People say children are resilient. I've said it. However, as a parent, every part of you, every fiber of your being, is designed to protect them, keep them from pain, shield them from hurt, and never, ever inflict suffering on their precious hearts. It is that protective spirit that kept me in the closet for so long. I vowed that I would never let my sexuality cause them any harm. I fought for so many years to create a "normal" life for me and my family.
On June 16, 2013 -- Father's Day -- after several months of fighting every urge to protect my children, I told them I am gay. Why Father's Day? Timing, the possibility that they might hear it from someone else, an upcoming family trip back to the U.S., other reasons too numerous to list. But frankly, one of the primary reasons is that Father's Day is the day to be a father. I wanted the kids to know that no matter what happens, I am still their father. I am the same man that I was before Father's Day, and I will be the same man tomorrow. I'm their father, and we are still a family. Even if the relationship between Mom and Dad is changing, we will always be a family. Sounds good, right? Those are all the right things to say. But maybe all I was saying was that dad is now weird and won't be around the house as much as he used to be. How would the kids respond?
Before telling them, I spent some time in London and came back on the train on Father's Day, frequently tearing up and getting concerned or bewildered glances from my fellow passengers. I hadn't slept much the night before and had a pit of deep anxiety in my stomach.
I returned home to three excited children, happy to see me and so eager to show me the things they had made me for Father's Day. One by one, they read their homemade cards and showed me their drawings. I could not fight my tears as they showered me with affection. One of my daughters made me a card telling me that I am her hero. Any father would be choked up by all that praise, but that emotion was mixed with genuine fear that what I would tell them later in the night might change their sentiment.
We did our traditional Father's Day hike in the woods and came home to eat dinner. My wife and I had talked about this moment for so long; I couldn't believe it was really happening. We told them that we wanted to have a family talk, so the kids gathered together on the sofa, my wife next to them and I on the floor in front of them. I started talking about how much their mother and I love them and explained that nothing will change the fact that we are a family. They already knew that we were considering divorce and had been waiting for a final answer. I told them that there were many reasons that Mom and Dad's relationship needed to change, and that one of those reasons was something about me. I described how, as a kid, I always wanted to be normal. I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, but I was not; there was something about me that made me feel like I didn't belong. However, I didn't tell anyone, because I was afraid. I was afraid that I might be gay.
I tried to keep it together while I spoke, but I couldn't help but cry. I told them that I had lived all these years afraid, afraid of who I am. Then I said that I was afraid that they would no longer see me as their hero. My youngest daughter quickly rebuked me, saying that I still am her hero. With that, I really sobbed. My middle daughter instantly jumped up and sat next to me. Putting her arm around me, she said, "I think you're a bigger hero for telling us. You don't need to be afraid anymore." Nine years old and with more wisdom than most grownups. She was joined by my 7-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old son. My wife and my children, wrapping their arms around me like a protective cocoon, allowed me to transform into something else. They told me that they are not embarrassed of me, that this is how God made me, and that they love me.
My wife and my three kids: These are my heroes.
A version of this blog post originally appeared on Destination unknown.