I shared an extract from ‘The Power of Love’ 3 posts ago – a ‘kitchen sink drama’ for real, in Oxford UK with my parents. I had a nice response from a guy in India, and this prompts me to share something more. Dave and I, after much persuasion and agonising, finally agreed to help our two lesbian friends Karen and Clare in their desire for motherhood. This leaves us as proud fathers – he of a daughter Jaymee and I of my son Leo, who has featured here in a number of posts.
OK. After your parents have reluctantly accepted that you are gay, and decided that means no grandchildren, how do you break it to them that ‘that pregnant girl over there’ is actually carrying their future grandchild?
I blundered my way into that in a restaurant in Johannesburg. How that arose I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves (click on he book cover thumbnail below!). However, here’s a taste:
Then the tougher stuff.
‘I think the saddest thing really is that I was looking forward to having grandchildren.’ Mother again, quietly.
God, how I wished that Dave was alongside me at that moment. I must have looked very uncomfortable because my father jumped in, thinking perhaps to change the subject, but not exactly achieving it.
‘Who knows, Mary? He’s only eighteen. Things might change. All sorts of things might happen.’ A long pause. ‘Those girls I was talking to, seemed to have everything organised… they looked a little, erm, plump. The two in charge? It sort of crossed my mind…are they pregnant?’
Oh shit, bullseye.
‘Yes.’ I didn’t even hear the reply myself, such a pitiful little squeak came out.
‘What did you say, dear? They seem very nice.’
Nice. Yeah, mum, you know they’re lesbians, and spend their time burning themselves, rolling around on glass and swinging from meat hooks? No, of course you don’t.
‘I said, “Yes, they are pregnant”.’ Again, little more than a whisper, and maybe they picked up on that, especially as I failed to meet their gaze head on.
‘So where are their husbands, dear, are they in your Company?’ asked my mother, either unwilling to imagine any possibility other than “norm”, or just deliberately trying to put me on the spot. After all, she was the one who had picked up on Dave and me first, before dad, I’m sure.
‘Karen and Clare. Their partners are, um, well, each other.’
‘Good heavens.’ My father looked stunned. ‘Then how…’
‘Dad, they get broody, just like straight girls I suppose. But then they have to find friends who are willing to help them.’
There was an incredibly awkward silence which seemed to last an eternity but was actually only as long as it took a waiter to clear some plates.
‘They obviously did.’
Another silence, which I broke.
‘So they’ll be doing less of their performance for a while.’
‘Of course.’ Another pause from dad. ‘Sperm donors, I suppose.’
This was more a statement than a question, and I guess I was a bit shocked to hear my father even use the word ‘sperm’. A memory of a ‘Monty Python’ film idiotically entered my head… a screen full of nuns dancing in the street and singing ‘Every
sperm is sacred…’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
‘Mmm. Lesbians erm…’ I think I gulped, and started again. ‘Um, lesbians often get helped by gay boys.’
Then I desperately wished that I had just kept quiet. What on earth made me raise the issue of gay boys at that moment, except a rash of insanity? My father studied my face, and my mother studied her feet. I thought about Ethan and Jack, opening out to their parents in the way they had, plus Jack opening his heart out to the rest of the Company before we left for the airport. How I admired both their courage, and their parents’ response to it. Maybe I owed it to them to come clean to my parents. One day I would certainly have to. But here in Johannesburg? Now?
Without looking up, my mother suddenly volunteered: ‘And, of course, they do know several gay boys.’
Another awkward pause.
‘Exactly. Um, dad, can we get another drink?’ My throat was a dry as one of Clare’s flipping burners.
‘OK.’ He waved his arm at a waiter. ‘It would get very complicated. Legally.’ He studied my downturned face again. There really was no escape. When he spoke, he spoke very quietly.
‘Tony. Your face… In your whole eighteen-and-a-bit years, I’ve only seen you look like that about twice before. And that was when you had done something you thought we would think was really bad.’
I couldn’t respond.
My mother, however, had crossed her personal threshold.
‘Philip. Whatever he’s done… however it’s done… he’s still our Tony.’
Suddenly I felt bolder. ‘Lots of students do it anonymously just to raise money.’
There was another awkward silence whilst the waiter returned, sensed a situation, and retreated as rapidly as he could.
‘But not you, of course. Not anonymously.’
‘No.’ I grabbed the drink. ‘Not anonymously.’
‘But you… you’ll be paying maintenance the rest of your life…’
‘No. There’s a doctor in our training group and his friend is a lawyer. That was all taken care of. Just like it was anonymous, except that it wasn’t.’
There, now I’ve dug the pit and pitched myself in. Oh God, I wished I was anywhere but here. Preferably in Dave’s arms, but any of the boys would do right now…
‘Which one? And why you?’ asked my mother, raising her eyes to mine once again.
‘Clare. And they asked.’
‘So who, erm, the other one…?’
‘Karen. Her name’s Karen. Dave.’
‘I should have known.’ A thought crossed dad’s mind. ‘Does Brian know?’
‘No. And dad, Dave has to tell him himself. Not you.’
‘Yes. I see that. Anyone else know?’
‘The group, yes.’
‘And you didn’t tell us.’
‘It hasn’t exactly been the right moment.’
‘No. I can see that as well. But why you? Didn’t you stop to think?’
‘Dad, I thought about it for weeks. Dave too. It drove us nearly mad. But what the girls said, well, touched us.’ I was getting a head of steam now. ‘They said that they wanted it to be us because – because we were so loving, and they so admired that, and wanted that in their children.’
‘Blimey.’ He exchanged a look with my mother, who was staring fixedly into space as you might do if a bad traffic accident had just happened in front of you and you couldn’t bear to look at the injuries. Dad thought for a few moments. ‘But what if… you say they can’t legally ask for money? OK, if that’s true, and I doubt it actually, what about your rights? Are they taken care of?’
‘Yes, they are. And the doctor and lawyer also counselled us about making any relationship with the children and that, if we chose to do that, then we mustn’t ever break it again, but that it would be our choice, and the girls agree. It’s all signed and legal.’
The awkwardest moment of my life, I think. Far worse than finally admitting that Dave was my lover when we had been in Oxford. Anyway, they had known that already.
The longest silence ever recorded in our family, too.
Eventually, I felt my mother’s hand on my knee, and one small tear coursed down her face. ‘Tony. I never expected this, but then I never expected that taking you to Tennessee would turn our lives upside down in so many ways either. You are loving, I give you that, even though you’ve hurt us a lot. Especially in being so deceitful about David when everyone else knew. But there’s a silver lining, anyway. I get to be a granny. And I thought I was going to miss that, in the circumstances.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t know sometimes whether to love you or…’
‘Hate you?’ She couldn’t quite say that…
OK. There we have it. That’s how it happened to me. And that night I had terrible nightmares, shouting in my sleep until Dave, bless him, returned with the others and slipped into bed alongside me… and he still needed to call his Dad back in the States…
Hardly the ‘superhero’ in that little episode, though, was I!
Some experiences just make you wish a hole in the ground would open up – and it you have a good friend to jump into it with you, so much the better!