I’m From Jamestown, NY.

by dave mittlefehldt

I’m not gay, but my younger son is. You may have read his story; he’s from Clear Lake, TX.

I was clueless of my son’s sexual orientation until he revealed it. Rafi came out to his mother and me his freshman year in college. It was an awkward moment. Not because it was unpleasant news, rather because I had not anticipated it and didn’t know what to say. I tend to be flippant, but for serious issues I want to have serious discussions. In this case, Rafi floored me. I didn’t have any comforting or supportive words to say. I honestly don’t even remember what I said at the time. Do you remember, Rafi?

Afterwards, I had lots of time to think about what Rafi said. It made me realize a couple of things.

One was that I had partially failed Rafi. As a father, my number one job is to prepare my children for life. But how could I do this for Rafi? I have had no gay experiences that I can draw upon. There is a whole part of his life that I cannot help him with. I fret about this. How can I help my son with relationship issues? Are they the same as heterosexual relationships? I simply don’t know. Neither can I help him with his interactions with society at large. I do not know how he might be treated at the corner store, by the car mechanic, a police officer. I know how he ought to be treated, but that’s not the same. I still struggle with this issue.

The second realization is the more important one. When our son came out, he mentioned that he had known since he was in seventh grade, some six years earlier. Why didn’t he tell us sooner? I presume it was because he was uncertain of our reaction. I mentioned that I tend to be flippant. Did some of my flippant remarks make him feel uncomfortable as a gay man? I hope not. That would never be my intent. But I do not hear my remarks with the same ears a gay man does.

The bottom line is that I could not love Rafi more, or be more proud of him, if he was straight. I take delight in his triumphs, and I share his pain when things don’t go as planned. I don’t have a straight son and a gay son. I have two of the most wonderful human beings who call me dad.


  1. I’m a gay man with straight kids. You will be able to help your son like I am able to help my kids because, while you may not understand homosexuality, we all understand hurt or love or depression or sadness. In other words, gay or straight, it’s the same in all the ways that matter.

  2. Man.

    I’m flippant a lot too when I’m not sure how to react. It never bothered or upset me. You definitely didn’t ever fail me.

    I’ve always hated how long it took to tell you and Mom (and Yono years later). It wasn’t because I was worried how you would take it; I always figured you’d be cool. I was just dreading the awkwardness that would immediately follow.

    I don’t remember your first reaction. What I remember is the call two days later. After the initial nervousness wore off right after telling, a heavy kind of unease gradually took its place. For a couple days I just felt more and more unsure about it, maybe because now that it was said it was permanent and couldn’t be taken back.

    On Monday I was hanging out with friends in the study hall near my dorm, still feeling sluggish. I went back to my room when I got a call. You said you weren’t happy with the way the conversation went. You said you just wanted to add that nothing had changed. You said that you and Mom loved me, that you were proud of me. The conversation might’ve lasted 60 seconds.

    After that I went back to hang out with my friends, grinning, in a completely different mood.

    Thanks for this, Dad. :)

  3. This has got me all verklempt. Such a heart-warming account. Thank you, both, for sharing.

  4. Dave, thinking about why Rafi didn’t tell you and his mom earlier, I hope you will read Tim from Leicester’s story. Tim makes a good point that it was his to tell on his own timetable. When Rafi says he was afraid it would be awkward afterword, I think in a way he is saying the same thing. He just wasn’t ready. There is no reason for you to feel neglectful about it.

    And Rafi, I understand your regret for not doing it sooner, but you did what felt right to you at the time.

  5. Ditto on the verklempt. Thank you Dave and Rafi for your stories.

  6. Wow, if only there were more Dads like this in the world, there would be more happy and secure people in the world, which would be so much greater for all of us.

    Raf, you’re lucky to have a Dad like this. And Dave, you’re lucky to have a Rafi like Rafi.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. It’s so cathartic to read the other half of a coming out story. It’s always a unknown quantity for us. We know how things feel afterward, and how relationships slowly grow to incorporate this new reality (or not), but we still never really know or understand what was going on at the time for the other person.

    I know that 30 minutes south on I-45, my father said some hurtful things during my coming out process. And while I’m certain that he didn’t mean to hurt me by saying them, I’d love to have the benefit of his insight into his thinking to better understand what he DID mean by them. But I also suspect that, like you, he doesn’t even remember what was said, even though they were seared onto my brain like an emotional cattle-brand. It’s sad to me to think that I may never know. It’s sadder to me that ten years later, we’re still on such tentative terms that I can’t bring myself to ask him what he meant by those things.

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