I hung up the phone, wondering what I should do. While it was something I had been hoping would happen, I found myself ill prepared to handle it.
“Who was that, Dad?” Cameron asked.
I turned around to see my two teenage sons standing side by side, watching me. Cameron, the seventeen-year-old, had his arms crossed and was trying to look stern. It didn’t work; I could see the corners of his mouth twitching upwards before he forced them back into a straight line. Tony didn’t even bother to try to hide his grin, but then he had always worn his emotions on the outside. Though he was only fifteen, he was a lot stockier than his older, slender brother and he had a strong, lazy self-confidence.
“Was that someone asking you out?” Tony asked.
I nodded my head. I knew I had been caught and there was no point in denying it.
“When’s the big day, then?” Cameron asked.
“He asked me out for dinner on Saturday, but I haven’t accepted. I said I would call back to let him know.” I moved past them into the living room. I wasn’t surprised when they followed me. Both boys had been on my case for a year to find a boyfriend. It was six years since my wife had passed away, and they felt it was time I found someone new.
“What’s stopping you?” Cameron asked. I looked back to find he’d picked up the phone and was holding it out for me. I didn’t accept it.
“It’s not that simple. I’m not sure if I want to date again. It’s been so long, and I’m comfortable by myself.”
“Bullshit.” Tony wasn’t one to beat around the bush. “You’re just scared. Admit it.”
“And what if I am? It’s still my life. If I don’t want to go out with Shaun, that’s my business!” I crossed my arms to try to make it clear I wanted them to butt out.
Tony ignored my body language. “Shaun… Shaun… Is he the guy you said you were chatting with at the bar the other night?”
“Yeah.” I didn’t realise I’d mentioned his name previously.
“He sounded like a great guy. Why don’t you go and see if it works out?” Cameron asked.
I wasn’t going to confirm to a pair of over-zealous teenagers that I was scared. A memory surfaced that gave me an escape. “I can’t. You’ve got a date that night, and I’m not leaving Tony alone in the house again.”
“It was one time, and you’re never going to let me forget it, are you?” Tony was, quite rightly, indignant. However, it was my house, and Tony’s allowance was still being docked to pay for the damages. We were just lucky that our neighbour managed to keep the fire from spreading until the fire engine arrived.
Cameron frowned at me, looked at the phone still in his hand, and made a call. “Debbie? I’m sorry, I’m going to have to cancel our date on Saturday. Something’s cropped up.”
“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “HE’S LYING, DEBBIE!”
Cameron rolled his eyes. “Dad’s got a date, but he’s getting cold feet and he’s using us as an excuse not to go. He doesn’t want to leave Tony alone in the house.”
My mouth felt like it should’ve hit the floor. I’d always had an easy relationship with my boys, but I hadn’t expected Cameron to be blabbing to his girlfriend about my personal life.
“Okay, that’s sounds great. Love you, Debbie!” Cameron hung up and then challenged me with his stare. “Debbie’s coming here on Saturday to help me baby sit. You can go out.”
“I don’t need baby sitting! I’m…” Tony paused and looked thoughtful. “Say, isn’t Debbie the one with…?” He held out his hands about a foot from his chest. “She can baby sit me anytime!” He licked his lips and smiled.
“Get your mind out of your pants, Tony.” Cameron glared at his brother. “We’re trying to fix Dad’s nonexistent sex life, not yours.”
Tony grinned at me.
“Thanks, guys,” I said sarcastically.
I appreciated that they both wanted me to go out, but I was no longer sure I was ready. I had only accepted I’m gay after I had been married for years and both boys were born. There had been fireworks when I had finally told Patricia, but we talked our way through things and eventually regained a loving relationship — one cruelly terminated by cancer. Before she died, Patricia and I sat down with the boys and explained everything. We were lucky in that we got in before puberty hit and complicated everything. The boys grew up through all their teenage years knowing that their dad’s gay.
The grieving process was hard on all of us, but it bonded us, too. There’s nothing we can’t say to each other without knowing that there’s a strong feeling of family underlying it. It was soon after Cameron turned sixteen that he started asking me when I was going to find myself a boyfriend. I told him that I had been too busy being a dad to go looking for someone, to which Cameron had told me it was time to do something for myself. Tony, with the enthusiasm of a then hyper-active fourteen-year-old, double teamed with his big brother and started to wear me down.
I should have been suspicious when Cameron asked if he could have a driving lesson, and Tony asked if he could go along for the ride. I wasn’t, though, and it was only when Cameron parked the car outside a pub I knew by reputation that the light had dawned.
“What are we doing here?” I asked.
“It’s a pub, Dad. You look like you need a drink,” Cameron said, trying to look innocent.
“While I’d like to say that’s because of your driving, I can’t, because you’re doing well. However, this is a gay pub. What are we doing here?”
“Is it?” Cameron asked, still pretending to be innocent. “Wow! Isn’t that a coincidence. You’re gay, too!”
I was glaring at Cameron for ambushing me, when there was a knock on the window. I hadn’t noticed Tony getting out. “Come on, you two. Even if Dad doesn’t need a drink, I do.”
I had no choice, then — I wasn’t going to allow Tony to go into the pub by himself, and he was already at the door by the time I got out of the car.
I had to admit that the pub wasn’t what I had expected. I thought it would be some seedy place, but it seemed like any other pub I’d been to in Australia. After I bought three Cokes, we all looked around. There were a couple of other apparent family groups with younger kids there, as well as some same-sex groups and a few single guys. My boys then took their drinks and grabbed a pool table, leaving me to sit, drink, relax, and wonder. I was nervous when two young guys approached my boys, but Cameron and Tony weren’t stressed and played a few games of pool with them before the two strangers said goodbye and left. It was just like the pub near home.
The upshot was that I began going there after work once every couple of weeks. It was only for a drink, and not for too long, but it was the first step in the boys’ plans for me to find a boyfriend. Shaun had introduced himself the previous week, saying he’d seen me there a number of times and he wanted to say hello. I enjoyed his company, but I didn’t think I was ready for a date.
“So, what’s your new excuse not to go?” Cameron asked, bringing me back to the present.
I could have continued to argue, but being a sole parent of teenagers I had learnt there are times when it’s not worth fighting. I held out my hand for the phone. “But no more interfering, okay? This is my life, not yours.”
* * *
I parked the car in the driveway and turned off the engine. I just sat there in the driver’s seat, as I had some serious thinking to do. I had had a wonderful evening, and I hadn’t wanted it to end. Unfortunately, I had another life that was waiting for me inside the house. Reconciling the two appeared to be beyond me, and no matter how much my emotions were pushing me in one direction, my heart and mind told me that the centre of my life was the two boys who called me ‘Dad’.
I sighed and got out of the car. As I walked up the path to the front door, I noticed the lights were all off. It was later than the time I had told the boys I would be home, but I was surprised that they weren’t still up. My hand started to shake as I brought out my house key — horror scenarios of what might have happened while I was out started running through my mind.
The entrance showed a pattern of grey shadows that were made by the streetlights. Nothing appeared out of place, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong; things were too quiet. I had always left the front light on for the boys if they were out at night, and I had been expecting that they would do the same for me. I flipped the switch, and a sense of dread ran through me when the light didn’t go on.
“Cameron? Tony? Is there anyone here?”
The faint sound of someone snickering sent a feeling of relief washing through me. They were playing games.
“Nice try, but I just heard someone. I’m going to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The lamp stand in the living room came on. Cameron and Tony rose from where they had been crouched behind the sofa.
“Idiot,” Cameron said to his brother.
“How did it go?” Tony asked me.
“And what time do you think it is?” Cameron asked, trying to do his best impression of how I greet him when he’s late home.
I smiled at Tony. “It was good.”
I raised an eyebrow at Cameron. “Late, I know, but I left you in charge, so I thought it wouldn’t matter. Now, if you don’t think I should have trusted you, just say so, and I’ll take that into account next time you ask for something.”
“It’s not about me, it’s about you. You need to learn to be responsible, Dad.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “I’ll remember that for the future.”
Tony jumped over the sofa, his bum landing on the cushion. He stretched out one arm along the back. “Well, start talking. What happened and when’s the next date?”
Cameron walked around and sat down while I ran a hand through my hair, wondering how to word what I wanted to say.
“We had dinner at this small café that caters to a lot of gays, so we could talk as much as we wanted. It was great — I did most of the listening while Shaun told me stories of some of the things he’s seen and done. I was having such a good time that I lost track of the time. I had to apologise, and then I drove home as quick as I could.”
“Are you saying you were there until after midnight?” Cameron asked. He didn’t appear to believe me.
“Of course he wasn’t — he just doesn’t want to tell us he went back to Shaun’s place for a couple of hours of ‘relaxation’.” Tony winked at me.
I felt myself going red. I hadn’t lied, but I couldn’t say that Tony’s guess hadn’t been in my thoughts, though I wouldn’t have done that on a first date.
“See, I’m right,” Tony said, pointing at me.
“You’re not — I told you what happened.” I had a thought and pulled my wallet out. I glanced at the café receipt before holding it out for the boys. “See — here’s the receipt. You can see I paid it just after midnight.”
“Hmmm… then why are you blushing?” Tony asked.
“You also haven’t said when you’re seeing him again,” Cameron said.
I sighed. “I’m not.”
“WHAT?” Tony seemed shocked as he abandoned his relaxed position to lean forward and stare at me.
“I’m not seeing him again — it wouldn’t work out.”
Tony and Cameron exchanged looks. Something seemed to pass between them because both nodded before they turned their attention back to me.
“Why not?” Cameron asked.
“Shaun’s an active guy. I listened to all the things he does and some of the things he’d like to do. There’s no room in there for someone else.”
“Bullshit. If that was the case, he wouldn’t’ve made room for you tonight,” Tony said.
“Well, he might have room for me, but not you guys. I wouldn’t have time for you if I did things with him. I’m not dating just for myself — you’re affected, too.”
“What sort of things?” Cameron asked.
“He asked me if I would like to go to the football with him in a couple of weeks.”
“And what did you say?” Tony asked.
“I said I’d think about it, but I don’t think I can. You’ve got your own game, and you know how much I like to see you play.”
Tony turned to Cameron. “Sounds like a number three to me.”
“I think you’re right. Definitely a number three.”
I stared at the two of them. “A number three? What are you talking about?”
Cameron fixed me with a stern gaze. “Before Debbie went home, we made a list of lame excuses you might come up with why you wouldn’t see Shaun again. That was number three — that you would think you were abandoning us if you went out with him.”
“A list? Is that what you did tonight? Make a list of reasons for me not to go out with Shaun?”
“Not quite. It’s a list of excuses that you would come up with not to date. We came up with eighteen.”
“Nineteen,” Tony said.
“Eighteen,” Cameron said, glaring at his brother
“Nineteen,” Tony said firmly.
“Eighteen. Your last one was stupid.”
“All of them were stupid, so why should number nineteen be different?”
I interjected — curiosity getting the better of me. “What was number nineteen?”
Tony grinned at me. “That you had decided you’re straight, and didn’t want to date guys.”
I think my eyebrows hit the roof. “Cameron’s right — that’s just plain stupid.”
“All of them were stupid. You’re saying that if you went out with Shaun, you wouldn’t have time for us. Did you discuss that with Shaun? Maybe he’d like to come see me play, too? Maybe we could all go to the footy one weekend? We’re a family here — we can do some things together, and some things apart. It doesn’t have to be all or none.” Tony glared at me.
I needed time to think about that, so I tried to change the topic. “What were one and two, if that was number three?”
Cameron answered that one. “Number one was that you didn’t think we’d like Shaun, which is stupid because that’s our call, not yours. We may not like him, but we won’t know until we meet him, and if you don’t see him again you’re not giving us the chance to find that out for ourselves. Number two was that you didn’t think Shaun would like us, and that’s got the same answer.”
He narrowed his eyes and then softened his expression into a compassionate smile. “We know things are going to change, Dad, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I’m going to be eighteen soon, and a driver’s license will make me largely independent. I’ll also be able to take Tony places, which frees you up some more. We’re not asking you to abandon us and we’re not abandoning you. We’re just opening up enough space so you can start doing things for yourself. You’ve been a great dad, but we know you’re lonely for someone. It might be Shaun or it might not be, but don’t give up before you have a chance to find out.”
First Tony, and then Cameron, stood up and moved forward to give me a hug.
“We love you, Dad,” Tony said. “Don’t think that’s going to change.”
I gave in. “Okay. I’ll see him again, but I’ve still got a problem.”
“What is it?” Tony asked.
“When do I call him? Is it too early to ring tomorrow?”
Tony turned to Cameron. “What’s the rule? Two days, so you don’t appear too eager, but you don’t look indifferent, either?”
Cameron shook his head. “That’s for teenagers. Dad’s old, fat and going bald — he can’t afford to let this guy slip away. I say he rings first thing tomorrow.”
I wasn’t really upset, but I crossed my arms and glared at him. “Thanks for the confidence boost.”
He grinned. “It’s being cruel to be kind.”
Tony was the first to start laughing, but Cameron and I soon joined in. I had the support of my boys and that meant everything to me. The first steps in the dating game were the hardest and I was finally taking them again. Shaun might not be the right one for me, but there was only one way to find out.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © January 2007 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank Rain from The Mail Crew for editing this story for me. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.