I didn’t know it at the time, but it was an omen. We were having a few beers after work and the wide-screen TV was blaring in the background. A big-name actor, who had just been outed, was being interviewed about his sexuality. My friends made a few jokes about fags and queers and everyone laughed. I laughed along with them. Then Frank asked me what I would do if my son came home one day and announced he was gay. I made a joke of it. “I wish he were gay; then he might keep his room clean!”
The guys laughed again, but a passing stranger with frizzy hair who looked like he’d been dressed by Mary Quant must have overheard me. “Be careful what you wish for, sweetie,” he said in a soft lisp. Then he winked at me and was gone.
My only son Andrew was twenty-four, exactly half my age. At his age, I had a reasonable job and was already married and starting a family. He was still ‘finding himself’, which included returning to live at home when the independent life became unaffordable. I’d forgotten the incident in the pub when, a few weeks later, he knocked on the door of my home office. I looked up. He seemed worried. “Can I talk to you, Dad?”
“Of course, come on in.” I put my pen down and swivelled around in my chair.
I had a sofa bed in my office, so it could double as a spare room if guests needed to stay. It also meant that I could relax and listen to my seventies music in peace when the mood took me. Andrew perched on the edge of the sofa. He didn’t look comfortable. “Dad, I have met someone. We have been together for a while, actually.” He paused as if unsure what to say next.
“That’s great,” I said, jumping into the silence. “Why haven’t you brought her home to meet us before? Bring her over this weekend. Mum can cook a roast dinner.” His face furrowed. “Wait a minute; she’s not vegetarian is she?”
He shook his head. “This isn’t easy, Dad. Please just listen. She’s not vegetarian. She’s not a she at all. I don’t know how to tell Mum. Dad, I’m gay!”
Suddenly there was a maelstrom of emotion in the room. Andrew was in tears and I felt a wrench in my gut that almost doubled me over in pain. I lost control. My mouth engaged before my brain had time to think through the consequences. My voice rose in pitch and the words flowed together until I sounded almost hysterical. “Tell me you’re joking! Tell me it’s not true. You’re gay; you fucking pervert? What do you get up to with him; you filthy cocksucker? Which of you is the bottom? No don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. How could you degrade yourselves like that? Haven’t you heard of AIDS? Do you kiss him? Do you put your tongue in another man’s mouth?” There was more I wanted to scream at him but that was all I could manage to get out. The bile was rising in my stomach. I rushed over to the wash-hand basin in the corner and heaved. By the time I had emptied my stomach, Andrew had stormed off. He didn’t come home that night and I didn’t tell his mother why.
Next morning, I tried to phone him but he was rejecting my calls. I don’t know why, but I had a sudden urge to visit my father, so I took a diversion on the way to work. I wasn’t expecting anything to come from it. Most days he didn’t even recognize me. I detested visiting the waiting room for death and I hated myself for having put him in the home, but there was little choice as he had become too much for us to cope with. Remarkably, he was lucid and coherent.
“Dad, Andrew says he is gay.”
The response was not what I expected. “I have suspected that for a long time. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s genetic you know. Our family has been gay for generations. My only surprise was that you never turned out to be queer. You remember Uncle Walter, who lived with us? Well, he wasn’t really your uncle. We were lovers for the best part of thirty years; right up until he died. Your mother turned a blind eye to our shenanigans, for the sake of a peaceful marriage. She wasn’t much interested in the bedroom department, if you know what I mean. You remember how tiny she was and you were such a big baby. It nearly killed her giving birth. I reckon that put her off sex for the rest of her life. She probably figured it was better me being with Walter than finding another woman. My only concern is who is going to meet me when I get to the other side. I’m really hoping it will be Walter. Anyway, now you know why you’re an only child. I have often wondered why Andrew is an only child too. I hope you were supportive of the boy?”
My stomach lurched again, but I managed to hold on to my breakfast. I was surrounded by queers. All my life, I had been surrounded by disgusting, butt-fucking, child-molesting queers. The memory returned in technicolour glory. It caught me by surprise, so that I audibly gasped.
“What is it, son?”
I was suddenly calm again. I had put off this day for too long and now its time had come. “You remember when I was twelve and you sent me on a scout camp?” My father nodded. “We slept in two-man tents. My tent mate, Billy Isaacson, was ill and got sent home. I was sleeping alone.” A chill ran down my spine and goose bumps welled up on both arms. The years melted away and I was twelve again, excited to be away from home for the first time, still innocent. Then it happened. “One of the scout leaders came into my tent late at night. He asked if it was all right to share with me because his tent was damaged. I had no choice but to agree. We talked for a while. He gave me chocolate and asked me a lot of personal questions; like whether I had a girlfriend and how often I masturbated. I was quite uncomfortable with it but eventually I went to sleep. I was awoken by him forcing his way into my sleeping bag. He lay on top of me and held me down. He forced his tongue into my mouth and kissed me. His breath was foul and I gagged. He made me suck his penis instead. I gagged on that as well, so he said there was only one thing for it. He raped me, all the time holding his hand across my mouth to muffle my screams. Afterwards, he warned me not to tell anyone or I would get into terrible trouble.”
My father’s face had turned a beetroot red colour and his voice was harsh and barely audible, “I am so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve killed the bastard.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know; I was afraid; I was ashamed.” The tears were streaming down both our faces and he gestured me to come closer. I hugged him for a long time, wracked with sobs, our tears mingling. Thirty-six years of bottled up anger and grief were finally released. Eventually, I pulled myself together somewhat and released him.
He looked at me quizzically. “Who are you?”
My head ached terribly. I called in sick, went home and confessed almost everything to my wife, except the stuff about my father and Walter. She was shocked, of course, but held it together and managed to get through to Andrew and calm things down there. Next day, we had an old-fashioned family conference, many tears were shed and Andrew finally understood where my foul-mouthed tirade had come from. I agreed to seek some professional counselling and family life was put back on track. We even arranged that Andrew would bring Stephen around for dinner. Surprisingly, my wife seemed to accept Andrew’s sexuality without question or drama.
The cleaning and preparation were frantic. You would have thought that Prince William was coming to dinner. I spent most of the day hiding in my office. I couldn’t concentrate on work, so I lay on the couch, listened to Tales from Topographic Oceans and let my mind wander. I remembered the first time Andrew brought a girl home. They must have both been sixteen. She had seemed so mature for her age. I had found her so attractive that not only did I imagine them having sex but I fantasised about having her myself. Even the faint memory of her gave me an erection. I felt ashamed, but at least I wouldn’t have that problem tonight.
Thankfully, my wife was busy in the kitchen when they arrived. They were both obviously uncomfortable, fidgeting and not knowing what to say. Unfortunately, I was completely discombobulated at my first sight of Stephen. His long blond hair framed a perfect pale face set off with sparkling blue eyes. His nose was slightly too small for his face, which only added to his cuteness. He was tall and slim, wearing torn jeans and a tight white t-shirt that emphasised his flat stomach and highlighted his prominent nipples. He looked all of eighteen, although Andrew had told me he was the same age as him. I did a triple take and stared at him gasping like a goldfish out of water.
“Dad, this is Steve. Are you alright?”
I took a few deep breaths and tried to compose myself. “Steve, hi, pleased to meet you.” I offered my hand and he came close to take it. I caught a faint scent of his body odour and my heart leapt in my chest. “I’m sorry; it’s just that I think I have seen a ghost. What’s your family name?”
“Arkwright,” Steve said, “Why do you ask?”
“I knew it! Your father is Doggie; I mean Robert?”
A dark cloud seemed to pass over his face and he frowned. “Yes, my father was called Robert but he died in a car accident before I was born. Why did you call him Doggie?”
It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach and knifed me in the heart at the same time. I sat down quickly on the couch before I collapsed. “Please sit down,” I gestured to Andrew and Steve. “I went to school with your father. We were best friends until something silly caused us to fall out. I’m so sorry that he died. You look just like I remember him. Doggie was his nickname: Robert … Bob… B. Arkwright … Bark Right … Doggie.”
Stephen sat down on an armchair opposite me. I could see the faint blond hairs on the inside of his creamy thigh through one of the tears in his jeans. “Oh, I see,” Steve said smiling. His teeth were perfect and his smile melted my heart. I felt the need to readjust my crotch area.
My wife came in at that moment and saved the day. I don’t remember much about the meal or the conversation; I think that I was in shock. After they left, my wife remarked on how quiet I had been. I blamed a headache and said that I’d lie down for a while in my office. I put Yes back on and lay on the sofa with my eyes closed. The memory played itself over and over in my mind and the intense feelings of loss that I’d had at the time were amplified by the news of his death. My heart was breaking and I cried like a hungry baby. After so many years, the realisation finally hit me. Doggie had been the only person in my life that I had truly loved. We had been inseparable until the day he had made a pass at me and tried to kiss me. Instead of the man I loved, I had seen the scoutmaster attacking me. I hurt him, physically and emotionally and I never saw him again; until today. My son was in a relationship with a reincarnation of Doggie. For the first time in my life, I imagined two men making love without a feeling of nausea. Was it Stephen and Andrew or Doggie and me? Did it matter? I came in my pants like a horny teenager.
Looking back, I realise that meeting Stephen marked a major turning point in my life. I was finally able to come to terms with my abuse and accept my true sexuality. Stephen and Andrew made a cute couple but I was secretly pleased when they broke up because the memories and self-recriminations over Doggie were too raw. Steve dumped Andrew and broke his heart. For once, I was able to truly empathise with my son. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Andrew had lost his soul mate and he never got over it. We believe that he took his own life less than a year later, in a deliberate car accident. We buried my father and my son within just a few weeks of each other.
My wife and I are alone now. I doubt that I would have made it through the grief and the stress without her love and support. I have realised that there’s more to life and relationships than sex. I have a secret stash of gay porn that I watch from time to time, but I have come to terms with the fact that I’ll never suck cock or know how it feels to kiss another man with love. I often wonder how I would react if I were to meet Stephen again. In my imagination, we always end up in bed. I often wonder who was waiting for my father on the other side and whether I will see Doggie again one day. Only one thing is for certain; my wife will never know the truth.