Hide me!

Rick

I’m from a family of four. There’s 10 years between me and my brother. I’ve always had family around, the house was always busy with folk coming and going.

 

You always know you’re gay but growing up in the 80s in a council estate in Aberdeen, life wasn’t like it is now. Twenty, twenty-five years ago the whole gay thing was different. It wasn’t as socially ‘acceptable’ as it is today. I didn’t know there were gay bars where you could meet people and in my teenage years I wouldn’t have got in, let alone got served anyway. There weren’t any of the support groups around. There was the Gay Switchboard but it was only open once or twice of an evening during the week.

 

I had no gay friends to talk to about my feelings and I couldn’t talk to my straight friends or any of my family about it, I didn’t even know another gay guy. I lived under this cloud of ‘I’m gay but what can I do?’ So I did nothing, hoping it would all go away.

 

My family wasn’t down on gay people but I remember the odd comment in the family about poofs – not derogatory but enough to make me feel it wouldn’t go down well if I came out as gay.

 

I met Anne, this girl who I worked with and it all just sort of happened. I got engaged in 1990, aged 23, and a year later we got married. I lost my mum the year before to cancer so it had been a difficult time. She was only 58.

 

I went with the flow of get-engaged, get-married, have-children. It seemed a natural process and I thought the gay thing would go away, or I would hide it, or because I was married I wouldn’t have any urges.

 

It’s not that you don’t want to be with a woman, it’s that – at that stage, for me – you don’t really know, because you haven’t had your first gay sexual encounter. I felt under a lot of social pressure to get married and have children. And then you do that, and nothing changes – you’re still definitely gay.

 

It wasn’t until about a year after I was married that I had my first gay experience. I didn’t have any gay friends or know anyone who was gay. I realised I couldn’t sit on being gay anymore and that I’d have to do something about it. I stumbled across a gay chat line and arranged to meet someone. That was it. It just happened.

 

I’d thought that, because I was married, I’d be able to suppress it but once I’d done it and realised, ‘I am gay,’ I couldn’t suppress it. Before, it had been locked up but now I knew what it was like to be with a man, I wanted more. I thought, ‘It’s not going to be easy to put these feelings away’ but I kept trying.

 

Anne and I had been trying for a child but she wasn’t pregnant at that stage. I knew that being with a man was what I should be doing but I was too chicken to do anything about it. So I just carried on with my wife, thinking, ‘It will all go away. I’ll just do it a few times and get it out of my system.’ But that never really happened.

 

Anne fell pregnant but then she had a severe bleed, a miscarriage. It was fairly distraught stuff. No-one prepares you for that. You don’t get a handbook. Although the doctor says it’s nature’s way, when nature says you’re not going to have your baby when all your friends are having their babies, it’s a difficult time.

 

I felt I had a decision to make – do the socially correct thing and carry on or stop, stop it all and come out as being gay. Despite thinking about it for days and weeks on end I couldn’t do it.

 

When Anne had a miscarriage, I thought it was a sign, like a ‘get out of jail card.’ The right thing to do would have been to leave Anne then – but I didn’t. There was an element of me wanting children but it was tied up in thinking that having children would make it (being gay) all go away.

 

Anne fell pregnant again and Marie was born in September ’93. That turned everything upside down. The focus was on Marie and the gay thing was put on the back burner.

 

Marie was here and taking her round to see all the relatives, doing all the dad things that you do, felt natural. I was absolutely over the moon.

 

But you are what you are. You think getting married will make it go away and it doesn’t. You think having babies will make it go away and it doesn’t. You may think bungee jumping off the Eiffel Tower will make it go away but it won’t. You’re brought up to think you should do this and you should do that but another part of you is telling you it’s not right.

 

Eventually I plucked up enough courage to tell my best friend Michael. I let him into my secret about four years after Marie was born because I’d started to get very depressed. I wasn’t getting involved in family life. I wasn’t interested in anything except myself – very selfish.

 

Michael was very supportive. He was a similar age to me but he had no experience of being gay so all he could do was listen.

 

Probably around April ’95, I met a guy called Keith who was also not out. We started seeing each other on a casual basis every now and then. He wasn’t married, didn’t have any children. We got on really well, not just as casual partners but on a social level as well. We clicked. So I had that going on as well: being married, being a dad and for want of a better phrase, having a bit on the side.

 

Keith had been away for a month with work when I decided I’d tell Anne I was gay. I’d say to Michael, “I’m going to tell her tonight, I’m going to tell her tonight” and then I’d get a phone call from Michael saying, “Did you tell her?” – and, no of course not. How could I do that to her?

 

Anne and I used to work together but I’d left the job the year before. Once I’d started working for another organisation I had my own routine and that gave me more opportunities to meet men. The more I met, the more I wanted more and more.

 

Eventually the guilt got too much. I couldn’t deal with the lies I had to tell on a daily basis. I realised, if I didn’t do something about it quickly, I’d risk ruining not only Anne’s life but Marie’s as well.

 

I thought, ‘If I get out now I won’t ruin her life,’ so I left in the summer of ’96. I just came home one day and said I’d been to see a solicitor about a divorce.

 

I couldn’t tell Anne I was gay. I thought she’d say I couldn’t see Marie again, that I’d be shunned by my family. I didn’t know how it would affect my work.

 

I left Anne, went through all the legal stuff and changed jobs again. It meant working away Monday to Friday. It got me out of the house during the week but I’d go back home at weekends to see Marie.

 

We made a separation agreement which said I’d have Marie every second weekend and continue to support her financially. It was all very difficult, very difficult for everybody. Anne wanted to know why I had left, Marie wanted to know why Daddy didn’t live at home any more. I didn’t have any of the answers. I didn’t even know what was going on myself.

 

About three months later I was still working away but I’d come home one weekend to see Marie. I’d bought copies of ‘Gay Times’ and they were in my bag, which I’d left unopened in my room. It was a Saturday afternoon and Anne phoned while I was out shopping and said Marie had found something in my bag and did I want to go home and discuss it? Of course, Marie couldn’t have got into my bag.

 

Anne’s first question: “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“Well, I didn’t know how to tell you, how you’d react.”

 

I think it was a bit of a relief for Anne because now she knew the reason, though she was still quite upset.

 

It didn’t change things as we had agreed from the start that for the sake of Marie we didn’t want to make things difficult for her. Looking back I was quite lucky really. The whole saga could have turned into a very nasty split but that didn’t happen – no point – it would only have been Marie that would have suffered.

 

I eventually returned to Aberdeen to work and got myself a one-bedroom flat around December ’96. Anne and Marie managed to get a nice council house where she grew up, so she had a lot of her friends and family around her. We started living as separate entities, with Marie staying with me most weekends.

 

Marie would have been three by then. It was difficult for her because once I had a flat, it wasn’t a case of “Daddy’s working away.” It was, “Daddy’s at his house, why’s he not here?” I didn’t have a proper chat with Marie about my sexuality until she was about 10. It was just, “Mummy and Daddy aren’t living with each other anymore” and she accepted this.

 

I was finding my feet being a gay man, discovering the scene, meeting new guys, developing new relationships. Eventually Keith moved in with me but I wasn’t openly gay and there was still a lot of pressure.

 

After about a year I tried to take my own life. It was an overdose. I can’t remember much about it thankfully. But obviously it didn’t work and I’m glad that I’m still here. I did it because I couldn’t cope. I didn’t want people knowing I’d gone from being married, being a dad to being a gay man with a child.

 

My boss came round to see me afterwards. I explained to him what had been happening in my life. He was very supportive and said if I had any trouble at work, to tell him and he’d sort it. (Ironically, about 10 years ago he came out but he made no mention at the time).

 

Eventually there was a work’s night out and someone asked me if I was gay and it all came out. Surprisingly no-one had a problem with it. It was quite an eye opener. Obviously things had changed in the past five years.

 

As I became more confident about being gay, I started to tell more people about it. I told my brother and my sister. The only person I didn’t tell was my dad. There was a 40-year age gap between us. I wasn’t as close to him as I was to my mum. I took the view that it wouldn’t make any difference to his life so he didn’t need to know.

 

My sister died in the summer of ’96 before Marie was born. If I’d been going to confide in anyone back then, it would have been her but it was not to be. Life just carried on.

 

I moved to Edinburgh with my job in 2001 and settled here. I still had the flat in Aberdeen and I went back every two weeks and Marie came to stay.

 

Keith and I had split up before I moved to Edinburgh and being a single man I was enjoying exploring the scene in Edinburgh. I joined a support group called Gay Dads as I wanted to get to know other people who were in my situation and how they coped. Marie was getting older and I thought, “How do I tell her about being gay?”

 

I was very nervous going to my first meeting, and for the first few months I just sat there and listened to what others had to say. There are a whole lot of different experiences and I was amazed at how, after all, I wasn’t the only gay guy who had been through the getting married/having kids cycle in an attempt to make the gay thing go away.

 

Eventually, I plucked up the courage to say, “This is what I’ve been struggling with.”

I went on to explain I was worried about how to tell Marie I was gay. What would she say or think? What if she didn’t want to see me again? What if her friends at school found out and she got teased or bullied? Lots and lots of questions.

 

The advice the other gay dads gave me was: don’t make it into a big deal; don’t sit her down and say, “There’s something I want to tell you” – just bring it up in conversation and see how it goes. So I did.

 

We were walking to the supermarket one day and I can’t recall how I started the conversation but I said, “Normally boys fancy girls and girls fancy boys but now and then you’ll get boys who fancy boys and girls who fancy girls. Those boys are called gays and the girls are called lesbians.”

 

I said that sometimes people don’t know who they fancy or they get a bit confused about girlfriends and boyfriends. I said I fancied boys but I didn’t know that I fancied boys until just recently. I went on to say that no matter what happened I would always love her very much. I said it didn’t change anything but it’s not something to go telling everybody because not everybody would understand.

 

She said very little. She was: “Well, all right, I see.”

 

I’d said, “You’ll probably need to think about it and you may not know how to deal with it so if you have any questions, ask me or ask Mum because you don’t want to keep any questions to yourself.”

 

I think she did speak to Anne about it and since then she’s slowly told her friends, who have all been quite accepting and supportive.

 

I met Ryan in 2005 and we moved in together quite quickly, within four or five months. Marie knew who Ryan was and what our relationship was but I’d take her out on my own or all three of us would do things together, rather than Marie and Ryan doing things on their own, until I was sure things were going to last.

 

When we realised the relationship was something bigger, we looked for a larger house with a spare room which Marie could use when she was down or so we could have friends to stay. I had given up work to go to university for the first time. It was time for a complete change.

 

We lived quite happily. Marie was a frequent visitor, coming down for a couple of weeks in the school holidays, bringing herself down on the train as she got older.

 

Ryan and I had been together about 18 months when he first mentioned wanting a child. It had never entered my mind at all, having a child again. I was graduating soon. I was happy with the lifestyle we had – no ties. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted, go on holiday, go out.

 

It was quite serious in that Ryan had always wanted to be a biological dad but I had reservations about it all. We spoke about it and spoke about it and spoke about it. I was very undecided. Two men bringing up a child on their own? Would we cope? Would we have support? Would they be bullied at school? What would Marie think? How would the rest of the family react?

 

All the ifs, buts and maybes just kept going round in my head and I didn’t really have anyone other than Ryan that I could speak to about it.

 

At the back of my mind was, ‘Well, I know what it’s like to be a dad… but I can’t deprive Ryan of that, it would be unfair.’

 

Ryan did a lot of research into the legalities and all the different methods of conception, like getting a friend involved or surrogacy. From there it was a case of, ‘Surrogacy is probably the preferred option’ and we met an agency.

 

I didn’t say, “Let’s do this,” I didn’t say, “Let’s not do this.” It just happened with Ryan’s determination.

 

There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of hoops to go through. I tried to support him through it the best I could.

 

As things went on, the process wasn’t going to plan or how we had hoped, being let down by prospective surrogates and an agency that didn’t know its arse from it’s elbow.

 

I could see all the distress Ryan was going through and I didn’t want to open myself up to that. I felt it was more important to support him than to generate another roller coaster.

 

I kept my feelings fairly locked up, even from Ryan, which in hindsight wasn’t the right thing to do.

 

It all seemed to go on for years. Because of all the problems with the agency and then the surrogacy, part of me was a bit: ‘This is never going to happen, we’re never going to get there.’

 

Once I had met Samantha, the final surrogate, a few times and we had a confirmed pregnancy, it all became certain that it was definitely happening – that’s when the realisation kicked in.

 

We hadn’t been doing the happy ‘going out and looking at prams or buying clothes’ thing. We’d been through hundreds of ups and downs, then bang! It was going to happen.

 

And that’s when I started to open up my emotions. Ryan had the excitement, I knew what it would be like in practical terms. But, how were we going to cope? How could we afford it?

 

And what would people think? The child growing up, nursery, school, becoming a teenager… I remembered what it was like for me, growing up on a council estate in the 80s when ‘gayness’ wasn’t as accepted. I thought we would be shunned.

 

Samantha was somewhere between three and five months gone and I thought, ‘There’s going to be a baby here by the end of the year.’ Time was progressing and it was becoming more real. Money was an issue. We were living in a rented house. Something was just not right.

 

The stress started to affect the relationship. We even split up for a while.

 

A lot of my fear was about what was going to happen in terms of becoming a parent.

I know that’s strange because I was a parent but I knew what was involved.

 

I told Marie that Ryan and I had split. I was up in Aberdeen for the weekend and I didn’t build it up, I just came out with it. I said we were splitting up, that we hadn’t been getting on for some time and that Ryan was having a baby. I had to go into the details of the surrogacy arrangement and some of the story of what had been going on over the last few years. It was strange, I had gone from not really getting involved, then to getting involved and excited about it, to not wanting to be part of it at all.

 

I think Marie was quite taken aback and surprised by it all, because two guys with a baby is a fairly rare thing. It’s not something she would have known about where she lived, even if she’d seen that documentary ( http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-weird-wonderful-family/episode-guide/series-1/episode-1. ) about the two guys down south who’d had children by surrogacy. It was a lot to take in.

 

Her reaction to the split was mixed. Ryan and I had been together five years and they got on well but Marie was older now. Being a teenager, it was difficult for her to express her emotions and for me to understand them.

 

Ryan and I spent May to September apart but we were still in close contact, in touch nearly every other day. We had the odd weekend away too, to celebrate a birthday. We gradually came back together again. I think that once we’d split, the pressure was off and we could talk about things again.

 

We moved back in together at the end of August, and then moved into a one-bedroom flat before going away on holiday for two weeks. Then it was me, Ryan and the dog in this small flat. It sounds a nightmare but we saved a fortune and one of the stresses, money, had been taken away.

 

After we got back together, it was only two months before Erin – the baby – was due. We didn’t really have much time so it was all about getting the flat ready, getting stuff into storage and getting the place decorated, buying prams and all the other things you need. It was a fairly brisk two months but it was enjoyable, plenty going on to keep us occupied.

 

There was still a bit of nervous apprehension there – like how are we going to manage in a one-bedroom flat – but all the fears about how people were going to react had gone. It had all come out when we had split up.

 

When we split there was surprise, and when I mentioned the baby, there was more surprise – but nobody had had a bad reaction to it, which was a relief for me and made the whole process of telling people a lot easier.

 

One of the pressures I’d felt was knowing how Marie would react: would she reject the baby? How would my wife react? When Marie realised Ryan and I were back together and this was going to happen, she was like, “Right, fantastic, I’m going to have a sister.” That pressure had gone. It was all out there. There wasn’t the worry of being shunned.

 

The people at work were quite excited for us and with all the equalities nowadays, when I talked about paternity and parental leave, it was fine. In a normal couple, if there’s a baby coming along, mum gets maternity leave and dad gets paternity and parental leave.

 

Despite equality laws, there was the fear that they would say I wasn’t the father because my name wasn’t on the birth certificate – but colleagues and senior management have been very supportive. I had normal paid paternity leave plus time off for antenatal appointments, scans, visits to hospital.

 

I didn’t have to push very hard but the way I pitched it was that in normal circumstances, the father would get to go to antenatal and parental support but I didn’t need all that, I just needed certain half days off to go to these particular things.

There weren’t policies at work for what I was going through but there were policies for adoption, fostering etc. If your employer is not very supportive, it’s worth mentioning that.

 

After that the worries were just about how we were going to cope with bringing up a baby, of taking her to nursery and saying, “Hello, I’m Erin’s dad and he’s Erin’s dad.” Obviously she’s in nursery because we both work and we both hate that. If Erin’s ill and has to be taken out of nursery, there’s no problem if Ryan can’t take time off and I have to.

 

Yes, there’s the worry of what happens when she goes to school and what the people in the playground might say – but once we finally had Erin in her cot in the hospital, the biggest part of the apprehension was over.

 

There was a bond in the hospital. Ryan was there and he knew what to do as well as any new father does but I was able to step in if it all got a bit chaotic.

 

Marie was two-and-a-half or three when I left, so I have some knowledge of what it was like, before I left and only had her at weekends.

 

In the early days, Erin would just eat, sleep and poop as they do but as she’s got older, if there’s a night when she’s not sleeping and Ryan’s, “What shall we do?” – well, there’s things they don’t teach you that you just pick up. Like, when you’re winding her and it’s not working, you try a different position or leave it a while and try again. Or if she’s crying and there’s no reason and Ryan’s like, “Why is she crying?” I say, “She’s just crying.”

 

Now we’re like a normal family. The only difference is the difference that other people might make out of it – “Oh, you’ve got two dads” – but that hasn’t happened yet. The fact that it’s two dads doing the cooking, changing the nappies, it doesn’t really matter.

 

Not long after Erin was born, a neighbour brought a present over for us and said something like, “Where did you get her from?” or “Who’s she?”

 

I thought, ‘You’re just being a busybody and said, “Oh, she’s ours” and kept walking.

 

That had been one of my fears, having to say about the surrogacy, “Well, we’ve not stolen her.”

 

When Marie was Erin’s age, it was new, it was my first child – and in the back of my head I had all the gay issues going on. It’s different this time. It’s just like having a baby but without that unexplained side of things. Maybe I’m an ‘experienced’ Gay Dad now compared to 18 years ago.

 

The other difference is that Marie is quite involved with Erin. She looks after her, sees her very much as a sister. You wouldn’t know she wasn’t a sister. From day one it was “my sister.”

 

One of the whole psychological things for me is that if I’d known about being gay before I met Anne, I would never have got married and never have had Marie – but then I’d never be sat where I am today. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster getting here but it’s alright now. Marie comes down a lot which we all enjoy. I think it’s a bit strange for Marie having her family life at home and her family life with us.

 

As the years have gone on, things have been more settled and relaxed. There’s more support for gay men. It’s more accepted and with famous people like Elton John and David Furnish doing the same as us, it’s not as bizarre. I’m just glad we did it before they did.

 

My brother hasn’t met Erin yet because of where he lives but he’s seen pictures and my sister and my nephews and nieces are completely accepting of her, making a fuss of her and all the rest of it.

 

Anne dotes on Erin almost as much as Marie does. When we go up, we stay with her. Anne is very much a part of the family. Technically, we’re still married.

 

We’re not a disjointed family. We see each other a lot. We may not be the norm but what is the norm nowadays?

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