As I arrived home from school, my mum pulled me into a fierce hug drenching my clothes with salty tears.
‘Your father’s a monster,’ she wept.
I’d wondered how the gentle, loving man could ever be that, but I knew better than to ask.
She knelt down, held my hands tightly and explained that we weren’t going to live with my dad any more. He was going to live with Tony* – a barista at a local café.
The concept confused me, a man with a man. Aged 10, I didn’t even know it was possible.
I can’t exactly say when I realised I was gay – I’d liked boys since primary school. But because I had never seen a gay couple, I thought attraction was just how you felt about some friends.
My dad had never been himself around my mum – I saw that clearly after the divorce. He just seemed to glow, and I learned that you can’t really love someone or be truly happy if you haven’t found yourself or accepted who you are.
After dad admitted he was gay, I could feel the relief radiating from him. Even though his relationship with Tony didn’t work out, he didn’t regret it.
Meanwhile, I listened to my mum go on about how terrible my father was. I sympathised with her, because I didn’t like seeing her heartbroken, but I often felt like she didn’t really love my dad and was only hurt because he left her for a man.
Hearing my mum being homophobic affected me a lot, I was afraid of coming out to her
My dad won joint custody, which irritated my mum to no end.
She embraced every and any opportunity to tell the world about my dad’s scandalous affair and that she’d been used as a ‘beard’ (a slang term for when a homosexual man is with a woman to hide his sexuality).
Hearing my mum being homophobic affected me a lot, I was afraid of coming out to her.
Meanwhile, in my teens, I became a lifeline to her and tried to be there for her. I let her believe I didn’t have any girlfriends because I was prioritising my studies.
Then, my mum brought home Hugo* – her gym instructor – five years later. She said he helped her ‘tap into her spiritual side’. I noticed how free she seemed around him – even her fashion style changed – they got married in 2015 and I was pleased for them.
Hugo was openly bisexual. Maybe Mum married him as a way of proving to herself that she was OK with it.
Mum was happy for a while and Hugo was an amazing step-dad to me. He took it upon himself to spoil me rotten, listened to me go on and on about a cute boy or a mean girl at school.
Thankfully, in my teen years I had Hugo, he could tell that I was in the closet but he contributed to my coming out. He didn’t hide his bisexual nature, which was a plus because we could gush about boy bands together in secret.
My dad later admitted to me that he felt insecure about Hugo being a new ‘cooler’ dad, but even he couldn’t resist Hugo’s awesomeness.
Hugo would greet us at the door, which meant Dad didn’t have to see Mum, and they got on – two men perfectly understood what being married to my mum was like.
Things weren’t easy for Hugo – Mum was living with the fear of him walking out on her for a man. So, she kind of self-destructed, always suspicious. At some point, he got tired of it and unsurprisingly, in 2017 my mum and Hugo divorced.
I was 19 at the time, still living with my mum, and once again, I listened to her tell me how men are the worst and talk rubbish about Hugo – and my dad – all over again.
She didn’t want me around Hugo, she expected my loyalty.
But Hugo and my dad had become friends, they invited me on brunches and they traded horror stories about my mum’s pettiness throughout their marriages.
Since I couldn’t come out to my mum, I took their side. In a way, I know I was being two-faced, but I found it funny and agreed that my mum was extremely jealous, needy and paranoid.
I don’t think she’s ever truly found herself, or agreed with her own beliefs and values.
I confided in Hugo after the divorce that I wanted to come out. And, with his support, in 2018, I introduced my mum to my boyfriend. She wasn’t thrilled. She blamed my dad for it and, while I’m sure she’s still not fully OK with it, at least she’s looking me in the eyes again.
I blamed my mum as I felt I didn’t know how to love
It made me wonder – whose fault was it that their relationships had broken down? Mum’s? Dad’s? Or Hugo’s?
Mum had two failed marriages – was it her fault? Maybe they just didn’t understand each other?
Meanwhile, my love life was suffering a lot. I was 20 years old and I was going through boys like I went through clothes, they dumped or ghosted me. I had been in six relationships, and they had all crashed.
I blamed my mum because I felt I didn’t know how to love.
All the men I’d dated had something very similar, they were all wrong for me. The men my mum married had something in common, they were both not right for her. I didn’t know who I was, so in turn I didn’t know what I needed in a relationship.
At Christmas 2018, I was with my mum, providing emotional support, and listening to her speak ill of Hugo and my dad.
I remember scrolling my dad’s social media account and seeing pictures of him and Hugo – they were having an extravagant Christmas celebration. I spoke to them regularly, I’d last seen them a month before, and they hadn’t mentioned they were going to be together for the holidays.
The pictures put a hole in my heart, I was jealous they were hanging out without me, and I wondered if they were hooking up – Dad and Hugo were single at the time but I shook the notion from my head, they were just friends.
Then, the following summer, I went over to my dad’s and Hugo was there. At first, I thought ‘there’s no big deal about him being there’. Then I noticed the looks they kept giving each other.
‘Are you two a thing?’ I asked suspiciously.
Instantly, they admitted it. ‘How does it make you feel?’ Hugo asked.
I wanted to be there for my mum by telling them off, but then I looked at them, I really looked at them. There was pure love in their eyes.
Suddenly, it clicked. The problem in my love life wasn’t other guys, it was me. I had no idea how to love someone, or take care of someone, put another person’s interest before my own because I’d never witnessed that before.
Seeing how selfless they were with each other gave me an insight to what love is really about.
Honestly, I felt bad for my mum. I know she’s not the easiest person to be around, but everyone deserves a chance at love, even the most difficult people.
Of course, Mum went ballistic the moment she heard about Dad and Hugo. Her ego was understandably bruised.
My dad and Hugo put in commendable effort to be civil with her – they felt guilty even though they had done nothing wrong. They were free agents.
My mum accused my dad of stealing Hugo from her, having an affair with him while they were still married. She refused to see them ever again. I worry that at some point I’ll have to choose between my mum or my dad and Hugo.
The really awful thing is I’ve learned that my mum would rather be sad than alone – she chooses men that seem no good for her.
Now, I have an example of how a couple should be. Hugo and my dad can be themselves no matter what, and the support they give each other is unrivalled.
There is trust, honesty, loyalty and they succeeded in creating a healthy environment where they can both express their feelings.
Sure, it’s hard for my mum seeing her two ex-husbands get together but I’m happy for my dad and Hugo. Several years on, their love is stronger than ever.
Most of all, I’m extremely grateful that they have helped fix my love life.
I don’t just seek companionship, I seek support, honesty, trust, unconditional love and compromise in my relationships.
I took the time to truly find and love myself before diving into another relationship.
Now, I’m seeing someone – we’ve been going strong for a few months and it’s been amazing. I’ve learned from my mum and dad’s mistakes. I know what I need in a person, someone who truly understands, complements me and gives me his all.
I have to thank my dad, Hugo and my mum for showing me this – even if it’s been in a very complicated way with a lot of hurt on their side.
My mum helped me realise that I was holding myself back and Hugo and my dad helped me gain confidence and have shown me what love should be about.
*All names have been changed.
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