Where does his loyalty lie? To the relationship with his father, which he feels would be strengthened by honesty; or to his mother, whose reasons for persuading him not to tell his father smack of emotional blackmail? Or is honesty to himself most important, and damn the consequences? There were considerably more people shouting 'Open the box]' than 'Stay in the closet]', but some had personal experiences that made them wary of giving John advice to go ahead.
Jonathon (like many readers, he did not want to be identified), the 30-year-old son of Conservative, Christian parents, had learnt the hard way. His father thought homosexuality was morally and biologically wrong and asked him not to mention it to his mother. 'We never discussed the matter again. That was 15 years ago. My father is dead and I still haven't told my mother I'm gay. It's painful for me that I can't be open with her about my life and relationships, but the fact is she would be devastated. Sadly, sometimes we have to live with a little pain to spare someone we love a greater pain.'
Then there were the letters that, despite being couched in kindly terms, contained a strong whiff of homophobia. One woman from Buckinghamshire, whose name I omit for her own protection, pointed out: 'John's mother probably feels deep disgust at the idea of her son's activities, coupled with the conviction that they are unnatural and morally wrong. This is a perfectly legitimate reaction, even if it appears extraordinarily old-fashioned to John. While he has a right to behave as he does, he mustn't assume that other people are wrong not to think as he does. Absolute honesty is not always the best policy in human relationships. . . . For instance, how would he feel if he found out that his father had molested small boys or that his sister was a prostitute? No doubt the same agonising conflict of love, concern and disgust that his mother is feeling.'
Then there were the wild views of an anonymous retired deputy headmaster. He suggested John should be treated in the same way as last week's unwanted tom-cat. 'If the young man were having an illicit affair with some woman or girl, it is hardly likely he would want to tell his parents. Why, then, can't he have a man-friend without admitting to his proclivity?' (I love that word, 'proclivity'. Bad news, always.) Perhaps, sir, because having a man as a lover, if you are over 21 and a consenting adult, is not illicit.
Luckily, there were some readers who had their heads screwed on. Dominic, of Balham, south London, warned that it would be far better for John's father to learn the news directly than second-hand.
A C Watson, of Kensington, wrote: 'Parents, and couples generally, spend half their time 'protecting' each other from things they think the other half would prefer not to hear. Having to lie about one's life is one of the saddest aspects of being gay for some people. I am glad I don't have to. Go to it, John]'
'TELL, TELL, TELL]' wrote Brian. 'Coming out to my seemingly liberal, media-type parents was an eye-opener. Initially, their stance was almost complete rejection. Emotional blackmail and implications that I was responsible for physical, stress-related illness suffered by my mother followed before I decided enough was enough and did not contact my parents for six months.' The relationship has now eased, but it has changed. It was all so different to his partner's parents' reaction: 'conservative, suburban dwellers, but when their two sons (their only children) both announced they were gay, after an initial outburst of emotion, they took to the situation like ducks to water. They are the perfect in-laws, behaving with a refreshing openness.' His conclusion was that you can't judge a book by its covers and no one knows how John's father will take the news except John's father himself.
Jeremy Airey, of Cambridge, agreed, pointing out that it was John's father's choice to find the news painful or not. 'I have been in a very similar dilemma,' he wrote. 'Unfortunately, my own father died suddenly before I could face this issue with him; I am still sad that he never knew the whole of the real me, and that he never had the chance to love those bits of me alongside the bits he did know and love.'
Practical advice came from a girl who had been helped by putting her own parents in touch with a self-help group for parents of gay people, Parents' Friend, at 36 New Market, Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 3AE (a similar group in the South-east is Acceptance, 64 Holmside Avenue, Sheerness, Kent ME12 3EY). She also recommended a book by Terry Sanderson, entitled A Stranger in the Family: How to Cope if your Child is Gay (The Other Way Press, PO Box 130, London W5 1DQ, pounds 6.70 inc p & p).
And a tactful solution was offered by Darryll Grantley, of Kensington, who suggested that John simply introduce his lover to his father as a friend and let him know they live under the same roof. 'The penny will eventually drop and it will by then be up to John's father to raise the matter. If he does, the truth should be told.'
Simon, from Nottingham, was in exactly the same situation 10 years ago. 'I blew it with my father - we haven't spoken since.' His mistake, he feels, was to drop the news in a letter, asking if he and his lover could come and stay with him in Spain. 'Had it been done with more consideration for my father and what he was having to come to terms with, I might still know him. But I never did like my father anyway, so I don't give a damn now. I enjoy an excellent relationship with my mother who's totally supportive, and no relationship with a father who's not, and I'd much rather have that than something murky in between.'
The upshot seems, generally, to tell, as kindly and tactfully as possible, remembering that even families who react badly at first often come round later. 'My boyfriend's parents threw him out of the house, chucking all his possessions through the window after him,' wrote Rodney. 'And yet years later, the son was getting his father out of bankruptcy, paying for his sister's education, they were all having Christmas dinners together; and his mother, at 75, went to see La Cage aux Folles at the London Palladium six times. It is never too late to learn.'Reuse content