Q. Homophobic regret: I’m a dad to a wonderful kid, “Jay”. He’s 15 and honestly the best son my wife and I could ever wish for. We’re also pretty sure he’s gay. There are lots of clues: his “best friend” is an out gay kid who Jay talks to daily, and we have heard him ending these conversations with “I love you;” he will watch any TV show with us if he learns there’s a gay character; and my wife recently found a very telling internet search history while fixing a bug on his laptop. It is the search history that has broken my heart. He has visited a number of LGBT sites, specifically searching stories on the theme of “coming out to homophobic fathers.” Prudie, I feel so ashamed. My wife and I have talked about it a lot and remembered a number of conversations we’ve had over the years in which she has argued with me over homophobic things I’ve said—I used to be pretty insecure and would complain about gay characters being “forced down our throats” on TV, and was once very stupid about changing the hairdressers my son went to because I didn’t like the very camp gay guy who worked there. My views have changed a lot over the years, in part due to my wife challenging me and in part due to becoming less insecure, to the point that I cringe remembering things like this. I am devastated that these were not just embarrassing things I said, but that they have clearly affected my son’s ability to trust me. I want to communicate to him that I love him and am 100 percent OK with him if he wants to come out, but my wife doesn’t want to put him on the spot and embarrass him. Can you advise on what I should do?
A: I have good news! It’s an excellent idea to apologize to your kids for being homophobic in front of them whether you suspect your kids might be gay or not. It was still wrong, and cruel, and demeaning, even if your kid was straight, and you can offer a sincere apology and model changed behavior on that basis alone. You also, it sounds like, owe your wife an apology for the “many years” of debate you put her through, so this can be a group apology, rather than one which targets your son as an “obvious” candidate for coming out. It’s good that you regret your past homophobia, but that doesn’t mean you should just quietly switch to not saying homophobic things without acknowledging what you did wrong. Don’t expect that such an apology will immediately make your son feel comfortable coming out to you, and don’t lay it on too thick or keep pressing the issue after that initial conversation just because you’re eager for him to tell you something. Don’t speculate or drop hints that you think this might influence his ability to come out to you now. But you have real, concrete things to apologize for regardless of your son’s orientation, things that affected both your son and your wife and which both merit redress.