A Long And Sometimes Awkward Journey



Journalist Tom Hickey

Tom writes:

Homosexuals didn’t exist when I was growing up. I never knowingly met one, never really thought about them until I came across the story of Oscar Wilde. To say I was shocked was putting it mildly: I simply couldn’t comprehend two men having sex with one another. And lesbians? Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

As I grew older I noticed a few effeminate characters who I assumed – without ever knowing definitively – were homosexual. Television played a large part in how I viewed them. These were guys with exaggerated mannerisms and squeaky voices. Queers in other words. How we laughed at one of our classmates who certainly fitted the description.

I had my own demons to deal with and struggled through life trying to come to terms with my facial disfigurement. I should have had some modicum of sympathy for homosexuals. In my world where I sought to fit in and earn everyone’s approval I joined in the homophobic chatter whenever the subject was raised. Homos – the lowest of the low.

Thirty years ago I met my true love Trish and we were blessed with three children. Daire was the first born and I was so proud to be a father. Alan died after a battle with spina bifida, but before he died along came Sarah Jane.

We watched the kids grow up, helped them through school, and delighted at their achievements. We took a huge interest in their lives and whatever they embraced. We helped them whenever we could and always ensured they never lacked a loving environment. They could talk to us about anything or come to us with their problems. You couldn’t have found a more normal home.

An accumulation of little things had made me wonder for a while if my son was gay. Little things hinted that he might, but it seemed hard to believe. We were driving to the train station to take him back to Dublin one day, but before I could think about how I should lead up to it, the words just tumbled out. “Daire, are you gay?” I asked.

Tears started flowing down his face as he began sobbing, and I had to pull in and stop the car. I told Daire that I loved him, that him being gay didn’t mean I would love him less. I meant every word. I had a lot to learn.

I didn’t want Daire to make the long journey back to Dublin on his own, so I asked him to come home to tell Trish and I would drive him to Dublin later. He was upset and taken aback by events, but when we arrived home he told his mum who tried not to show her surprise, instead hugging and kissing him.

I guess what shocked me more than knowing that Daire was gay was that he looks ‘normal’. I had this mental image of gays looking a particular way, with effeminate mannerisms, but he didn’t conform to our idea of being gay. A million thoughts went through my mind: How did I not notice before? Did I really love him or was I just saying that to stop him crying? The questions flashed through me but there was no time to reflect.

I had work the following morning but rang my boss to say I wouldn’t be in because of a personal matter. Thankfully, he didn’t ask any questions. I was still in shock myself and God knows what I might have said had he asked. We didn’t talk much on the journey to Dublin, but when we did it was about anything but him being gay. I guess we were both coming to terms with the revelation: perhaps Daire wasn’t quite sure his parents were so accepting. For me, it was a sudden transformation. Had you asked me the day before you might have assumed I was homophobic because I didn’t have much time for gays. All I knew in that moment was that I loved my son more than anything in the world, gay or not.

We arrived at Dartry Road where he was living and when we got out of the car he hugged me. I have never been so glad to be embraced. I hardly noticed the road during the drive back because my mind was still trying to come to terms with my new world. I now had a son who was gay and how should I deal with that? Should we tell his sister? What about my parents? How would they react? Our friends?

It’s funny the things that hit you in no particular order, like the fact your son won’t be bringing any girlfriends home, there won’t be any wedding and as for grandchildren… You know, none of that matters really, not when you want your child to be happy. I loved him because he’s my son and not for anything else.

Of course we were worried about Daire. We knew gays were often targeted, that they faced discrimination, even violence. He had barely left Cork for college and he would be all alone. So many fears raced through our minds. Most of all, we worried about what people might think – of him, of us. We were confused and afraid.

My dad was unwell and his memory was fading, so there was no point in telling him, although Trish and I were extremely reluctant to tell anyone initially fearing how they might react. It’s a hard thing to keep to yourself, but eventually we did tell family members. They were all amazingly supportive. Trish told some of her friends, but she would admit to me later that it took her about a year to grow accustomed to the fact her son was gay. I think she mourned the loss of a possible wedding and grandchildren. To be honest, I never thought of that. It would be some time before we got around to telling our daughter, but she already knew – someone at school had told her Daire came out when he was 18.

I don’t know why I waited over a year to tell Mum, but a couple of months after Dad died we were on a trip to London and I broke the news. She didn’t bat an eyelid and said she loved her grandson whether he was gay or not. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

It’s been a long and sometimes awkward journey being the father of a gay child. I’m comforted by the fact that he had a great bunch of friends at school and that he has built a successful career, but if I’m honest I do worry about him more than Sarah Jane.

For a long time I kept my thoughts to myself at work. I guess I was afraid to say anything. There’s a lot of casual homophobia around, so whenever I heard it at work or on social occasions I wanted to open my mouth, but I stayed quiet because I did not want to be judged. I’m ashamed of my silence. I did tell some colleagues at work, but just a few. Perhaps they told others. I’m gone now so it hardly matters.

I am extremely proud of Daire just as I am his sister, but in today’s Ireland they do not have an equal future. I’m hoping that will change when we vote Yes in the referendum on Friday to same-sex marriage. It’s about giving my children and yours equal rights to marry the people they love, regardless of gender.

Why I’m voting Yes for my gay son’s future (Hickey’s World)

31 thoughts on “A Long And Sometimes Awkward Journey

  1. ReproBertie

    Good man Tom.

    Before anyone asks, no, the broadcast moratorium does not apply to websites.

  2. scottser

    well, that’s what a ‘normal’ family looks like, right there. loving, supportive, quick clip round the ear if you’re out of order.

  3. Just paul

    Tom, I never reply to any posts, or comment on any sections, but When I read this, I found myself thinking of my own dad, and his journey.
    I came out to my parents 20 years ago, they were devastated and didn’t suspect a thing, my mother lamented for all the things I’d never experience or enjoy and worried herself sick about how I’d be treated.
    Cut to 20 years later, I’m marrried ( we married in a country that permits it) to a wonderful husband, we have an amazing life and a wonderful family. My mum was the proud mother at our wedding and still pulls out photos to anyone who sits still long enough.
    There’s a great website set up in the States called IT GETS BETTER, it was set up to encourage young, and older gay people struggling with just coming out that it does indeed get better. The same applies for parents, it takes a while, and that’s OK, and your son doesn’t actually expect you to be 100% OK with it right now, he is still figuring it out himself.
    My dad is amazing, I don’t tell him that enough, but he is. He still says the wrong thing sometimes, and then makes it worse as he tries to fix it, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the way he loves us, and there is no doubting this.
    Thanks for this post, it’s made me think about the NO poster (mothers and fathers matter)… Because they do, or rather parents do, whatever form that may take. I’m going to call my dad tonight to say thanks for the last 20 years. Paul

  4. Daisy Chainsaw

    All I knew in that moment was that I loved my son more than anything in the world, gay or not.

    Damn onions!

  5. Tom Hickey

    To read those comments shows I did the right thing by writing the blog. Thanks you so much for your support. Can I just say Paul that fathers are only human. I’ve put my foot in it a few times, but most fathers/mothers do their best. I’m very fortunate to have a terrific relationship with Daire – and his sister – and it’s very precious to me.

    1. Anne ODonoghue

      A beautiful piece. The reason everyone should be voting yes tomorrow. A big yes from me.

  6. Joe the Lion

    Nice article Tom

    The great news is that after tomorrow there will indeed be weddings for parents of gay folks and perhaps even grandchildren too. Fair play for writing

  7. Anne

    That’s nice n all, but something about the use of the term homosexual (unless you’re taking the piss, as in you big queer homo, selling your arse at the back of the George.. kinda thing, and I doubt Tom meant it that way ) sounds like a judgmental label to me.

    Here –

    The “homosexual”

    The application of labeling theory to homosexuality has been extremely controversial. It was Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues who pointed out the big discrepancy between the behavior and the role attached to it. They had observed the often negative consequences of labeling and repeatedly condemned labeling people as homosexual:

    “It is amazing to observe how many psychologists and psychiatrists have accepted this sort of propaganda, and have come to believe that homosexual males and females are discretely different from persons who respond to natural stimuli. Instead of using these terms as substantives which stand for persons, or even as adjectives to describe persons, they may better be used to describe the nature of the overt sexual relations, or of the stimuli to which an individual erotically responds… It would clarify our thinking if the terms could be dropped completely out of our vocabulary….[37]

    “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual… Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into pigeonholes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.[38]

    “The classification of sexual behavior as masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual, is, therefore, unfortunate if it suggests that only different types of persons seek out or accept each kind of sexual activity. There is nothing known in the anatomy or physiology of sexual response and orgasm which distinguishes masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual reactions.

    1. Anne

      That was only in relation to – “Homosexuals didn’t exist when I was growing up.”..

      The rest of it was very nice though.

  8. Tom Hickey

    I used the word ‘homosexual’ because that was what we called gays for a long time. My son corrected me a few times so that’s why I use the different words. It was a journey for me too. No offence meant to anyone.

  9. Carolus Dran

    Wonderful honest and moving piece by Mr Hickey.
    Anne however needs to relax. It’s abundantly clear from Mr Hickey’s piece that it was written with love and that accusations of being ‘judgemental ‘ ( a tedious and ultimately meaningless word as every thought, action or opinion any human ever has is the result of a process of judgement ) are risible at best, if not deliberately obtuse.

    1. Anne

      It’s abundantly clear from Mr Hickey’s piece that it was written with love

      Did I say it wasn’t?
      I don’t like labels and categories for peoples’ sexuality. Fair enough if they want to define themselves a particular way.. but I wouldn’t refer to a friend as a homosexual or a gay… as they wouldn’t refer to me as a heterosexual, or a straight. It’s a part of their lives.. not who they are, to my way of thinking at least.

      And I’m very relaxed, thanks. Written with love.. Xox

      1. Anne

        It’s really only a small point I was making..
        I thought it was really really really nice otherwise.. ok. Thanks. Written with love xox

  10. Missierex

    Dagnabbit i’m sitting at my desk with big watery eyes! Well done Tom. My parents have known since I was 19 (i’m now 30) and they still struggle, but I know they love me and that’s really all that matters.

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