experience painful rejection scenarios.

Perhaps your sexuality is the only point of contention? Perhaps there are other personality conflicts at stake? Maybe you or your father have done or said something unforgivable? Did you even know him?
What if your struggles with your father have nothing to do with your sexuality (it’s become more common for dads to simply acknowledge and move on when a child comes out as LGBT)? Whatever the cause of the tension, it makes for difficult holidays.

If you are uncomfortable contacting your father or celebrating his success as a role model, only you know all the reasons why (and therapists might argue that not even you understand them all perfectly). You might be more at fault. He might be. It doesn’t really matter. The problem is the disconnection that results.

If you do not want, are not ready, or have come to terms with giving up the desire to a have a relationship with your father, then be at peace with yourself and move on to the next article. You are the only person who can tell you when or if it is appropriate to approach this issue.

On the other hand, if you feel it is time to mend fences, there are tentative steps you can take. This process doesn’t have to be the equivalent of jumping into a cold swimming pool on a scorching day. You can put a toe in first and prepare yourself gradually for the immersion.

The first step is to decide that you are ready to heal. Your father is not necessarily part of this process. He comes in later. For now, focus on yourself. Have you come to terms with the need to discuss the situation between you both? To what degree are you prepared to make yourself vulnerable? Are you willing to hear his criticisms of you after you have shared your problems about him?

Although this process should be healing for you, it should not be destructive to your father — are you prepared for a dialogue that may at first be hurtful? Maturity and forgiveness are paramount to success when negotiating delicate emotions. You both have feelings at stake here.

Once you have accepted that you might have to hurt before you can heal, you’ll need to ponder the means by which you feel comfortable having the initial conversation (assuming that your father is aware of your unhappiness and is willing to join in this process with you).

Is written correspondence best? Do you both use email? Perhaps you can send an initial text, saying, “Hey dad. Can we talk? I have 2 tell u some stuff.” If you’re up for it, a phone call would be the most personal, especially if your dad isn’t into new-fangled contraptions like instant messaging and cell phones.

Having had your initial dialogue to get reacquainted or to clear the air, how vigorously are you going to pursue subsequent conversations? After the first round, are you going to bother coming back into the ring when the bell sounds, or did you take too many upper-cuts to your feelings or ego? At any point you are, of course, free to admit that now simply isn’t the right time.

There is no set timetable for withdrawal or victory (a familiar theme in today’s complex cultural landscape). Each relationship has its own challenges with varying degrees of severity. If you have an easier situation to deal with, then hopefully you can be reconciled more quickly. If, however, you have undertaken this process of healing despite a history of abuse or belittlement, be wary of falling into the same disempowering cycles that created your situation in the first place.

You may be ready to grow and change, but your father may not be. If he is controlling, feels entitled to say or do whatever he wants at the expense of your feelings, batters you with religious beliefs you do not want to hear or has a history of becoming abusive in any way toward you, it is your duty to yourself to make him stop. If he does not, or if you do not feel ready to defend yourself in the face of his judgment or wrath, then now is not the time.

Most people eventually mature enough to know what their mistakes have been. Most people at some point will also be ready to make amends for them, or to at least explain why they thought they were in the right at that time. Some will even come to realize that they never thought they were in the right and they need to explain or apologize.

Whether you, your father or both have made the choices that have created your estrangement, know that everyone is human. When and if it is appropriate, opening yourself to compromise removes a weight from the heart (even if the sentiment isn’t necessarily shared by the other person involved). However, only you know when you’re ready to lay that burden down. In the meantime, try to not let the load pull you under.

Have a Happy Father’s Day. Celebrate the day. Whether that means remembering your dad’s best moments, visiting him in person, celebrating yourself for surviving his inadequacies, or being the father to your own children that you always wanted when you were growing up, make the day special. Observe the challenges it takes to be a parent and find a way to mark the growth you have experienced in your life.