Coming out as a gay man can be a tough enough experience at the best of times, but what happens when you’re also a dad?This content was published on September 7, 2003 - 11:51
That was the question that led to the setting up in Zurich of a “Gay Fathers” group.
Now in its eighth year, the organisation was founded by three gay fathers who found that their specific problems were largely overlooked by the homosexual community.
The group provides support, counselling and practical advice for men who have declared their homosexuality after fathering children in long-term heterosexual relationships.
There are no official statistics on the number of gay fathers in Switzerland, but the Zurich group reckons it has so far helped more than 150 men.
“I would say that our members are fairly evenly divided,” says coordinator Daniel Grütter, “between those who have always known they are gay but have repressed it, and those who just ‘discover’ it one day, perhaps after falling in love with another man.
“Any form of coming out is difficult. But it’s even harder when there is a wife involved, and extremely difficult when you also have to explain it all to children.”
Difficult isn’t the word which group member Stephen Salinger uses to describe his own experience three years ago.
“It was horrendous,” recalls the Zurich-based Australian. “My children were five and seven at the time and I thought that I was an absolute failure. My marriage was at an end, and it felt like I was too. I really did want to stop living.
“But then I found out about the Gay Fathers group and for me it was a lifeline. There’s no set agenda so members are free to discuss whatever they like, whether it’s the difficulties of coming out or the financial and legal aspects of separation.”
As well as receiving help from the group, Salinger says he was fortunate to have an extremely supportive wife. Having come through the initial upset, the two remain friends and Salinger has been able to maintain a strong relationship with his children.
Despite the group’s efforts, however, such happy endings are not guaranteed and many of the men have to cope with the pain of exclusion from their own families.
Werner Hemmig had been married for 20 years before telling his wife that he could no longer live as a heterosexual man. Nine months later he is still estranged from his wife and two teenage boys.
“My sons reacted very badly when they found out I was gay,” Hemmig says. “In fact they were physically ill. I don’t have a good relationship with them and they find it very hard to accept me as a father. Of course, that makes me very sad.”
But although he has not yet managed to reconcile his former lifestyle to his current one, Hemmig is still grateful for the support offered by the Gay Fathers group.
“Before I came to the group, I was feeling like a rubber band being pulled from one side to another. Now though I’m a lot more assured about my homosexuality. I also have a number of friends who I can really talk to about my life and my problems. So all in all, I’m feeling quite happy now.”
swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich
The Gay Fathers group is run by the Homosexual Working Groups of Zurich.
Members are offered counselling and practical advice along with purely social events.
The group is estimated to have helped more than 150 men in the past eight years.
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