This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
My father is a Frenchman who moved to the Netherlands 24 years ago to raise a family with my mother. Being a curious person with a love of culture, he was soon talking and acting like a Dutch guy – raising my brother and me in the Dutch language.
Once a week, my dad would call his father and siblings in France. He spoke in French so he could talk freely with them about anything he wanted without us understanding what was going on.
But one night, while he was on the phone to his sister, my little brother had crawled out of bed. He went downstairs and heard my father speaking in that foreign language. However, as the conversation went on, certain words suddenly didn't sound so foreign. My brother picked up the word for "gay" – a word my dad repeated several times during that conversation.
By that point, my parents had told us they had problems in their marriage, but a few months later, when I was around nine years old, we still went on our annual family summer holiday to France. We always visited the same camping spot, near my father's family home. One day, he was playing a game with my brother in his tent, and I was lying outside on the grass turning a plastic bottle into a wasp trap with sweet lemonade. Through the canvas I could hear exactly what was going on in the game, and who was winning. Until, out of nowhere, my brother suddenly asked, "Dad, are you gay?"
As far as I remember it, my father was silent for quite a while. I couldn't understand why my brother had asked that out of the blue. "Why do you ask?" my father said. "You said so on the phone," my brother replied. More silence.
My eyes were still focused on the wasp trying to escape my trap, but my ears were somewhere else. I was very confused. What my brother had said sounded like a joke, but I could sense something was wrong.
"You're right, it's true," I could hear my dad say, laughing nervously. I don't know if they had realised I was next to the tent and had heard everything. When my dad emerged a while later, he saw me lying in the grass, and I burst out crying. Through the years, I've often asked myself why I did that – why I couldn't have been more understanding. Maybe it was because I realised then and there that it would mean my parents were never getting back together.
A few months earlier, on a Sunday morning, my brother and I were playing FIFA in our bedroom when our parents called us to come downstairs. I was winning and didn't want to stop playing, but I could sense from the tone in my mother's voice that something more important was going on. That morning, my parents told us they were getting divorced.
The news hit me hard – I couldn't understand it at all. They never fought, and from what I can remember they didn't really give us a reason for their breakup. Not long after that, my mother moved out, but I continued to live in denial about the whole thing – especially when the four of us went on that holiday to France.
But there, I understood that I had to accept my parents were never getting back together. My father didn't like women, and that included my mother.
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Not many things changed after my father's coming out. One week my brother and I, along with our dog, would live with my father, the next we would be with my mother. We had a new type of family arrangement at my mother's after she moved in with her new boyfriend. At my dad's, it was just the three of us for a very long time. My father never felt the need to introduce us to anyone, and we didn't really talk about it. We just got on with our lives, away from our father's personal life.
It was only very recently that my dad and I decided to speak about his coming out. He told me that before they got divorced, my mother had fallen in love with someone else. It hurt him, but he also realised that they had been living more like brother and sister for a while. This is when he started searching for the person he really was, a journey that took place far away from our family life.
At the time, he felt completely alone. "There aren't a lot of gay people out there with a wife and children," he told me. After the divorce, and following therapy and him reading many books on the subject, he decided to go on a dating site to meet men with whom he could share his story. When he eventually met a nice guy online, he decided to meet up with him. My father was so nervous he called my mum and asked if he could talk to her.
My mum would later tell me that she immediately knew he was going on a date with a guy. A long time before their divorce, she had asked my father if he liked men, and he had resolutely denied it. Until one day he told her the truth – an experience he had found easier than having to tell his children. He needed the time to understand and accept himself first before coming out to us, he explained, but it was never easy. He was scared to tell us himself, and he wanted my mother to be there as well, but he kept postponing the moment. Until my brother just asked him point blank.
Thankfully, four years after he came out to us, he told us about a secret boyfriend he'd had for a while, and we were nothing but happy for him. I can remember the moment he showed me a picture of his partner. It was a Saturday afternoon and he'd called me up to his office in the attic. I went upstairs and found my father behind his computer. On the screen appeared a picture of a handsome man, sitting in a cafe. "That's him," he said, with what I'm pretty sure was pride in his voice. It was weird to see the man my father had fallen in love with – he was handsome and cool, and, thankfully, I didn't feel the urge to cry this time. My father, now more comfortable in his sexuality, asked if I wanted to meet his partner.
Above all, I wondered what it would be like to see my father kissing another man. That's happened a couple of times now and it actually feels just the same as when you see your own parents kiss in public – incredibly awkward but also kind of sweet. I'm happy he feels free to do so in his own home now. It's like he's been liberated. Now I wish he had done all this a lot sooner. But he told us he didn't want to confuse us, and he would have gone about it the same way if he had had a new girlfriend. "A divorce, a new stepdad, your father coming out – it all seemed a bit much for you kids," he said.
Now, I have two stepdads. We all celebrate Christmas together. Now and again my father and I have dinner at a restaurant in Amsterdam where burgers are named after drag queens, and he sometimes sends me selfies when he's partying at the Pride parade. I once tagged along with him to his favourite gay bar, where I met all the friends he's made there over the years. It's a place he comes often, and I had no idea it existed all that time. I'm happy that's changed.
This article originally appeared on VICE NL.