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#464: My mom died and my dad started having sex with men. A LOT of men. Should I talk to him about it?

Dear Captain Awkward,

My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly 2 months ago. My parents had been married almost 40 years. A month after her passing, I accidentally discovered that my dad has been sleeping with multiple men he meets on the internet, at the gym, etc., and that he is also having sex in public restrooms. I don’t believe that my mom knew that this was going on, but I realize that that is a possibility. 

It was not a complete shock to me that my dad is gay or bisexual, as the thought had crossed my mind before, and after my mom died I had even considered that he might bring home a boyfriend in a couple of years. I imagined myself being very supportive and understanding in that scenario, but this sudden discovery at such an emotional time has really thrown me for a loop. The high-risk behavior is freaking me out and making me angry, if I’m honest. I just lost one parent, and I don’t want to lose another! Furthermore, the thought that he was likely putting my mom at risk, too, really upsets me.

I cannot stop worrying about how this might play out. I’m worried that he is putting himself in harm’s way and risking arrest, etc. I’m worried that the community that has been supporting him through the loss of my mom would disappear if this came out in the wrong way. Similarly, I worry about how my mom’s extended family, to whom we are very close, would react if this were suddenly revealed. I feel like I’m not able to progress through the normal grieving process for my mom because I am so wrapped up in the stress of this situation and keeping this secret. So, here are my questions:

1) Should I tell him that I know? Should I tell him how much I know?

2) If I do tell him, how do I do it and what do I say? Is it even appropriate for me to share my concerns for his health and well-being considering his sex life is not really any of my business?

Sincerely,

Daughter with a Dilemma

Dear Daughter,

A little time has gone by since you first sent this in. I am so, so sorry for your loss and cannot even imagine the shock and grief that goes with losing your mom so suddenly.

While I realize that this may not make you feel any better, if at all possible, I think the best course is for you to let the stuff with your dad go, and not do or say anything to him about it until or unless he tells you what’s going on.

Even if it’s risky.

Even if it’s uncharacteristic.

Even if you don’t understand it.

Even if you have worries and fears and anger about it.

His extended family and community might not be happy with his behavior if they found out, but that is his issue to manage.

He owns his own body and his own sexuality, including any risks that come with his behavior.

And he owns his own grief and grieving process.

Thinking the words “my dad” and “fuck the pain away” in the same sentence is not a whole bunch of fun for you, and I’m sorry – I wish he were being more discreet and that you didn’t know. But unless he does something in a way that makes it 100% obvious that you know, put up that Plausible Deniability Screen, the one your parents probably used for you when you became sexually active and the one that all roommates everywhere use to pretend that sound doesn’t carry inside a shared house.

Imagine for a moment that you are a kinky person, and that your kink is to tie eggplants to your feet and rub them against the feet of people who have mushrooms tied to their feet. Wracked by grief, you’ve been having more vegetable-on-vegetable action of late and have been a little less than discreet about where you find your ratatouille. Your dad finds out what you’re up to, and he confronts you about your safety, the way people might see you in the family and community, and heaps a whole bunch of shame and worry upon your private business, etc. How would you feel? Would you feel loved and cared for? Would it be a wakeup call for you? Would that conversation leave either of you feeling better? I know you are genuinely very concerned about him, but any time “safety issues” + “what will people think?” + “behavior I don’t like or agree with/moral upset” get combined together you risk falling into concern-trolling. I think many of us have done sexual things that our family members would not approve of and find risky, and I think at those  times we had our reasons, and I don’t think anyone could have talked us out of them or made things better with their disapproval.

I’m deliberately trying to choose a ridiculous kink as an example so I don’t inadvertently stumble into anyone’s actual kinks, and I don’t want to dodge the very real safety issues that might be at play here, but all nearly all sexual contact carries some risk. You’re not psyched about the string of anonymous partners, but you also wouldn’t be psyched if they were women, and you also probably wouldn’t be happy if he found a new girlfriend or long-term boyfriend and started to look serious about settling down with someone right now. It’s all too much, too soon.

So the axioms at play are:

  • His sexual choices are his to make.
  • Adults should give each other a wide berth when it comes to privacy.
  • People come out when it’s right for them, not necessarily when it’s right for you.

It’s good that you’ve considered the possibility that he is gay. When the time is right, and some more time has passed, you can have the sweet talk that my Godmother had with me when it had been a long time since I’d mentioned a dude or brought one home:

“Jennifer, I just want you to know that…anyone you loved, we would also love. So if you ever wanted to bring …someone home, we would welcome…that person.”

I wasn’t gay, I was just single (and we don’t fly Socially Unacceptable Brief Slutty Encounters home to Massachusetts for the holidays, or, at least I don’t), but it was good to know, right?

Your dad will need you to be that cool daughter someday. But he also needs you to be that cool daughter now, and give him some time and space about private stuff, and to reach out to him (spend time with him, recommend that he see a counselor, check in on him, tell him you love him) about the common ground you share.

I think you should talk to someone about this. Grief, anger, worry, the pressure of keeping a secret all mixed up together is a powerful and messy combo, and some counseling for yourself where you can get as angry as you need and lay out all your concerns and figure out how to tackle them might be a very helpful step. A counselor will let you talk through worst-case scenarios but will also remind you that the worst case scenarios are not always so. Maybe he wasn’t putting your mom at risk. Maybe he really did wait until she died to seek this kind of contact, and this is something that has been pent up for years. Maybe they did have an understanding. That is 100% between them; you are not the guardian of your parents’ marital fidelity.

If word is getting out, and people bring concerns up to you, an all-purpose mantra is “Grief is unpredictable. You should probably talk to my dad directly about that.” You don’t have to manage your dad’s image for him. That can be a hard thing to let go of, but I think it is good for you if you learn (maybe slowly, with help of a counselor) that you don’t have to control how other people see your dad.

Hopefully you can find a way to put this down under some kind of Year of Grieving seal and forgive your dad for not managing his grief the way you want him to. Maybe there is an honest talk in your future where he tells you what’s up and you can say “Yeah, I knew when you did x, and I was really worried about you, but I wanted to give you your privacy. Can we talk about that?

Finally, if you do end up talking about it, just freaking talk about it. Don’t drop hints about “discretion.” Don’t drop hints, period. “Dad, I wish I didn’t know this, but I do. I heard/saw/unavoidably have to know that you did x, and it’s making me concerned about you. I want to respect your privacy, and you don’t have to talk to me about what’s going on, but I wish you would talk to someone about it, and I really want you to be safe and okay.

I don’t envy you, or your dad. The Year(s)of Grieving stretch out in front of you no matter what you choose, so I wish you kindness, strength, patience, and love.

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154 comments
  1. LW, when my great-aunt died – I was very close to her and missed her abominably – I did what in retrospect strike me as some deeply uncharacteristic things. As far as I know, no one close to me knew of them. While it did make me feel better to understand that other people had also done some weird things when someone they loved very much and missed very much had died, it would never have made me feel better to have someone close to me find out and let me know that they knew.

    Mourning is a process. You get through it how you can. Some of the ways in which people get through the process of mourning may strike others as weird, strange, icky, Not Okay. But the death of someone you were close to is itself a weird, strange, icky, Not Okay thing to have to deal with. (It literally felt, when I lost my great-aunt, as if there had been a cord between her and me and that cord had been chopped in half and I could still feel the absence where she had been.)

    Some aspects of mourning can be shared. Some just can’t. Even though you and your father lost the same person, you suffered different losses, and your mourning can’t be wholly shared.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Hi LW,

    sorry about your loss. When you say you accidentally discovered your dad’s bed bath & beyond-pleasures, I hope that doesn’t mean that you snooped and went through his things? In which case, that isn’t okay.

    Why do you draw the conclusion that your dad engages in high risk sex? You don’t know his condom preferences. You don’t know if he has any STD’s. Saying something like ”Dad, I love you very much and want you in my life” is fine. Being controlling and intrusive with regards to his personal life isn’t. He is a grown man with every right to have sex, even lots of it with people you wouldn’t choose for him.

    I know someone who after her divorce started having sex with HIV positive men. Like your father, she had a string of lovers. I worried, but other than expressing my fears and hope that she took care of herself, there wasn’t anything I could do. She had every right to have sex. I didn’t have any right to police her choice of partners. The same goes for you.

    I wish you all the best in recovering from your loss.

    • Jake said:

      I think that accusing the LW of maybe snooping, and then trying to tell her what she does and doesn’t know, as if you could know, is maybe not helpful? There is nothing in the letter to let us know either how she found out about her dad’s behaviour or how much detail she knows about it.

      • I’ll do a one for all answer here;

        Since I don’t understand some things in the letter, I asked questions. No accusations. If they don’t apply to the LW, great! Just ignore them, then. I could have written a longer, more sugarcoated response, but found no use for it. Partly because CA already wrote a long answer, partly because many other are bound to have great comments. I don’t feel the need to try to give good ideas on handling grief for example, since others are better at it. Don’t assume that just because I only posted a short comment with a few questions and a shared story that I didn’t have any other thoughts in my head.

        I also seem to be getting something different from the letter than you are. I see a distraught daughter who got hit with a major loss and found out something unexpected about her only living parent. But also someone who places her own moral values on her dad. She doesn’t know but think it’s likely that her dad put her mom at risk, without any evidence. I see a lot of assumptions about the risks her dad are putting himself and others at. That rubs me the wrong way and isn’t okay just because she has good intentions or somesuch. Having multiple sexual partners and having sex in public might not be the LW’s cup of tea, but it seems to be her dad’s.

        It’s true that I don’t know how much about her dad’s condom choices and STD records are known to the LW, thanks Jake.

        • Commander Banana said:

          Well, as the Captain would say…..wow.

        • Revolver said:

          The thing is, you didn’t just ask questions, you made inferences that the LW was controlling and intrusive. I don’t think assuming the worst and/or picking at details is helpful at this point. So what if she snooped? It really shouldn’t matter, but if we’re giving the father a break for seemingly uncharacteristic behavior because of the grief process, shouldn’t we give the LW a break for what you read as snooping?

          Not to mention that it takes time to take new data in and make room for it with the existing data, especially when you’re trying to include the new datapoint of losing a loved one. Let’s say your family is devoutly Catholic, but when your parent dies, you find out that your other parent has secretly been going to atheist meetings. Neither one has a particular moral, right/wrong value, but it affects how you view them as a person. Same goes for a vegetarian who has decided to eat meat on the downlow. Either situation would make me take a step back and go, “Whoa, I had no idea.” Just because LW is having a hard time adjusting to this new view of her dad doesn’t mean she thinks he’s immoral or that his behavior is capital-W Wrong.

          • We don’t know how long he’s been having sex with men, so I wont speculate on the dad’s new or old behaviour. The thing is, I don’t think we need to give him any sort of break for having sex with strangers or acting differently. He hasn’t done anything wrong.

            If the LW has snooped on the other hand, well, you know my feelings on that.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Seriously. The LW tells us she found out about her Dad accidentally. I see no reason why anyone should disbelieve her. Let’s also all just bear in mind that this is a person who is very recently bereaved.

          • That In A Hat said:

            Thank you for that analogy. I’m finding out New Things about people that I’m very close to (in one case, family) and I feel guilty as heck because while I’ve always worked hard to be a good ally, I still find myself thrown and a little…I don’t know, I don’t have the right word. Disappointed or worried or who really knows.

            But the vegetarian analogy works. It’s not that there’s really an inherent moral value to it, just that I Thought I Knew Who You Were And Now There Is New And Conflicting Information and I need some time to file it properly.

        • human said:

          I think those things are there to (maybe?) see, or at least guess at, but… the Captain’s answer was ever so much kinder, and, I think would be ever so much helpful to someone who is grieving and trying to deal with this situation.

          In fact I was thinking of typing up a comment about how much I liked the fact that this answer was so very kind and gentle about how it pointed out that some things are not the LW’s business, and it didn’t accuse her of bad faith or anything like that.

          That very kindness and gentleness is one of the things I really value about this blog and (most of) the commenters here. I would hate to see us veer away from that.

          • L. said:

            I really like the gentleness of your response about gentleness! Seriously, I do. Thank you for contributing to the respectful and kind tone of this site.

          • Very much this. I often recommend the Captain’s advice to my friends, and it’s just as much because she is kind as because she is wise.

    • Commander Banana said:

      Isn’t that pretty much exactly what the LW said?:
      2) If I do tell him, how do I do it and what do I say? Is it even appropriate for me to share my concerns for his health and well-being considering his sex life is not really any of my business?
      I don’t think the LW was/is being controlling and intrusive at all, based on the information in her letter. You wrote that you ‘expressed your fears and hope that she took care of herself’ vis a vis your friend who was having sex with HIV positive men, and it sounds like the LW is wondering how to express exactly those things without overstepping boundaries.
      I dunno, I just found the tone of your response weirdly harsh on the LW, who is going through a lot and struggling with how to handle a complicated situation with empathy and caring – I thought it was pretty clear from her letter that she’s legitimately concerned about him, not interested in policing his choices of partners.
      I thought the Captain’s response was a good one, but I would say that it’s pretty reasonable for her to tell him, hey, I’m worried about you, whether or not she wants to tell him exactly why, and maybe just leave it at that. It’s a really terrible thing to watch someone you love do something you think may be hurting them and feel powerless to help, but I think most of us have gone through something like that at some point. I know I’ve been on both sides of that equation at different times and it’s tough.

    • Revolver said:

      Wow. That is a very harsh reading of LW’s letter and it makes your last sentence seem insincere.

      • Commander Banana said:

        Seriously – I don’t know why but something about this response really rubbed me the wrong way and makes me so sad for the LW if she’s reading these comments.

        • Revolver said:

          My thoughts exactly. Sending much love your way, LW!

    • unagi said:

      I’m with Kellis here in failing to see how Dad’s behavior is “high risk”. Is it high risk only because he’s gay, or mostly acting on that part right now? Or because this daughter knows for sure that he’s fucking guys in public bathrooms WITHOUT A CONDOM? Only the latter qualifies for real risk. Getting arrested for public sex would be embarrassing, but most likely this guy’s more or less retired after 40 years of marriage, so it may not be as tragic as all that in its consequences, even in Kansas, and I’d think any decent lawyer could get you off without jail time for a first offense :-).

      Seriously, a friend of mine has come out as trans at 80, after 50 years of happy marriage to a woman who wasn’t open to the possibility. Seems very happy about it, apart from feeling alone otherwise. Yes, being sad and lonely are very real parts of widowhood, but it can also be a time to rethink what in your life you may have been missing. Coming close to death at any age can also lead people to do what they wish now, damn the consequences, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And for all we know the parents here had a longstanding agreement, and the daughter is only finding out because the mother’s no longer here to shield her from the father’s extracurricular activities.

      Anyway, I’m sure LW is both shocked and sad about losing her mother, and I send her my biggest jedi hugs about that, it’s not an easy thing to handle. But she should also remember that it’s not appropriate for children to meddle in their parents’ sex lives, after all she’d be most unhappy if her father was scrutinizing what she’s doing and he’s entitled to the same respect. So concentrating on her own feelings and behavior would be most prudent.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Just chiming in to say that I thought the same thing when I read the letter, Kellis — that we don’t have a lot of information about (a) how LW found out about dad’s activities, or (b) his behaviors while LW’s mom was alive or (c) his safer sex practices now. Perhaps that’s because LW was trying to keep it short, and left out the details. Maybe it’s because LW’s assuming things. Either way, the Captain’s advice is solid: let it go unless you can’t, LW, in which case, speak to him directly about it. Don’t let it fester: address it, or let it go.

      • The L.W. does not tell us how she discovered her father’s behavior, but it really is possible to find out about this stuff inadvertently.

        I had a live-in boyfriend once who, unbeknownst to me, was bisexual. We shared a computer and used the same email service, though we had separate emails.

        One day I sat down to check my email and noticed that I had all kinds of penis enlargement spam and was about to start deleting, when I noticed that they weren’t addressed to me! And the email address was an unfamiliar one!

        Upon further investigation, I read one of the non-spam emails and it was about BF having met somebody at his house for sex, using BF’s name and a few descriptive words about his anatomy.

        I closed it up right away, but “what has been seen cannot be unseen” and I confronted him about it. Things went straight downhill from there.

        Of course, this situation is very different from what the L.W. experienced, although it’s possible that she mistakenly looked at something not intended for her to see. It’s so hard to know what to do with information about parents that one does not want to know!

        L.W., I am so sorry for your loss. You really need some kind of grief counseling, not just because you lost your mom, but because the rest of your life suddenly feels chaotic, too. I’m so sorry. Your dad needs grief counseling of some kind, too, but separately from you. Often the local hospital will have counselors on staff or will know how to contact grief counselors or groups in your area. I hope you can find a way to make your life feel right to you again.

        I agree that you should probably try to wait until your dad tells you about his activities or his sexuality; it’s really none of your business, even though it does have an impact on your feelings about him and your family. Best talk to an uninvolved third party about this, like a clergyman or therapist.

        • Um… What’s ‘accidental’ about “I noticed that the emails weren’t addressed to me but then I kept reading”?

          • Erika said:

            The part where you go “That’s weird, I’m getting these emails that aren’t addressed to me in my inbox. I’ve never seen this email address before (i.e. not boyfriend’s email addy). Huh, wonder what they are, and why they came here?”

    • Emmers said:

      “He is a grown man with every right to have sex, even lots of it with people you wouldn’t choose for him.”

      I agree with everything here, and with everything the Captain said, *except* for the fact that this doesn’t apply to the “having sex in public bathrooms” part. He needs to get his grieving groove on someplace that is NOT IN PUBLIC. Making other people part of your kink (if he does have an exhibitionist kink) involuntarily is Not Okay.

      I don’t know if it’s LW’s place to tell him that, though, so the advice probably remains the same.

      • Katie said:

        Actually, there is a long history of men getting it on in public bathrooms that’s pretty distinct from exposing themselves to random passersby. It isn’t usually, if at all, the same thing. My understanding is that’s it’s a coded system or subtle come-on kind of situation, in bathrooms that are often well-known to be havens for men who have sex with men. So it’s less a “I’m doing my kink at you” and more of a “I’m going to the spot that is relatively safe for men to do this.”

      • liyyspoon said:

        This is not true, and actually kind of homophobic. ‘Cottaging’ is a act that is not about exposing oneself to random strangers but usually a known bathroom frequented by gay men looking for anonymous sex. They are not just in any old place – where randoms could walk in, but kind of ‘scene’ places that you only learn about by being into it. Maybe you should educate yourself before making statement that are so judgemental.

        • supernova said:

          so what you’re saying is that you know for a fact that the bathroom(s) mentioned in the letter are in actuality private and access to which is restricted to those fully informed of what goes on in there? that’s a relief, i could’ve sworn the LW wrote “public bathrooms” and it had me worried because i know all too well that public bathroom sex happens and that it’s a SHITTY thing to happen upon unawares.

          • Let’s go with “this is a LW writing in for advice about whether/how to talk to her father about a sensitive issue, not a chance for everyone to vent their personal bugaboos about homosexual sex or public sex”?

            It is not the LW’s place to police her father’s sex life. Not because she’s worried that if he’s not being careful he could be putting himself at risk of STD or arrest or scandal. Not because happening upon folks having sex in the restroom when all you wanted was to pee is icky, or maybe even traumatic.

            Which is not to say his behavior might not be risky and/or inconsiderate. Just that we don’t know, or need to know to discuss the question she actually asked.

          • Emmers said:

            This.

            But (like I said in the last part of my comment) it’s still only a very small part of the LW’s letter. So…yeah?

  3. My dear LW -

    Grief takes us into the wilderness, where we have no maps, no landmarks, and no real idea where we’re going other than some vague idea of “healing” that other people tell us might be found down the road.

    Grief is itself a wild thing, a wild feeling that will not let itself be contained.

    I think the Captain is right: you can’t manage your dad’s grief. Your own is enough to have to bear.

    When my own grief was sharp and overwhelming, I found a grief group really helpful. It was good to know that I was not alone, and it was good to see that people were in fact surviving it.

    My heart aches for your loss and for your current dismay about your dad. I wish you peaceful moments, good memories, and times when you can begin to relearn how to breathe.

  4. LW, I am so sorry for your loss.

    I think sometimes when we worry about our parents, we model the child-parent relationship the other way around. It’s what we know for what love means between us. So I think we sometimes feel like we have more right to control or influence them than we do, the same way our parents sometimes feel like they have more right to control or influence us than they do (once we are adults).

    His grief is complex and intense, just like yours is. You both are going through it differently. You can’t control each other, but you can love each other.

    Getting a counselor is great; finding a way to let him do his thing without judgment is key. The last thing you need is to be divided by a big fight over his sex life, you know?

    Your feels are still important, though, and you have a right to them. You have a right to your fears about his behavior, your anger, and your shock. You’re reeling, and it is okay and normal. You’re grieving too, and now your dad’s gone weird, and that can touch on some very fundamental stuff in a person’s psyche. It’s just so much to deal with, all at once.

    I hope you find all the support you can handle, and that you pass through these dark days as smoothly as conceivably possible.

    • bluecandles said:

      “Your feels are still important, though, and you have a right to them. You have a right to your fears about his behavior, your anger, and your shock. You’re reeling, and it is okay and normal. You’re grieving too, and now your dad’s gone weird, and that can touch on some very fundamental stuff in a person’s psyche. It’s just so much to deal with, all at once.

      I hope you find all the support you can handle, and that you pass through these dark days as smoothly as conceivably possible.”

      This, this, a thousand times this. LW, I know that when you lose one parent, you start worrying about the other, too. It’s a horrible grief you’re going through, and you need all the support you can get, and the ground feels even shakier with these revelations about your dad. I hope you manage to get some help – nothing can get rid of these feelings, but maybe just having someone sympathetic and outside the family to talk to, to vent to confidentially so you can feel free to say whatever you need to, will release some of the burden from you.

  5. piny1 said:

    Well, public sex is high-risk sex. It’s illegal, and you can be charged under laws that force you to register as a sex offender. It is dangerous, even if you do use condoms.

    Her father is an adult and his own person, but LW has every right to worry about what him, and every right to wonder if his judgment is compromised right now. I mean, he’s exercising poor judgment. I think this advice is sound, but I would also have a hard time keeping quiet under these circumstances.

    • Well, if someone says “he has sex with a lot of men” in the same sentence as “high risc”, I am very wary whether they are making the gay = AIDS equation, which would be not okay.

      • Well, being promiscuous is a high risk activity. being a promiscuous gay dude is still a higher AIDS risk than not sleeping with a ton of dudes.

        it is unfortunate that it carries a culturally dictated moral judgement to say that, but it also just plain true that it is an AIDS risk. there is a reason gay dudes aren’t allowed to donate blood.

        but adults get to take risks. and other adults get to express some level of reasonable concern over the risky behavior of their loved ones. so whatever.

        • JenniferP said:

          Forbidding gay men from donating blood is actually homophobic and not based on science. You will not be commenting here anymore.

          • espritdecorps said:

            Thank you. Moderation like that keeps this a beautiful place.

          • thneed said:

            Thank you so much. I am also not allowed to donate blood due to those same bogus rules. And somehow, when people tell me “well but you could volunteer at the blood drive anyway” it just doesn’t sit so well.

          • Ve said:

            “You could volunteer anyway?” Gee, and they wonder why that wouldn’t appeal to someone who was discriminated against by said philanthropic organization. “Yeah, they’re racist/sexist/homophobic, but could always use free labor.”

          • DarthTrina said:

            This comment is for Ve. I know it is off-topic and that I am having twitchy wrong-on-the-Internet syndrome. Regarding US blood donations: nearly all US blood collection organizations banded together to petition the FDA to change the policy, and the FDA declined. The FDA is the bigot, not your local blood collector.

          • emmych said:

            Thank you.

            That’s all — just, thank you.

        • piny1 said:

          No, I don’t agree with this. This is homophobic, and it’s dangerous to straight people who still think of HIV as a gay disease. The reason gay men are barred for life is outdated standards. There’s a difference between having unsafe sex and having safe sex. Lots of safe sex is not very dangerous. Unsafe sex is dangerous period. Promiscuity–a term that implies a moral judgment I also don’t agree with–is not the same as sex without protection. And plenty of frisky people are very careful about using protection, including gay men.

          I wasn’t saying that promiscuity is risky behavior and cause for concern. I was saying that doing stuff that can get you arrested is risky behavior and cause for concern.

        • piny1 said:

          Thanks, CA.

          It’s not just homophobic–it’s also dangerous to people like LW and her dad. Homophobia doesn’t protect you from HIV. It’s actually a risk factor in its own right.

          Safe sex is safe sex, even if you have a lot of it. Unsafe sex is unsafe period. There are plenty of frisky people who take great care with protection–and that includes gay men. In fact, gay men and sex workers originated the protocols we think of as basic safer sex ed. Blithe denial + stigma was the upstanding straight people strategy.

          And I was not arguing that multiple partners (or a multitude of partners) is risky behavior and cause for concern. I was saying that doing stuff that can get you arrested is risky behavior and cause for concern.

          • Bwmn said:

            Based on years of Dan Savage listening – if the “risky sex” includes the prominent risk of being caught – then arrest really is the risk to be the most concerned about. Savage’s points are usually about how public gay sex is far more likely to result in arrest and prosecution, as opposed to public straight sex which is more prone to having understanding cops or fines along the lines of “being in the park after dark”.

            This saying nothing about should the public sex be occuring in a park/close to children’s activity area and depending on where you live, the risk of overly homophobic prosecution going after anything related to children endangerment/etc.

            So for these reasons, and I’m sure many more – I think the risk of arrest is definitely the greatest immediate cause for concern.

      • piny1 said:

        She didn’t, though. She actually joined high-risk with the possibility of arrest and harm. She also said she’d be supportive if he were in a gay relationship. She’s worried that he’s having unsafe sex in unsafe circumstances. She’s his daughter, and she’s looking at his behavior as a whole.

        Gay = AIDS is homophobic and irrational. So is Lots Of Gay Sex = AIDS. But it isn’t unreasonable to worry that someone engaged in one risky behavior is engaged in other risky behaviors. And it isn’t unreasonable to worry about someone in a terrible emotional state.

        Also, this isn’t the fifties. There are a lot of safe ways to find anonymous gay sex–it sounds like her dad is aware of them. (There are even safe ways to have semi-public or exhibitionist gay sex, depending on where you live.) This seems like risk-seeking behavior, and it could be linked to despair.

        • SassQueen said:

          Not to keep derailing, but I want to point out that (I think) the commenters above aren’t saying Gay Sex = AIDS, but that Gay Sex = greater risk of AIDS. Not necessarily HIGH risk, but highER risk, which is statistically true. Increase the number, increase the risk. Nothing irrational about it.

          Now, some WILL equate high/higher risk with absolute certainty, but there’s nothing (not much anyway) we can do about that.

          • piny1 said:

            Okay, but that’s still a bad argument.

            It’s like saying that driving drunk and commuting long distances both increase your risk of a traffic accident. All preferences are not equal, and all risks are not equal.

            And even though you are at greater risk of HIV exposure with a same-sex partner (although this is affected by all kinds of things), you are at much lower risk of contracting HIV if you take basic safer-sex precautions. That’s the takeaway. You can moot these statistics.

            Also, there is no such thing as a safe population: all unsafe sex is unsafe.

          • JenniferP said:

            Does that need to be pointed out right here, right now? This comment is on thin ice.

          • Muddie Mae said:

            This is a very common misconception. Not all people who have anal sex are gay men, and not all gay men have anal sex. Conflating the two does a disservice to everyone interested in HIV prevention.

          • lexifirefly said:

            I’m not sure why this argument is happening here in the first place. When I was 17 I had my first manic break. My best friend had been killed and I started having sex with anything that moved. I am a straight female who wasn’t in her right mind due to grief and the mental illness that was triggered because of it. I wasn’t at risk due to sexual orientation but because I was literally out of my body and trying to get back in! That’s where I believe that this behaviour is a risk, if your not in the right state to make choices than it is risky behaviour, it has nothing to do with statistics or misconceptions.

            SorryI to the captain if you fe this was an inappropriate rant, but this sub thread struck a cord that i felt the need to comment on.

          • Emmers said:

            “Gay Sex = greater risk of AIDS”

            Straight people have gay sex all the damn time. It’s awesome! And not all gay sex is high-risk for AIDS. Don’t lesbians have the lowest AIDS rate of any population?

    • Commander Banana said:

      That’s a good point, piny1 – I mean, it’s not something that would necessarily even occur to me, but you can end up on the sex offender list forever if you get arrested! Especially if you’re near a park, school, what-have-you.

    • staranise said:

      The unfortunate thing is, even with the risk of arrest, fines, conviction, whatever–the real question is, does this man’s adult child actually have the ability to speak up in a way which will actually make one bit of difference? The dad has probably already tallied up the risks himself, and decided that they were acceptable–reminding him of them will likely come off a judging and scolding.

      • Emmers said:

        Yeah, this is really the core of the problem; we can debate the semantics all we want (and I maybe shouldn’t have gotten into that above), but the only thing that’s relevant to the *LW* is how *she* can affect her dad’s situation, or whether she *should* or should even try.

  6. Sara said:

    LW, I am so sorry for your loss.

    I have to agree with piny1 above…I think dad is engaging in high-risk behaviors (definitely from a legal standpoint, and quite possibly from a health standpoint), and I sort of wonder if the opposition to her having any sort of conversation with her father about this is strongly tied to the fact that the form this risky behavior is taking is sexual. For instance: if my mother passed away and I discovered that my dad was, say, dealing drugs and getting high in public places, wouldn’t I have some right to speak to him about it and actively try to get him help? I think LW has a real interest in saying…look, I just lost one parent, I cannot bear to think about losing another one right now! Yes, her dad is an adult, and no, she cannot CONTROL what he does. At the same time, in a family we all have responsibilities to each other. I think it’s a little unfair to LW to say that she has to just suck it up and handle all of this (while keeping a huge secret from those she’s close to), but Dad has no responsibilities whatsoever to her. Just because LW can’t control her dad or force him to stop this behavior, that doesn’t mean she can’t talk to him about her concerns.

    • I find the comparison of sex and drugs here uncomfortable.

      And, yes, the fact that the behavior is sexual does matter, because people have an expectation of privacy around their sexual behavior. Even parents. Even parents whose daughters are afraid for them — and even if that fear is well-founded, which we do not actually know is true.

      Her fears are real and legit and powerful, and they still do not mean she gets authority over her father’s sex life. Fear is just that — fear. It does not create any more responsibility than would be there without the fear. It just means she is afraid.

      I don’t think there’s anything amiss with her generally checking in with him and maybe suggesting a therapist — without reference to his sexual behavior. Because people grieving their spouses are usually struggling and usually could use a therapist or counselor to help. I think it’s great for a child to check in with a parent about their well-being after a trauma. None of that makes his sex life her business.

      • dancerdc said:

        I’m confused about the expectation of privacy around public behavior.

        I also wonder how people are factoring in the fact that father is nearing retirement age. LW doesn’t talk about finances and health per se, but risk-taking behaviors are seldom isolated. And, sick/ destitute seniors do often place a heavy burden on children. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to say LW has a large stake in helping her father navigate this adjustment. In an Asian culture, responsibility would be exactly the word.

        • Oh, good grief! Because the father is engaging in indiscreet sexual activities it is obviously part of a pattern of risky behavior and he’s going to become sick/destitute and a financial burden on his daughter? Quite a stretch.

        • piny1 said:

          He’s going to be a sick old man one day no matter what he does in public bathrooms, and his daughter is going to have a certain level of obligation. That’s life, not sexagenarian gay oat-sowing. She doesn’t get to meddle just because sick people need their relatives to care for them. It’s still invasive.

          Look: I feel like a lot of commenters are both overstating the risk of sexual behavior and way overthinking that risk. This is not a big deal, and it’s not something his daughter needs to be emotionally or otherwise involved in. It’s okay for her to worry–and, as far as I’m concerned, maybe okay for her to find some way to broach the topic with her dad. It is pointless for her to freak out or rehearse nightmare scenarios like something out of a Hell House exhibit. It’s also bad for both her and her dad and her dad’s ability to safely manage his sex life.

          • Mary said:

            >> That’s life, not sexagenarian gay oat-sowing.

            Someone make this into a sampler. :)

  7. OneTwoThree said:

    LW, I just want to offer a bit of perspective on what it is like to be married almost 40 years. Even if that relationship is not perfect – and after decades with someone, you get to the point where perfection is not at all what the deal is about – it becomes a core part of yourself. Your identity. Forty years with someone is a lifetime, a lifetime in which the whole world has changed and this other person was one constant steady point. When that point is gone, you have lost more than someone else. You’ve lost part of who you are, just like you got a leg ripped off in a bear trap.

    It hurts so bad you’re not sure dying yourself wouldn’t be a good way to handle all of this. But the stay alive impulse we carry in us is strong like kudzu. Even when we don’t want it, it hangs in there, and that can really screw up the way you conduct yourself.

    The decisions you make at that grief point are suspect, but they’re also necessary in inexplicable and complex ways. If you need to think about what your Dad is doing, and why, remember that pretty much he’s just had his leg ripped off in a bear trap. Your pain and grief and loss is tremendous and real and I am so sorry it happened to you – but it is fundamentally different than the pain, grief, and loss your Dad is going through. That is important to remember.

    Sex is a primal, life-restoring force. When you’ve come up hard against mortality, deep inside you need to know that you can still feel alive. Sex in the absence of a loving relationship still gives you all the heady, life-affirming endorphins without any complicated emotions, and your Dad has a boatload of complicated emotions right now. He may not have the capacity for anything else that makes him feel anything but good.

    It may be confusing, and uncomfortable, and freaking you out. But this can go in the box of things you don’t need to deal with. The last thing you want as a parent is your kid all up in your sex life. Your involvement in your parent’s sex life pretty much needs to stop at the point at which you’re conceived. Grief is a hard country, and we all do our own time in our own ways. It’s okay to let your Dad work this out on his own without you being there: I don’t think this is a space where you can help him.

    I wish you peace and healing; may your Mother’s memory be a blessing to you always.

    • Jamie said:

      Beautiful <3

    • espritdecorps said:

      Beautiful. I couldn’t express this any better.
      I cared for my grandfather before and after my grandmother’s death. They had an extremely rocky relationship, and after 48 years, their emotions had bled together, so that their arguments were affectionate, and their affection always had an edge.
      He couldn’t make the leap when she died. He couldn’t figure out how to live without her and would say so in those words. He literally started calling death to come for him, and it did, just three months later.
      LW, you say you are concerned for his health, as strange as it sounds, what he is doing may be what is keeping him alive.
      Love him as best you can, for as long as you can, and let this go.

      • “what he is doing may be what is keeping him alive.”

        Yes, my thoughts exactly.

    • Thanks for this. My grandfather died a few months ago; my grandma’s still alive, and this is helping me start to understand what she’s going through.

  8. gallant_girl said:

    LW, I’m so sorry for your loss. Many jedi hugs to you.

    I admire the fact that you realize that you have to go through the grieving process. Maybe one way to frame what to do about the situation with your Dad is what is going to best help you go through the grieving process. Worrying, rationalizing, controlling image, making up stories about your parent’s relationship, etc. is going to take up a huge amount of psychic energy. In my experience once my brain has globbed onto something it finds satisfying to worry about its basically impossible to stop the worrying thoughts from coming up. One can, with some perserverance, focus on other things, like giving yourself the care you need to make it through your own wilderness of grief.

  9. kristinmh said:

    It’s worthwhile to note that a man his age (I’m assuming 60s or 70s) might not have accurate sexual health information. STIs are surprisingly common among the widowed elderly. It’s a whole new level of awkward, but if you do talk to your dad about this you might want to bring up safer sex practices.

    As to whether or not you talk to him… he’s your dad, but he is an adult, and adults get to make their own choices regardless of how bad or dangerous they are (putting aside how dangerous your dad’s sex life really is). Maybe focus on being there for your dad in general – and, hell, dealing with your own grief! – and see if he figures this out on his own.

  10. Rocketpants said:

    LW, I’m sorry for you lose and the Captain hits the nail on the head here. While it truly sucks you’re finding this out at this point in time, when you already have so much on your plate, it really isn’t any of your business what he’s doing or with whom. In fact, it’s something that should be permanently filed under ‘Not My Business’ because it *isn’t*, and never will be, unless he brings the topic up – just like your sex life isn’t any of his business unless you make the choice to bring it up with him.

    Also, you probably should find someone to talk to about not just this, but you’re grief for your mother as a whole. It’s not an easy thing to go through at the best of times, and this hardly sounds like it’s that.

  11. Bunny said:

    LW, you’re going through an incredibly tough time, right now. Your grief is intense and real and I understand what it can be like to have ALL THE FEELINGS and no, no for goodness sake don’t give me any more I can’t handle it right now.

    And The Captain is right.

    I know that if my other half died, I’d go a little out-there. I’d get some extreme hair cut that I’d never have got with him because, while I COULD do whatever I want with my body, in practice I like looking ways he enjoys. I’d almost certainly get several more tattoos. I might decide to get up and leave and travel and just abandon everyone and everything for a few months. Possibly I’d blow the money I had left on a trike or a caravan or some other frivolous thing and just flee with it. I’d probably also want to engage in all the kinds of sex that I haven’t been able to have with him, with all kinds of people.

    I’ve seen it all happen to my loved ones when they lost the people that mattered to them the most. It’s normal, even healthy, to push your own boundaries or to enjoy the freedom of doing things you’ve put off for the sake of those you loved. And sometimes the things we choose to do can be risky. Everyone does it to some degree or other.

    Your father needs his space. The risks he’s taking are his own, and the best you can do for him is make sure that whatever else happens, he knows you’re there and that you love and support him. And let him tell you what he wants to tell you in his own time.

  12. Kaesa said:

    So, I’m not sure this is especially relevant, but everyone keeps saying that he is having his various sexual adventures as a reaction to his wife’s death. Some things LW says indicate that what she found out was actually that her father had a long-standing habit of engaging in this, AND THEN her mother unexpectedly died, AND THEN LW found out:

    “I don’t believe that my mom knew that this was going on, but I realize that that is a possibility.”

    “Furthermore, the thought that he was likely putting my mom at risk, too, really upsets me.”

    I don’t think this necessarily means it is a thing she should bring up with her dad, but I can see how the revelation of her father’s possible infidelity (or the revelation of her parents’ possible consensual open relationship) would really complicate LW’s grief for her mother and her ability to relate to her father.

    And I really, really second the advice to talk to a counselor if you haven’t already. If all this was happening to me and I didn’t already have a therapist, I would feel like I was EXPLODING with SECRETS AND FLAIL AND GRIEF. Jedi hugs, LW, and I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Yeah, I noticed that too. I think the difference it makes is that it means it is less likely that the father is having some out-of-control grief reaction and more likely that this is just his sex life. Which is, in its way, good! If this was his totally out of character reaction to his wife’s death, that would increase the likelihood that he was not thinking clearly and therefore not as likely to consistently use condoms. The mere fact that he likes stranger sex and/or public sex does not say anything at all about his use of condoms — he may actually be more careful than people who have the illusion that their “respectable,” socially-vetted partners could not possibly be STD-carriers. Therefore the only risk we know he’s taking is the risk of exposure, and while I totally understand the LW being anxious about the shitstorm she foresees if he gets caught, that is indeed his risk to take.

    • I noticed that too – a lot of the responses are conflating grief from losing the LW’s mother with her father’s reasons for his sexual choices, and given that we can’t possibly know his reasons I’m not sure that’s helpful – especially if we’ve read the letter right and the LW is dealing with two different and difficult situations that just happened to collide.

      LW, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you long life. The added stress your knowledge of father’s sexual activities are putting on you has got to be hard – but it is *your* stress, and not his.

      People get to decide the level of risk they wish to take in their own sex lives. I think the Captain’s framing of ‘if the situations were reversed and your father was trying to have this talk with you about your own sex life, would it be likely to turn out supportive and *productive*?’ is a useful and practical one.

    • mannafrancis said:

      I think the title is cause confusion for some people. The title says explicitly ‘My mom died and my dad started having sex with men’ which doesn’t really reflect the letter itself. I read it like you did — that it wasn’t new behavior at all, just a new discovery for the poor LW. (Of course, there might well be more detail in the original letter that was cut out that led to the title wording.)

    • Laura said:

      Assuming they were anywhere near happily married, Dad is sleeping with anyone and everyone who will let him? Two months after her morher’s death? That just doesn’t seem to be a respectable amount of time after a spouse’s passing to be having casual sex with people, no matter what their gender. But, that’s just my opinion, based on how I felt when my mother died.

      LW, I am so sorry for your loss. If you had a good relationship with your mom, I know how sad all this is for you. I don’t think it gets better, just more usual.

      • Yes, that is just your opinion. Maybe he was happily married in part because his wife accepted all of who he is, his marriage allowed him to have gay sex on the side, just not relationships, and he sees no reason to give that up that part of his life, too, because his wife died.

        Or maybe how he is dealing with the death of his partner of 40 years is saying to himself that the one good thing about her death is that now he can go have sex with lots of guys without violating his marriage vows, and since he can’t change the fact of her death, he is going to take that one good thing and run with it.

        Or maybe he did this before without his wife’s blessing, and doesn’t feel losing his wife should cost him this, too.

        Or maybe he has just been behaving recklessly out of grief.

        Never having been a bisexual man in a long term marriage (much less this particular man in this particular relationship), having only the facts the LW shared, I don’t think any of us are qualified to judge his behavior. Which is ok, because random Internet strangers labeling the Dad’s behavior “not respectable” is hardly helpful to the LW, who did not write asking for validation of a sense of betrayal, but for whether/how to discuss this sensitive subject with him.

      • Kaesa said:

        Um. I am not really into dictating “respectable amounts of time” for other people, especially ones I’ve never met and know of only through their daughter’s internet correspondence with a blogger I like.

        I mostly pointed this out because if the LW meant what I think she meant, all this “oh, he’s just having this sex because GRIEF!” stuff is probably annoying if she knows that this started before her mother died. (Also, while I don’t think this is remotely intentional, sometimes it comes across a little as “man, there is no possible reason anyone would want to have public gay sex with strangers except EXTREME PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA,” which is demonstrably untrue, because bathhouses are a thing, and they don’t only exist next door to funeral homes.)

        I actually pretty much agree with alphakitty’s comments here, but frankly, even if I didn’t, I don’t think it’s very useful to the LW to judge her dad. She has her own feelings about this, which may very well include a sentiment similar to your own, but what she was actually asking was whether and how to talk to him about it.

        • liyyspoon said:

          Thank you so much for saying this because this thread had been reminding me of that bit in Shame where ‘the lowest he can go’ is finally having sex with men (omg!!1!1) and it has been mkaing me feel really sad.

  13. emmych said:

    Good advice, sad letter (jedi hugs and all the imaginary baked goods you could want, LW! This must be so hard.), nothing really to add, except that I take major exception to the comparison of queer sex to something really weird and kinky.

    I AM pretty weird and kinky, so I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of insofar as kinks go, but I kinda side eye when people deem bisexuality or other queerness to be WEIRD~ or KINKY~, because the gayness of it isn’t the kinky part! That is just the sex part. The kinky part would be the whips or chains or clamps or wizard robes.

    Unless you were referring to the public/stranger sex when talking about kinky things, in which case I will retreat back into the shadows and pretend I said nothing, haha.

    Either way, I don’t think it was at all intentional or mean spirited. Just be aware that such comparisons contribute to the fetishization and objectification of us queers, which is pretty hurtful and frustrating to deal with.

    • staranise said:

      Knowing how much/whether to compare kink and queerness is not a calculation the Captain can make perfectly, which I think means this is a topic that would benefit from everybody sitting down and taking a deep breath about. It’s really easy to step on toes or hurt feelings because it’s actually really hard not to. Emmych, it sounds like your reaction to hearing them equated is, “Hey, don’t lump queers in with kinksters” my reaction to your reaction is, “Kinksters are TOTALLY as normal as vanilla queers.” It’s like a game of negative social discourse hot potato–or approved sexuality musical chairs. So all these minority sexual identities (*queer kinkster salute*) end up shoving at each other for a position at the top of the podium.

      But there’s room enough on the floor for everyone. It’s okay. One day we’ll find a way to talk about all this without contributing to the fetishization and objectification of everybody, but it’s definitely not right now.

      • Emmers said:

        I think “approved sexuality musical chairs” should go on a sampler.

    • JenniferP said:

      The public/stranger sex is a kink. To the shadows with you! :)

      Also, I deliberately chose something odd and unlikely because it doesn’t matter what the specific sex act/orientation/activity/interest is or whether it is one or all of those at all. I’m thinking about point of view (of judgy parent, of judgy child, of judgy society) – “You’re doing something that might conceivably get concern-trolled by people.” That kind of concern-trolling happens with both kinksters and queers. It’s happening in this thread despite moderation efforts. Whether it should happen to either/both is not a question I can fix right now, today.

      • emmych said:

        Mwahahahaha, alrighty!!

        (Okay, good, I’m glad I misinterpreted that — this whole thread has just been LACED with internalized homophobia and it’s making me super on edge. The shadows are the best place at times like this!)

      • Luminous said:

        Captain,

        As a kinky queer lesbian who has been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the concern trolling and the conclusions that some commenters have been jumping to about this, THANK YOU for doing what you can to keep this comment space a constructive and inclusive place. This is a hard and complex topic, and I admire the way that you offered advice without judging the LW or her father.

        And LW,

        I have so much respect and admiration for the bravery that it might have taken you to write this letter. You are in a hard place: not only grieving for the loss of your mother’s life, but also perhaps grieving for the loss of who you thought your father was. It is unspeakably hard to find out that the person you thought you knew was acting in ways that seem very much unlike them.

        If I were you, though, I would let this go. Or at least I would decide not to talk to him about it until after I have vented all my anger at my therapist or wrote it in a notebook I kept under my bed, or something like that, so that when I did talk to him about it, I wouldn’t still need to direct that anger towards him. If you do decide to talk to you father about this, please please please emphasize your love for him and your respect for his privacy and his choices. Speaking for myself, one judgmental or homophobic comment from a family member can hurt worse than a hundred comments from strangers. If he picks up on your anger, even if you are trying to suppress it, then confronting him about this might cause him (and you) a lot of pain, especially when you are both grieving already.

        I wish the best for you and your father.

  14. LW, I’m sending you jedi hugs too, if you want them.

    I agree that you probably just have to turn a blind eye to your dad’s activities. However, what I’m reading in your letter is the very real fear that you might loose your dad. This doesn’t have to because of anything like an STD, or getting arrested as you say, it can also be a fear that his personally is going to change so dramatically that he won’t feel like your dad anymore. It can also just be the natural but overwhelming fear after loosing one parent of loosing the other, for whatever reason. It’s okay to have these feels. You might have had something like them even if you hadn’t found out about what your dad was doing.

    And you say these feelings are holding up the grieving process for you. This might be a good reason to consider seeing a grief counselor or therapist, and maybe even inviting/asking your dad to join you. You don’t have to talk about his sexual decisions there – you can just talk about what it’s been like for the two of you to loose your mom. Sometimes grief and tragedy tear people apart, sometimes it can bring people closer. If your dad won’t go, I’d still recommend going yourself, processing this combination of fear and grief with a therapist.

    Jedi hugs and more.

    • This. Whether your father’s behaviour is new to him, or something he and your mom worked out between them before she passed on, or any combination thereof, it’s new to you. You’ve just lost your mom, and now you’ve found out this new thing about your dad, which must make it feel like perhaps you’re losing him too.

      I think you would definitely benefit from some grief counselling to deal with the loss of your mom, but also with the shift in your relationship with your dad. I don’t want to suggest for a moment that finding out your dad’s sexuality is more complex than you thought is akin to losing your mom. It must feel very confusing though, and I imagine even if your mom was around, you’d be finding the shift in your relationship difficult.

      Get yourself to grief counselling, sure, but give yourself some time and space too. This is tricky stuff: sex and parents, and it’s coming at a tricky time. Don’t speak to your dad: take some time for yourself and for your grief. Trust your dad to take care of himself, and take care of yourself, too.

  15. I’m sorry you’re going through this, LW. What I see as the hardest part of all this is that your mom has died, and under other circumstances your Dad would be your solace, the person you would lean on to help you with your grief.

    Instead, what you’ve learned about him has made you feel less close to him, maybe even like you’ve lost him, too, to some extent — not because you’re judging his bisexuality, but because you’re uncomfortable with some aspects of the way he’s living that sexuality (semi-public/indiscreet sex, stranger sex), and because what you’ve learned has made you wonder about his relationship with your mom behind the scenes. Now there’s this elephant in the room when you’re together; unacknowledged, it makes you feel weird and a little alienated. Acknowledged, it would probably make you both feel weird and awkward!

    It’s one thing to acknowledge intellectually that your parents are their own people entitled to their own sexuality, another to be confronted with details of stuff that makes you squirm even more than offspring always squirm when they think about their parents having sex. Still, it really isn’t your business any more than the details of a discreet, heterosexual relationship would be; you’re right about that.

    One thing I would suggest is that you not do what some of the commenters above have done, and make all kinds of leaps of illogic from the information you actually have. It’s perfectly possible (even likely) that your dad is indeed using condoms, and is more attuned to the risk of exposure than the information you stumbled across would lead you to believe. People can like the titillation or convenience or anonymity of sex with a random stranger in a public locale without actually wanting the scandal if they got caught, and take appropriate precautions to reduce risk of exposure. Precautions aren’t foolproof, but the risk of exposure may not be as great as you fear.

    It’s also perfectly possible that your mother knew about and accepted what your dad was doing, either expressly after discussion or quietly, as a peace she had made for herself with that aspect of her husband’s sexuality. People do. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, why not assume, for the sake of your peace of mind, that she was one of them? It beats assuming betrayal.

    If you are secretly judging your dad on his sexual activities on any level, definitely leave this whole thing alone. You won’t get the support you need from him as a fellow griever by embarrassing him, condemning him, etc.

    Be careful not to concern-troll: where you try to kid him (and/or yourself) that you’re really worried about repercussions to his health or reputation, when what you really mean is “I’m not comfortable with this, but I don’t want to seem judgmental, so I’m going to mask my disapproval as concern for his well-being!”

    And maybe, even if the reason you want to pull the tablecloth off the elephant really is just so you can feel closer to your dad, you should STILL leave it alone, if on consideration you realize that it’s just going to embarrass him or make him defensive rather than bringing you closer.

    But if you just can’t leave it alone, because it is the existence of the sort-of-secret between you that is the problem, not the nature of the not-so-secret itself, be very clear that you want him to know that you know about that aspect of his life ONLY because you do know, and you knowing but him not knowing you know makes you feel less close to him, and you need him right now.

    Good luck getting through this.

    • staranise said:

      WORD, Alphakitty.

  16. 鈴 said:

    Delurking here for the first time.

    LW, what’ve you written reminds so much of how I felt when my father died and my mother went through all kinds of emotional and physical things that I simply wasn’t in the place of readiness to understand or support.

    There’s lot’s of good advice right here but the key thing is how you can find a way to process *your* grief. Please, don’t try to struggle on alone or find ways to look okay and be the “I can totally deal with this!” person when your feelings are rubbed raw. Going to talk to someone who will listen and understand what you’re trying to get to the heart of is something that is necessary. I hope that you will find the best way that helps you.

    Grief is so very individual and it’s okay to take the time out to be not okay with everything. You don’t have to feel your place is being the helping hand in this situation when, right now, you may need someone else to be the hand that reaches out.

  17. Would a group like PFLAG be a possibility?

    LW, you are in a weird place, there isn’t a social script for what you are going though however there might be people who could forward you to a councillor who deals with coming out stories. Or maybe taking parents who worry about their children’s sexual activity while wanting to still support those children might be useful models for your situations.

    • panda flannel said:

      Seconding this. I think it would be really valuable to get some support from other people who’ve been in similar situations with loved ones and family members. I specifically haven’t come out to a lot of family members because I know that feeling hypothetically-okay-with-it is totally different than being presented with the reality of what that means for everyone’s lives.

  18. RodeoBob said:

    LW, you are grieving, and as such, I’m not sure how honest you can be, either with the Captain or even yourself. Let’s try a little thought-experiment:

    My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly 2 months ago. My parents had been married almost 40 years. A month after her passing, I accidentally discovered that my dad has been sleeping with multiple men women he meets on the internet, at the gym, etc., and that he is also having sex in public restrooms. I don’t believe that my mom knew that this was going on, but I realize that that is a possibility.
    …after my mom died I had even considered that he might bring home a boyfriend girlfriend in a couple of years.
    …the high-risk behavior is freaking me out and making me angry, if I’m honest. I just lost one parent, and I don’t want to lose another! Furthermore, the thought that he was likely putting my mom at risk, too, really upsets me.

    LW, if your father had been sleeping with multiple women he met semi-anonymously, sometimes in public places, and it’s possible that he had been doing it before your mother passed away, how would you respond?

    Would you still imagine yourself being supportive and understanding? Would you still worry about “losing” your father to “high risk behavior”?

    The LW seems astonishingly nonchalant about possible marital infidelities by her father, and doesn’t even breathe a word about how quickly her father has moved on to intimacy with others.

    • panda flannel said:

      As far as thought experiments go, your comment seems to be based on the logical fallacy that queer people’s lives and experiences exist within the exact same social boundaries as straight people’s. Maybe she is reacting differently because these potential affairs were with men – as well she should, because it ISN’T the same thing as him having affairs with women. The actual reality we live doesn’t exist in a thought experiment vacuum where straight people and queer people are treated exactly the same.

      I’m NOT saying queer infidelity doesn’t matter, or that having someone’s parent move on more quickly than expected doesn’t create feelings, but just that this thought experiment seems flawed and irrelevant.

    • I think this comment is fractally wrong.

      (a) You have no reason to suppose LW is being dishonest
      (b) You have no reason to suppose LW’s feelings would be different if the widowed father were having sex with women instead of men
      (c) Instead of responding either supportively or informatively to LW’s letter, you’re creating a situation which does not exist based on your uninformed presumptions (a) and (b) and providing your own “thought experiment” which you’re asking her to respond to, which is about the most unhelpful response I can imagine, short of being actively judgemental of LW for her feelings about her father
      (d) …which you then proceed to in your final, grossly nasty and uncalled for paragraph.

      If you can’t think of anything useful, helpful, or kind to say to someone who’s suffered a bereavement, you can say you’re sorry for their loss.

      Try that next time instead of coming out with stuff like this.

    • JetGirl said:

      Astonishingly nonchalant is not what what I got from the LW at all. If anything, she seems overly concerned.
      She was reeling from losing her mom unexpectedly, and now she is reeling from discovering that her father was not who she thought he was, and that her parents’ marriage may not have been what she thought it was. So now she is not just grieving her mom, but her idea of her dad (even if she may have had some inkling). Anger and fear are parts of grieving (or at least all the grieving I’ve ever experienced). That doesn’t mean she is necessarily homophobic. Please cut her some slack.
      That said, the Captain is absolutely correct that it’s better to leave this one alone. This is not the LW’s business. Perhaps once dad feels more comfortable, he will introduce his daughter to a serious partner, and then they can talk. Good luck, LW.

      • panda flannel said:

        “Perhaps once dad feels more comfortable, he will introduce his daughter to a serious partner, and then they can talk.”

        “I had even considered that he might bring home a boyfriend in a couple of years. I imagined myself being very supportive and understanding in that scenario, but this sudden discovery at such an emotional time has really thrown me for a loop.” [from the original letter]

        I don’t want to pick this bone too hard, but I want to risk addressing it because I sometimes see variations of this trope manifest, intentionally or not, around these kinds of conversations. LW, take this if it resonates with you, or leave it behind if it doesn’t.

        I sometimes see this idea alluded to that the best, most real and/or only way for queer people to come out to families or close friends is through a serious, monogamous partner.

        I just think it’s important to talk about this, because sexuality, especially stigmatized sexualities, are messy and complicated. Things don’t always fit this ideal, and some peoples lives are never going to fit this mold at all. People find out “the wrong way” about loved ones’ sexualities all the time – this isn’t to minimize LW’s feelings around this, but to emphasize that these “perfect” coming out scenarios are rare, maybe unicorns, and we have to figure out how to get through things nonetheless.

        Even without being in the clutches of grief, this shit is hard. Without engaging in another hypothetical thought experiment, it might STILL have been totally jarring and hard, even if he had come out to you directly, via boyfriend, letter, skywriter, etc. This kind of thing, even when we see it coming, brings up things we may not have realized about ourselves and the people we love and there is rarely perfect congruity between theoretical coming out feelings vs. actual coming out feelings.

        Just…be gentle with yourself and with your dad. No matter how many books you read, you are both figuring this out for yourselves step-by-step. He might come out to you one way, or another, or he might never come out to you at all. He gets to make the decision that feels right for him.

        Keep your heart in a good place, and I really hope you find some support around this.

        • JetGirl said:

          The reason I mention a serious partner has nothing to do with sexuality. I never introduced casual partners to my loved ones when I was dating, simply because I didn’t want them to get attached in case it didn’t work out. I just kept that part of my life private. If LW’s dad does that, fine. But he may also feel the way I do, and not want to involve his daughter until he knows he wants someone in his life more seriously.

          • panda flannel said:

            I’m sorry if my response seemed like it was personally directed at you; I didn’t mean to imply that those were your reasons for it. I nested it under your comment because you mentioned the idea of her dad introducing her to a serious partner, which is something the LW discussed in her letter as well as something I think about a lot. I wanted to bring it up, but I should have clarified that my comment wasn’t addressed AT you as much as spinning off something you wrote.

            The TL;DR of my comment is (or is intended to be) “Even if your father never actually does bring a serious relationship home, the way that he chooses to conduct himself around his sexuality and coming out to you is still his own decision to make, even if it doesn’t end up like you thought it would.” So my impression is that we more-or-less agree?

    • This is a very weird comment. It comes across as “LW, you are not being judgmental enough about your father’s sex life. You should (in my exalted opinion) have been more judgmental than this about your dad’s activities even if they had been with a woman! (I certainly would have been!) Therefore you must be lying to yourself or to us.”

      I don’t think so at all. For the most part, LW gets that what her father doing is not all about her. She’s just struggling with the bits that she finds worrisome, trying to figure out whether it is her place to say anything about those and if so what and how.

      Even if deep inside her psyche she is a little weirded out by confirmation that her dad is now a practicing gay man, so to speak, as opposed to her just suspecting he maybe had bi inclinations (which would be an adjustment in thinking, and she’s entitled to feel however she feels about it), writing the letter the way she did was not so much a matter of lying, as of writing from the perspective of her very best self, the only self whose perspective she intends to let influence her course of action.

      I honor that. It reminds me of something in that Neil Gaiman commencement speech, to the effect that if you can’t be wise, you should pretend to be a wise person, and do what they would do.

    • Ve said:

      So…1) you commented essentially to be judgmental 2) based entirely off information you don’t know 3) without giving any helpful advice whatsoever to the LW? What exactly were you expecting to accomplish by leaving this comment?

    • RodeoBob said:

      Thanks for all your kind & supportive words. Let’s go to the letter:

      My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly 2 months ago….
      …after my mom died, the thought that my dad is gay or bisexual had crossed my mind…
      …I imagined myself being very supportive and understanding….
      …I had even considered that he might bring home a boyfriend in a couple of years…
      A month after her passing, I accidentally discovered that my dad has been sleeping with multiple men…
      …this sudden discovery… has really thrown me for a loop.

      So she can imagine her dad being gay, she imagines herself supportive of it, and she can even consider him having a boyfriend he wants her to meet, all in the span of a month or less after her mother’s passing, but when she discovers he actually is gay or bisexual, then it’s sudden and unexpected? No, something else is going on here.

      I don’t believe that my mom knew that this was going on, but I realize that that is a possibility…
      …the thought that he was likely putting my mom at risk, too, really upsets me.
      …I just lost one parent, and I don’t want to lose another!

      Y’all want to dogpile on me for making unsubstantiated assumptions, but the LW is the one assuming her father was putting his wife at risk without her knowledge, assuming his sexual activities are all “high-risk”, and assuming that they constitute an impending threat to his health and/or life, when most STI’s are either treatable, non-fatal, or both.

      I feel like I’m not able to progress through the normal grieving process for my mom because I am so wrapped up in the stress of this situation and keeping this secret.

      Worrying about her father keeps the LW from grieving her mother.

      Her father kept her in the dark about his sexual orientation, her late mother was either a victim of his deceit or an accomplice (or both), and instead of “bringing home a boyfriend in a couple of years”, he’s decided to start sleeping around right now. But the LW can’t be angry about those things, because that will lead her back to her late mother one way or another, and that’s pain the LW is trying to avoid. Denial aint just a river in Egypt. When she stops feeling “concerned” over things that might possibly happen at some point to someone else, and starts feeling angry, that’ll be a good thing.

      • Ugh. “I know how she’s feeling better than she does”? “That’s not how I imagine I would feel if I were in her shoes, so it can’t be how she is really feeling, there must be ‘something more’ going on”? You are not the LW; you don’t have her values, her experiences, or her relationships with her parents (who are not abstractions to her but actual human beings).

        There is nothing inherently implausible about the LW saying “I don’t have an issue with homosexuality; I was ready to accept my dad having a gay relationship down the line, but finding out he’s having sex with strangers in public places is, on top of Mom’s death, one thing too many to handle with my usual aplomb… I’m kind of freaking out worrying about him and about the consequences if he’s caught.”

        From my observation, when a bunch of the Awkward Army says your comment rubbed them the wrong way, it’s time to reassess, not time to double down with additional snark.

      • Vicki said:

        People feel what they feel. LW’s therapist or good friend might be in a position to ask “are you angry at him?” Nobody should be telling her that she should be angry at him, either for having multiple partners, the timing, that they are men, or that he hasn’t explicitly come out to her.

        Part of that is that your parents, and children, are not actually entitled to information about your sex life. The people who are entitled to (at least some) information are your partners, because it affects them. I have chosen to tell my mother some things; if I hadn’t, the omissions would create distance, but they might also make her life/worldview easier. There’s no way to be sure, ahead of time, how someone will react. (Maybe LW’s father is thinking of this as a temporary thing, and therefore not worth talking about.)

    • Why assume that LW would be more OK with this if Dad’s partners were women instead of men?

      If I found out that one of my parents had been cheating with same-sex partners, I’d be shocked, but I’d find my way to understanding so much faster than if they were cheating with opposite-sex partners. Given the culture in which they grew up, they wouldn’t have had a chance to explore that side of their sexuality in safe, non-angst-ridden ways. Affairs with opposite-sex partners would feel more like a statement on the marriage itself.

      I’d take LW’s comments at face value.

      • I’m with you on that – I think I’d see it differently, with a lot more of “stigma of being LGBT” in my head.

        But LW is clearly dealing with not only a perceived change in who her father is, but a change in how their family unit worked and what the dynamic was – and I can’t imagine dealing with that while grieving. My heart goes out to LW.

      • Emmers said:

        I didn’t read any overt gay stigma into the LW’s question; more misunderstandings (cloaked/unconscious gay stigma?) about what constitutes “high-risk” behavior, plus discomfort (which I shared above, though it might not have been my place to do so) with the not-really-okay-for-anyone-gay-or-straight activities of “public sex” and “possibly also adultery.”

  19. TL said:

    One of the possibilities not mentioned: if it would do irreparable harm if this got out – let’s say your dad is the pastor of an uber-conservative flock – AND others are highly likely to find out the way you did – let’s say Sam the bartender gave you a head’s up about seeing something in the bathroom – then you may want to, very briefly, just mention “Hey, Dad, I don’t want to intrude on your personal life, but I want to let you know that Sam mentioned they saw you with X in the bathroom.” I wouldn’t discuss it past that but then again I like to think I was immaculately conceived, so YMMV.

    This doesn’t seem a likely scenario, as it wasn’t a major concern in the letter and I imagine if it was the case you would have mentioned it. (Especially since you’re worried about it “coming out in the wrong way” rather than it coming out at all.)

    This wouldn’t be a “what would people say” scenario but rather an “I’m positive others know and are about to talk and I want to give Dad a head’s up.”

    But other than that, I’m in the talk to a counselor not your dad crowd.

  20. L. said:

    I have not BTDT with regard to coping with a parent’s or spouse’s passing but I thought the Captain’s advice was very gently written and spot on.

    My guess is that time will be a key component of this process. If your dad is still engaging in some of these behaviors, especially those that seem potentially high-risk, in maybe one-two years, you may want to gently broach the subject. Even then it would be a delicate conversation. But I sort of feel like in these new, raw days, nothing’s out of the question. Grief will happen and make you both crazy and the best thing to do is navigate your own ship through these waters as best you can. Not that your dad should be abandoned, but that you should let him wend his way through his own whitewater however he chooses right now.

    They say “this too shall pass” and I think that sometimes means, in the tough times, the personal upheaval that comes with it. Just keep on following the thread through the labyrinth.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, LW.

  21. BoyOrHedgehog said:

    Dearest LW,

    Wow, I really feel for you. What a terrible, stressful, confusing and grief-stricken time you are going through.
    The first thing I want to say is that I am so sorry for your loss. I have never lost a parent, but I have experienced extreme grief, and it is not something I would wish on anyone, least of all your lovely self. Try to be gentle with yourself, and give yourself time, and seek out the people whose hugs make you feel better (and believe me when I tell you that those people would be so glad to do small kind things for you right now). You deserve happiness and calmness and they will start coming back to you, even though it might be slowly and uncertainly, and even though you might not be able to believe that right now. I wish you all the best in your healing.
    I also want to say to you that I believe your account of events. I don’t think you snooped and I don’t think you were dishonest in your letter. I’m sorry you got accused of that in this space which you probably expected more kindness from. I also don’t think that your stress and upset and anxiety over this discovery is homophobic. You must be reeling, and suffering in a lot of directions, and you have all the right to your suffering.
    The only thing I could think of to help you was to try to help break the problem down for you. So, as I see it, there are a number of problems, all bound up in this problem – and also all bound up in your grief, and your Dad’s grief, and the family grief that you both share in. Here’s my attempt to untangle them:
    1. Realising that your Dad was probably cheating on your Mum.
    2. Realising that your Dad is gay or bi which you hadn’t been aware of all your life.
    3. [Because let’s be honest] Finding out about your Dad having sex – *uncomfortable!*
    4. Anxiety about possible health consequences of your Dad’s sex life (that is, STIs)
    5. Anxiety about possible legal implications of your Dad’s sex life (arrest, criminal record)
    6. Anxiety about possible social and familial implications of your Dad’s sex life (whether homophobic or judgemental of the public element)
    7. Feeling squicked out about the nature or existence of your Dad’s kink.
    8. Feeling unsure about the ethicalness of your Dad’s kink (as pointed out by a commenter above)
    OK, that’s a LOT, right? Well, I think there are a few we can dismiss. 3 and 7 are really just slight variations of the extreme awkwardness and discomfort of the fact of our family members as sexual beings. Yep, super-uncomfortable, but also super-normal and definitely something that will pass.
    I think we can also dump 4 and 8 as things for you to worry about. That’s something I agree with a lot of previous commentators on: I think the ethical and health aspects of your Dad’s sex life is his business and something you can trust him to manage.
    Further along, it sounds like 2 is basically already dealt with: it sounds like you’ve come to terms or are at least very close to coming to terms with this new aspect of your Dad’s life and personality that you’re learning about. It’s great you’ve been able to do that, both for yourself and for your Dad, and it’s a really good sign of your ability to deal with the rest of this.
    OK, so now we’re down to only three problems. I’m not being very original here, but I do think it would be a great idea to chat with a counsellor about these. I certainly would hope that you and your Dad will one day be able to talk about what was going on when your Mum was still alive – maybe their relationship was open in that way so that your Dad in fact wasn’t being unfaithful, there are a lot of different possibilities there – but that probably is quite a while down the track, and in the meantime a counsellor or trusted friend is a really good idea. Maybe chatting to someone you trust could also help you develop a quick and not-too-awkward script with your Dad for the legal stuff: similar to what someone suggested above it could be as simple as “Dad, this is super-uncomfortable but _____ mentioned something about the gym locker room; hope you’re not going to get into any trouble? … – bye” and then you can make like Bella Swan and flee up the stairs. Finally, if you do feel anxious about a homophobic element in your family that’s a really hard and upsetting thing for both you and your Dad and it would be great to have someone on your team when and if you ever have to confront it.
    Wishing you all the very best through it all.

    • Emmers said:

      I think this is a really good breakdown list for the LW to take to the therapist!

  22. BoyOrHedgehog said:

    Just posted a seriously! large! comment! – unsurprisingly it was caught by the spam filter. In the meantime, LW, sending you good thoughts and wishes.

  23. NonnieMouse said:

    My mom passed away a few years ago. I thought I knew a few things about the grieving process, but one thing I didn’t know was that my relationship with my dad would change. It’s still a good relationship, but it’s not as comfortable somehow, and that’s a loss for me (and probably him too).

    LW, you said that you were worried about your dad’s safety. Maybe some of your concern is also about a change in your relationship with him?

    I think you’ve gotten good advice about what to do, and I hope you have lots of support during the next few months and years.

  24. I’ll add to the voices advising counseling, for all the reasons everyone else has said plus one more.

    In a paradoxical way, worry can be soothing. The headspace you’re devoting to your dad’s behavior will to some extent crowd out thoughts about your mom and how much you miss her. It’s a distraction. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s OK to find strategies that allow you not to feel crushing grief every moment of the day! But if that’s part of what’s part of going on, it may serve you better to find a distraction that doesn’t also cause you pain.

    And of course, if I’m totally off about this, there are all the other reasons for counseling. Feeling obligated to keep a secret like that, not being able to let someone help you process it … that can’t be helping.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  25. kelseypolo said:

    LW,

    I have been in a very similar situation. Though it was many years after my mom died, I found out my dad was gay before he was able to tell me. I was still torn up about his most recent break-up with a long-time girlfriend (a woman I was very attached to as a mother figure) when I found out. I was young, hurt, and very confused. I tried to ask him if he was gay once before, and he denied it up and down. It took me another 8 months for me to finally talk to him, but the whole conversation went surprisingly well. Here are a few reasons why I think it went well for me, in retrospect:

    1. I had to time process everything. There were a lot of thoughts I had to work through: my dad being gay, him being safe, his past relationships, our family’s potential reaction, how it changed his relationship with my mom… I definitely needed those 8 months. Seriously, time brings everything into focus.

    2. I wasn’t alone. I talked to my support group. Sometimes, I talked to people about it without giving specifics. I didn’t have a therapist at the time, so I had to make do.

    3. I never rushed him into telling me. I let it happen naturally. Because as much anxiety as I was feeling, his was ten times worse (times about 40 years). He was the one that needed to be ready.

    I hope everything goes well, and you can be there to support your dad when he’s ready. Because I can tell you from experience, it will be a huge weight off both your shoulders when you can be fully supportive and open with each other through the hard times.

  26. dilemmadaughter said:

    I am the LW in question, and I want to thank CA and so many commenters for all of your support and gentle advice. I realize a lot of detail was missing in my letter – I was trying to keep the word count down and I was trying to keep things vague enough that my family couldn’t be recognized by someone who knows us well. To those concerned, my discovery was COMPLETELY accidental and therefore completely unexpected. I got a lot of information all at once, and part of my fear of it coming out “the wrong way” was that if I found out so unintentionally, so could other important people. I worried for my dad’s sake in that case because I don’t want him outed against his will in any way.

    One thing I could have been more clear about is that, as several commenters picked up on, what I discovered is that all this was going on regularly BEFORE my mom passed, and I only know that my dad was trying to make arrangements right after, as well. I don’t think that fundamentally changes a lot of the good advice given here, though.

    As CA mentioned, a good bit of time has passed since I sent this letter. I hope sharing my experiences since then might be helpful to anyone going through something similar. Right after my mom died, I became terrified of something happening to my dad. This meant I worried about everything, from him being home alone at night to his not-known-to-be-safe driving record. I also become convinced that my immediate family and I were suddenly going to be disconnected from my mom’s side of the extended family (to whom we have always been very close). It felt like they might not think I was their family anymore. So when I made this discovery, it just fed right into everything else.

    As time has passed, this panicky aspect of the grief has subsided. I realized I was not going to lose my family (even though things are having to readjust with them). I also don’t spend as much time worrying about my dad’s safety. I realized that if these activities have been going on for some time, my dad must have developed some way to keep things to himself and relatively safe. I’m still concerned (without knowing the whole story, of course), but I’m okay with the level of concern I’m at now, if that makes sense.

    Once those two things were done taking over my brain, it really boiled down to what Alphakitty expertly described in one of her comments: normally I would expect to have my dad as a support and to be one to him, but these secrets were getting in the way of that. We have always been close, and now I was having to put more distance between us than I wanted in order to keep the secret. Little things in conversation were constant reminders that I knew something important about him that he didn’t know I knew.

    What helped me a lot is that I began attending PFLAG meetings. I got to talk to a lot of parents who knew their children were gay before they came out to them and how that all played out. I also got to know a man who was married to a woman and had children before he came out to all of them. I think the typical (and very sound) advice in these situations is to let your loved one hear your support for others in their position and hope that will help them feel comfortable enough to come out to you eventually. In my case, there could be no mistaking my generic support because that is how he and my mom raised me. We have lots of out gay and lesbian family members, my parents have lots of gay friends, I have lots of LGBT friends (whom my dad knows), and LGBT activism is a big part of our lives and a frequent topic of conversation for us.

    People at PFLAG helped me realize that even understanding all of this about me, my dad could still be convinced that I would feel differently when it came to him. I reached a point where that possibility, combined with my complete inability to cope with keeping this secret from him, led me to initiate a frank conversation. I spoke to him in person, one-on-one, and told him I loved him so much and nothing could change that. I told him I felt I needed to have a very awkward conversation with him because I knew something I wasn’t meant to know, and keeping that fact from him was making it difficult for me support him and feel supported. I told him that I know he has sex with men (and part of the story of how I found out) and that it wasn’t a shock to me. That it was something I had considered possible before and that I was okay with it now that it was confirmed. He responded that this is a very small part of his life, so I said that’s okay. I also said that things were going to change for all of us as we adjust to life without my mom and that I just wanted him to know he has my full love and support even if it becomes a bigger part of his life. He gave me the longest and biggest hug ever and said thank you and that he was glad I talked to him instead of keeping it a secret. He told me that, to the best of his knowledge, my mom didn’t know anything about it all. He also said that I was the first person he has ever talked to about any of it in his 60+ years of life. He said I can talk to him about it whenever I wanted, but that he didn’t think he would need to talk to me or anyone else about it anytime soon.

    I decided in advance that it would be in no way productive to let him know the extent of what I had learned or really express that I was concerned about his actions in any way. My intent in handling the conversation the way I did was to make him feel loved and supported. I don’t think there was anyway to have that other conversation without making him feel embarrassed or judged or guilty, so I didn’t. As mentioned previously, I still feel concerned sometimes, and it is a little hard to think of him lying to my mom (although she might have figured some things out on her own), but I am handling those feelings by myself, with my partner, and with my therapist.

    Speaking of which, I had previously seen a therapist on a regular basis, and I resumed regular sessions after my mom died, which has helped a lot. My dad attended a short-term grief group, and when it ended I talked to him about looking into individual therapy (this was before we had the above conversation). I have been looking into grief groups for myself, and all of the comments here have convinced me it is worth pursuing, so thank you. My dad and I haven’t broached the awkward subject again since THE CONVERSATION, but we still talk all the time, have visited one another, etc. I’m finding it much easier now that time has passed and the truth is out.

    Thank you again to everyone here.

    • Go you! Sounds like you’ve handled the situation awesomely, and with great results.

      And like you are an wonderful daughter.

    • “He also said that I was the first person he has ever talked to about any of it in his 60+ years of life.”

      Awwww!

      Sounds like a great talk. Thanks for the update! I apologize if I made you upset upthread.

    • Kaesa said:

      Wow. I have no advice or anything, I’d just like to say, this sounds like it was a hugely stressful situation, and you handled everything really, really sensibly and well. You’re awesome.

    • liyyspoon said:

      The thread up there was making me sad and upset and I may have come across a little sharp but this is a wonderful update and you, LW, sound wonderful too. You sound very kind, and brave and strong. Jedi hugs.

    • Oh my gosh, your poor dad! So deep in the closet for 60 years? I am so glad you could give him that compassion and love, and I wish he could have found it sooner in his life. I mean, I don’t know how your mom would have reacted, maybe she knew too and they just never talked about it.

      I am so glad you’ve had the support you need, and that you and your dad have been able to come closer together to support each other.

    • JenniferP said:

      This response is so great and I am happy for you and your dad and glad you have each other. You are one smart lady!

    • Ve said:

      You are a wonderful daughter <3

    • Your dad is very lucky to have you. I’m so glad you guys were able to talk to each other.

    • blank said:

      All the debating in the thread above was making me really sad but then I read this. Thank you so much. You’re wonderful.

      (And I speak as someone who had to come out to a family who was generically supportive of LGBT rights but nevertheless not massively pleased to find one in their midst).

    • I read your letter and the comments but had nothing useful to contribute, but now I’d like to add my little GO YOU! :)

    • ReanaZ said:

      Man, you totally win at human/family interaction. A+

    • Emmers said:

      Oh, this is wonderful! Thanks for checking back in – I know Internet people/advice column junkies aren’t entitled to that, but it’s always heartening to hear back from people and learn that things worked out well. Good thoughts and good luck – though it sounds like you’re doing great already.

  27. Commander Banana said:

    In an odd twist of Internet fate, Dear Prudence got a letter from a writer who discovered through old letters that her newly deceased grandmother was a lesbian and had concealed a fifty-year long relationship with her girlfriend, and wanted to know how to go about telling their very conservative family about it.
    Prudence’s advice was pretty characteristically sloppy and poorly-thought-out.

    • Suzy said:

      Good gods, some of the stuff that woman comes out with is downright offensive. Her advice to someone who didn’t want children and was sick of being judged? “You might change your mind.” Helpful, that, and not even entertaining the fact that some people just don’t want kids!

      • Commander Banana said:

        I like to imagine that before she dispenses her advice, she gets completely wasted and then wears an upside-down-egg-basket on her head. She says some seriously stupid shit. She’s like a daffy, prying, judgy weird neighbor or something. (I have not idea why Slate gives her an advice column, and I don’t know why I continue reading it. Ask Polly at The Awl is pretty awesome, though.)

        • MuddieMae said:

          I think Slate continues to employ her solely for her terrible puns.

          • Kaesa said:

            I know a few people who follow her more for the “crazy” (their word) letters she gets but think her advice is pretty bad; I suspect the human tendency to be riveted other people’s unusual, upsetting situations is responsible for a lot of her pageviews, and therefore Slate’s ad revenue.

            I don’t blame people for being interested in that kind of stuff; there are a lot of reasons you can find that sort of thing interesting that aren’t necessarily mean-spirited or exploitative. (For example, I think of empathy and open-mindedness as learned traits, and I think I am better at them when I learn about how other people approach the problems they face.) But I think a lot of Dear Prudence is pretty much calculated to be HEY LOOK AT THIS WEIRD SITUATION SOMEONE ELSE IS IN linkbait, and I kind of suspect they pick the letters that make the best wacky headlines, not the ones Prudence can actually give good advice on.

          • Kaesa said:

            I feel like I should also add here: one of the things I like about Captain Awkward is that the Captain explains her reasoning, and along with the Awkward Army’s fun slangy vocabulary, there are ground rules here — like, the idea that people are responsible for their own emotions and actions, and you can’t control your friend’s/family member’s/coworker’s/creepy friend’s/SO’s actions or emotions, nor should you attempt to, has been an ENORMOUS HELP in my life. It means that, as someone who’s been reading for a while, I find myself faced with less situations where I feel I need to ask for someone else’s advice. I know there are other columnists (of varying quality) who do this, and other sources for this information, but it’s still really nice to read an advice column for the actual advice rather than for the letters.

          • caryatid said:

            agreed, with you and Kaesa. Prudence definitely enjoys the lurid and i feel like she goes out of her way to respond in a way that makes her letter writer’s situations seem even more so. i started to boycott her after a few too many digs, jabs, and excessive references to children’s sexuality – it really made me feel gross.

          • “… and excessive references to children’s sexuality …”

            Wait, what? Should I even ask?

          • caryatid said:

            there’s been a few times where someone has written in to ask for advice about their young child’s masturbation habit. and prudence really seems to enjoy visualizing and describing it, and it just really grossed me out. i think she thinks she’s being edgy?

  28. Irene said:

    Here’s a health concern that’s more realistic, as far as I can tell: http://americablog.com/2013/03/meningitis-nyc-gay-men-new-york-vaccine.html “A particularly deadly meningitis outbreak among gay men in New York City has led the city to recommend that every gay man who is basically sexually active, and not in an exclusive relationship, to get a meningitis vaccination pronto.”

  29. LuLu said:

    I don’t think sexuality deserves special “privacy” treatment in extreme cases like this one.

    I went through a breakdown after losing a friend in which I was engaging in unsafe sex compulsively. Addiction-style compulsivity. Sex can be abused addictively, similarly to substance abuse. I am very lucky I did not contract an STD, or get hurt in any myriad other ways. My behavior had become out of my control. I wish my friends or family, who could see my pain and my behavior, had stepped in to help me. I was sick with addiction for over a year, and badly needed treatment but couldn’t get to that point by myself. Luckily, gradually, I found healthier ways to cope with my grief, and am now glad I am still healthy in the aftermath of my addiction.

    If it had been substances I was abusing, then my loved ones would have intervened in an instant. But our society tends to treat consensual sexuality like some special separate private unspeakable thing- which is fine, but shouldn’t apply to sex addiction. There is sex, and there is sex addiction, and these are quite different. I’m not sure about LW’s circumstances specifically, because we don’t know anything about Dad’s mental health, and I wouldn’t dare to postulate. But my point is that we should not place a blanket ban on invading someone’s privacy regarding sexual behavior. It is possible LW’s dad is just having sex, but it is also possible he is experiencing sex addiction, and if so, the situation should be approached similarly to any addiction situation.

    • I definitely think you’re projecting when you say “in extreme cases like this one.” Because there really isn’t any evidence in the letter (or the LW’s later update) to suggest that this is an “extreme case.” What the dad is doing is not everyone’s thing, for sure. But it also sure as heck is not a sign of sex addiction, or dementia, or self-destructive tendencies, or any other mental instability as some of the commmenters have suggested.

      I can’t speak to the issue of sexual addiction, and how a friend/family member would know that’s what they were seeing. While I suppose that would be a valid exception to the MYOB rule when it comes to other people’s sex lives, I’d hate to see “But it could be sexual addiction!” be the new excuse to justify the kind of concern-trolling we’ve seen here.

  30. concerned said:

    Okay, I am not here to give advice but seek it, what if I am in the same shoes as LW but my mother has not died, she is old fashioned and from a small town and probably does not even know what homosexuality means. They are both in their sixties. My father has recently discovered facebook and I suddenly found him ‘liking’ gay pages, making ‘friends’ on facebook with men with nude profile pics and suggestive names – handing out his phone number to anyone who asks for it and inviting some of these people home. This has been a shock to me. Where I live, homosexuality was till very recently a punishable crime. This means that gay clubs are still new, and social acceptance is low. I am okay with gays, have many myself. But this sudden revealation, the way it happened, its implications, his ‘high- risk’ behaviour and the fact that my mother is probably clueless is very worrying. My two sisters are also his ‘friends’ on facebook – so are their husbands and extended family. If they found out he was gay, that would be still acceptable – but the fact that he is publicly engaging in all kinds of liaisons and ‘liking’ gay pics online is probably not going to be accepted and be shameful and humiliating for him. My parents are financially completely dependent on me and we stay together with my wife. I have no clue what to do – one thing I am sure of is that the only reason I have not kicked him out of the house is that he is gay and i am trying to empathise with his frustration – if he was having affairs with women, I would have.

    • The same general principles apply to your situation as to the original letter writer’s. Your parents’ love life/sex lives are theirs.

      It’s great that you have some compassion for your father, and empathy for his situation as a married man who wants to engage in gay sex — particularly in a powerfully anti-gay society, there are a lot of ways he could have wound up in his 60s, bi/gay, and married to a woman, that do deserve compassion. It’s great that you care about your mother’s pain if she found out what he is doing — and, I think, natural to be disappointed in your father for his infidelity, regardless of the circumstances. However, it is not up to you to resolve the inherent conflict between what your dad wants (and has apparently decided to pursue) and what (you assume) your mother wants. Or the one between what he wants and what is “socially acceptable” in your community.

      Even if you were inclined to shame your dad for violating his marriage vows (regardless of the gender of his partners), the fact is that he already knows he is violating his marriage vows, that his wife would be hurt if she found out, and that you and your sisters would disapprove of the infidelity at the least. And he is doing it anyway. Which suggests that he really wants to, and maybe feels entitled to after years of doing what he’s supposed to. Your adding your voice to his internal chorus of guilt is unlikely to change anything other than driving a wedge between you. You may decide to speak up anyway — sometimes people feel like they just have to voice their disapproval. But be clear about why you’re doing it and what you expect to happen. And understand that doing so may have the effect of forcing his hand in ways your mother might not thank you for.

      I think the most you have any business doing is 1) giving him a little tutorial on Facebook and privacy settings. He may well have illusions that his relationships/communications on Facebook are a lot more private and discreet than they are, and 2) setting some boundaries on use of/access to the family home. While your dad is entitled to choose his own risks, when you all live together his choices affect the rest of the family’s comfort and security in the home, too. If you and your wife are being made uncomfortable in your own home either by your emotional discomfort with his infidelity (and anxiety about your mother finding out) or worries about safety when he is bringing internet acquaintances into the house for sex, you have a legitimate interest that would warrant trying to negotiate some boundaries, shy of kicking him out of the house.

  31. I know this discussion has kind of tapered off — and rightly so, given the LW’s awesome update. However, in response to this letter there’s been an awful lot of labeling the Dad’s choices as “high risk,” and even talk as if his conduct were prima facie evidence of mental instability — either dementia, or as if doing something “so risky” could only be justified by extreme grief.

    And I just want to say, I like to alpine ski — fast! There’s a risk of crippling, life-altering injury or even death every time I fly down the hill; even if I think I’m in control, shit (a.k.a. ice) happens. My husband likes to mountain bike, and has flown over the handlebars and broken his collarbone; thank god for that helmet he was wearing, and that there was no spinal cord injury! He also likes to go kayaking off the coast of Maine, and one time one of their party disappeared in fog for a while, and the rest of them were wondering about having to make that awful phone call to his wife and kids.

    But no one says Alphakitty shouldn’t ski, or Husband shouldn’t mountain bike and kayak because there is — gasp — RISK! No one suggests that we have must have self-destructive tendencies or otherwise be mentally unstable for doing things we love despite that risk. They inquire whether we’re taking the appropriate safety precautions, and we assure them we’re doing our best, and we go on doing the things we love as safely as possible with their blessing. Because life should have joy, and some of the joy comes with risk!

    Yet a lot of people (to my dismay, even some Captain Awkward people, it seems) get all judgy and concern-trolly about other people’s sexual preferences and practices when they involve risk of harm (and generally not even paralysis or death, either, like lots of the other dangerous things people do for fun). They feel like they have a right to insist that people they care about play it safe in that arena, or if they don’t they think they get to label the other person reckless and irresponsible, and talk as if in this one arena, willingness to incur risk is a sign of mental instability!

    Honestly, if the LW’s Dad is being reasonably careful, I bet his risk of serious harm (e.g., risk of getting AIDs) is a lot lower than a lot of us routinely incur in (other) recreational contexts. And when you think about it, straight women put themselves at risk every time they start a new sexual relationship — it’s pretty hard to have sex with a guy without making yourself physically vulnerable to him.

    So what I want to say is, if you would accept someone incurring a certain level of risk in non-sexual arenas of life, or if you would expect someone who cared about you to accept that level of risk in your life, then you don’t get to use the magic phrase “high risk” to bludgeon other people about sexual choices that involve that same level of risk, or less risk. Because it means that your “concern” is not really about risk so much as it is about discomfort about the choices they’re making. Choices that are actually none of your business.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks, alphakitty, I was guilty of this in the OP as well. The LW was a lot braver (and I am glad) than my answer encouraged her to be.

      • And more sincerely non-judgmental than one dared to assume. She handled the situation in exemplary fashion!

    • solecism said:

      Here here! Reminds me of the time when I slashed my foot open while walking barefoot in my own yard because some yahoo had broken a beer bottle, and we’d overlooked the jagged base snuggled upright into the grass while picking up the pieces a few days before. I ended up with a dozen stitches and was off my feet entirely for a week or more. Had to cancel my trip to Spain too, because it was just a few weeks away and was supposed to be walking intensive.

      Anyway, my coworker came by my house one day, and there I was again, barefoot! Such judgment in her voice when she asked what I was thinking, hadn’t I learned anything. Well, I’ve spent most of my life barefoot in city and country, walking and running and hiking and biking, over ground seen and unseen, daytime and moonlight, and while I many times had to deal with thorns or slivers (of glass even), stubbed toes or bruised feet, I had never slashed my foot open before, and in my own yard, no less. I heroically refrained from pointing out that she still kayaked despite a close friend of hers getting trapped under a rootwad and drowning recently. Talk about risk. You manage what risks you can, you make your choices, and you try to still find some pleasure and joy, rather than closing yourself off from experience (living!) because of the risk! Think of the risk! But human connection and a full life require vulnerability which necessarily entails risk, whether that is physical or emotional or whatever.

    • Paraveina said:

      I wonder if this attitude is grown from the herd mentality? In particular, herd immunity. Shaming someone for perceived “high risk” sexuality serves the community if the end result is less spread of disease, in the same way encouraging people to get vaccinated results in herd immunity and lower sickness and death rates.

      I would guess it relates to how much you value the greater good to society versus individual freedoms (communism vs libertarianism?).

      • That’s a reasonable sociological/anthropological theory. Or it could just be the squick factor of thinking about other people’s sex lives, and the fact that things that have a higher risk factor are more likely to be something outside the comfort zone of the person being judgy (judgey?), and they mistake their heebiejeebies for concern about risk.

        • Paraveina said:

          Oh there’s definitely a lot of that too. People draw their lines where their own behaviour lies, and anyone more vanilla is a prude and anyone more different and out there is risky behaviour.

    • Ve said:

      Well said. I felt similarly, especially since many people put themselves in similar “risks” all the time, sexual risks even.

      On a related note, a good friend of mine, who is gay, is probably less likely to contract an STD than many people in my family — who are heterosexual, but for whatever reason seem to not believe in using protection and have endured consequences of such actions from babies to herpes — because he’s not deluded as to the risks of being sexually active.

    • This comment is so on point and awesome. To be fair, the obnoxious judgey comes out about most things (running ruins your joints! Not running means you’re lazy!) but ho boy is it extra bad with sex, and this thread has made me squirmy as hell.

      LW you are the best. It’s people like you that bring me to Captain Awkward, and have a teeny bit more faith in humanity. :P

      • Ve said:

        Especially because this had to do with MSM sex…with several partners. The poor LW could only explain so much in part because of the word limit, so there was judgment all around — the poor grieving dad, the LW because of what she didn’t say, etc. I was nervous for all of this after merely reading the title of the post…

    • Thank you! I feel like this thread did get pretty uncomfortable and judgey, which almost never happens here, so it was sad to see.

    • Katie said:

      YES. YES THIS.

    • ahn said:

      Thanks for capping of these comments with this fantastic statement. So well said.

  32. I just got a Dove chocolate wrapper that said “You’re allowed to do nothing.” I was thinking how awesome it would be to have Awkward Chocolate, with nuggets of Awkward Wisdom on the inside of the wrappers.

    • unlurking said:

      That’s a pretty good one, though, for Dove chocolate!

      • It was it’s awkward-worthiness that inspired me.

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