Father Tony

Queers Who Surrender Their Lives to a Needful Parent

Filed By Father Tony | September 24, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Alzheimer's, dementia diagnosis, growing older, parents of gays

Dear Father Tony,

I find myself on the cusp of a personal reinvention. Or, a mid-life crisis, if you prefer. I believe both are apropos descriptions.

When I graduated from college in 1985, I reinvented myself by moving to the opposite coast. I became an up-and-comer at a high-tech company that served me well. I experienced my first relationship and later came out of the closet into an open and diverse community that offered the ability to become any type of queer one wanted to be.

Twenty years later in 2005, I left a relationship and returned home to the house I grew up in. This time my reinvention was born of personal and familial necessity. I became the full-time primary caregiver to my mother who was increasingly affected by the ravages of Alzheimer's disease.

This summer, four years after I arrived, my mother was moved into an assisted care facility to provide her with the proper amount of constant attention and medical help that I was unable to deliver. My reason for being has disappeared, and I find myself a middle-aged single gay man whose life stands before him as a blank canvas.

Letter continues after the jump.

What of a relationship? I spent several years in my previous relationship with his AIDS-related maladies at the top of my mind. The following four years have been spent with an Alzheimer's diagnosis as my focus. After so many draining years, do I really want to be with someone else? How will I ever find someone here in this small town where the gay community is practically invisible except for gay pride day?

Trying to find a date has been nearly impossible. It was a friend that gave me a bit of eye-opening counsel when I was bemoaning my plight. Asked where I was trying to meet people, I replied, "In the gay.com chat rooms." He raised his brows. "That's your problem,' he declared. "You're too old for gay.com. You need to get a profile up on silverdaddies.com." And that's when it hit me. I had been unceremoniously moved from one gay demographic to another and no one, until now, had bothered to notify me!

Reality has slapped me in the face and the need for another personal reinvention has become clear. So here I am. Directionless. I feel like a boat sans rudder; a swimmer treading water. Where do I go from here? I wish I knew. Sure, that would spoil the fun of the journey, but it would also assuage the fears of the unknown that lurk around every corner.


Dear Nobody (And isn't that a strong indicator of your problem!)

You've said a mouthful! Let's see if I can outline you:

  1. You cared for a sick partner for years.
  2. You cared for a sick mother for years.
  3. You don't say you resent either of them.
  4. Maybe you resent yourself for giving up so much of your life in service to them.
  5. You are feeling old and unattractive. (Thanks for the photo. As I suspected, you are not "old". You are very handsome and in very good shape.)
  6. You feel trapped by geography (Thanks for supplying your real address. You are very close to at least three metropolitan regions.)
  7. You feel obliged to remain near your mother.

I am not sure where to begin loading up my plate at your lifetime buffet of good and bad decisions, self-serving and selfless decisions, wise and foolish fears, denial and perception. I'm going to label you complicated, and at the end of my words for you, I'll tell you whether or not I think you are a good catch for someone and whether or not I think you will ever have a healthy loving relationship.

We have a friend in Utah who has, for many years, been beset with a similarly ill mother. It's driving him nuts. Also, I recently met a man at my gym In New York City who goes to Texas once a month to spend time with his mother. His story and yours are almost identical. Also, You absolutely must read Andrew Holleran's The Beauty of Men and then his Nights in Aruba. These two books will, to make an understatement, resonate, for they describe a gay man who has left his New York City life to return home to Florida to take care of an incapacitated mother.

My fear is that even if all of you were in one room together, none of you would be able to help the others avoid the mistakes you all have in common. For instance, having seen all of you in the flesh (except for you whom I have seen only in your photo), I can testify that you are all handsome, fit, attractive and intelligent men. But each of you feels victimized by age, and rueful about the years gone by that cannot be revisited or rewritten. Get over it. There is not a one of us alive who, despite our huge measure of good fortune and love, is not wounded by the relentless passage of time.

It is medically reported that we reach our physical peak somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five, after which the lights begin gradually to dim. That dimming is the problem. No one - gay or straight - knows how to deal with it. Increased longevity compounds the problem. Our parents live on and on and on, sometimes artificially buoyed by doctors and medications and elaborate interventions, keeping them alive not because they need to enjoy more time on earth, but simply because they don't know how to graciously leave a party at which they don't know or recognize the other guests, and at which they are no longer having fun. Often, we keep them at that party not for their sakes but because we cannot face their departure and the gap it will leave in our own life.

My own mother, an octogenarian who has always been a sort of unhinged sitcom, would take from me as much time as I would give her, all the while rhapsodizing not about my attentive and vigilant sitting by her side, but about how my brother who lives a convenient thousand miles away sends her lovely bouquets in lovely cut glass (not crystal....) vases and what a good son he is. I've learned that because sons and daughters can never "do enough" for elderly parents, the trick is to stop measuring one's obligation in those terms.

However, I would never denigrate what you and the other men I mentioned have done for your mothers. Some possible suitors will find your devotion admirable. Others will find it off-putting. There is no right or wrong here. You have made your choices. You have dispatched your chosen responsibilities. Most people would agree with me that you now deserve a life of your own.

You are no stranger to reinvention. Do it again. Set sail! And this time realize that you won't have to go cross-country to do so. In sections of your letter that I did not publish, you mention a hobby that is shared by many gay men. Use it to find the man of your dreams. (I don't think gay.com or silverdaddies.com will provide the key to your future, but stranger things have happened.)

I do want to warn you about something. In at least two significant relationships, you have been the giver, and the relationship has not been reciprocal. Do you deliberately seek out that kind of relationship? I hope not. This time around, open yourself up to receiving love and attention from someone you define as healthy. I think that will be absolutely essential to your future happiness. If you can repair your self-image and clearly envision a healthy partner, you'll find the love you seek, and he may be your age, younger or older.

Because you are older, this reinvention will be slightly hurried and necessitate the dropping of some useless baggage: doubts, fears and regrets. The rest of you is gold. Is there a site called goldenjuniordaddies? If there is, it is certainly where your mother, if she could see things clearly, would tell you to go. In her place, I'm ordering you to take back your life and find the man you deserve. Do not argue with me.

Now devotedly yours,

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1. It is clear that the writer needs a larger community or city, or as he wrote " an open and diverse community that offered the ability to be come any type of queer..."

2. By age 45, one should feel a stronger sense of self, more grounded. The care-giver role, although nice, is also a perfect excuse to hide from really discovering one's self.

3. Just because Mom is in a nursing home, " my life is a blank canvas..." I suggest some spiritual work, try reading John McNeill's " Freedom, Glorious Freedom" , about lots of important things, especially the importance of being able to live your life as fully OUT. I also think that some counseling , preferably by a gay therapist, is in order.

4. From your gay life on the "other coast", aren't there any friends? No mutual visits, keeping in touch, putting the word out that you are " back on the market"?? it sounds like you went back into the closet when you moved in to take care of Mom, and you are really suffering for this.

5. Once you are better grounded, look into moving to another city where you can visit Mom a couple times a month, for 3 day weekends.

Good luck. Remember, you own your own life, and there are self-responsibilities that come with that. In a nutshell, you have forgotten how to take care of yourself. Finally, it sounds like money is not an issue, but maybe you should go back to working at least part-time, for some human interaction and social stimulation. It also gets your butt out of bed before 1pm. Look for a gay volunteer organization, both for social contacts as well as to give you back some self worth.

The sheer drain of taking care of a terminally ill loved one can be overwhelming. "Nobody" has my admiration for his self-less decisions to do it not only once, but twice.

I wish him all the success in the world. There's one guy (or several!) that would be blessed to have him in their life.

When the time came to address some issues pertaining to my parents care after they were in their 80's, other family members thought that since I was not married ( a 26 year same sex partnership at that time didn't count), that I should do most of the heavy lifting.

I had always been the "fixer" and "rescuer" in my family. I am so glad that I calmly and respectfully drew limits and bounds regarding how much time I could invest in their care. I am in touch frequently by telephone, I visit a few times a month ( more frequently when necessary) , and I am available anytime if there is an emergency hospitalization or other issue. Their doctors have written health directives allowing them to discuss everything with me by phone.

However, it could not be a healthy option for me to put my life on the hold button until they each die. 45 is way too young to feel so washed up. Please, get some counseling, and understand that you are a good son for putting your parent into the assisted living. Get rid of the guilt. I am sure that in her heart, your mother would want you to also be happy and pursuing life. Remember, it is she who is reaching the point of her life in preparation for her passing away, not you. You need to start acting like your are still alive, and go out and live. The other commenter made some good points. I would add that you might find a gay-friendly church, or at least a church with some support groups of different sorts, for yourself. If your mother previously belonged to a church, make sure that they know where she is, and tell them that she likes visitors. Likewise, do the same with her former neighbors, or any groups that she belonged to. Reading between the lines, I hear you saying that you are wilting away without a gay life ( friends, activities, a purpose in life). Realize that you are of an age when the bar scene is no longer appropriate, and go for some meaningful substance for your life. I think this is at the base of your obvious depression.

Thanks, Fr. Tony, for your great columns !

Dear (i refuse to acknowledge you are nobody)

Your life is not a blank canvas. How blessed you are to feel the responsiblity of caring for someone who obviously loved you so unconditionally that you dropped your own needs to return that love. You are not a nobody. Quite the opposite.
Secondly, don't you dare let some generation of new twinks define who the fuck you are. We, of your generation, are fully aware that to grow old is a gift. There is only one piece of advice from me that makes sense to give. When you are fully ready for anything in this life, many times it appears effortlessly. Good luck to you.

Dear ewe, you said:

"When you are fully ready for anything in this life, many times it appears effortlessly."

That is true, and I tried to say as much in my response. I am predicting that he will find love if he opens himself up to the possibility of someone healthy, and that his happy laughter will someday ring from one end of his little town to the other.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | September 24, 2009 11:53 PM

Dear "Nobody,"

Having done, and presently doing, what you are doing I would like to add the "invisibility" factor you are projecting upon yourself. It is very common for men 40 or more to suddenly think of themselves as "invisible" or belonging to another demographic. You are not what I or anyone else tells you you are.

Look in the mirror. Give yourself a bit of rest. What do you want to be going forward? Live it.

All the best.

And listen to your "mothers," "Gay aunties" and your inner voices.

With all due respect Father Tony, your first bit of advice to this guy should be this: BE CAREFUL! During his abscence from the dating scene, the crackheads and criminals have developed apace, and, if there is even the slightest scent of desparation coming from him, they will pounce.

Vigilance, friend, Vigilance should be your motto.