It was another slow Monday night at work. Being one of the oldest LGBTQI venues in Brisbane our doors were always open and even on the quiet nights had a steady flow of regulars. Whether it was for a quiet dinner in the lounge bar, a flutter in the polies or a few rounds of pool with the locals, our patrons were all family and family was always welcome at Sporties. Monday was the only night we didn’t have anything on stage in the lounge, so it was always quieter and more relaxed. These were the nights a barman could take the time and really talk to the patrons and give their full attention.
Which was a blessing because I had a new face perched at the end of my bar. I shall call him Terrified Dad or Ted for short. He was a middle-aged bloke, maybe in his mid to late forties. He kept his eyes forward and was concentrating on only two things, the wall behind the bar and the drink in his hands. He had the semi-terrified look of a man wondering what the hell he was doing there. He was also very obviously straight. This fact was nothing new to us, nor was it anything to be worried about as we had many friends, family and allies warm our chairs over the years. I was a bit concerned because he had the air of a guy building up the courage to do something. Was he a lonely man trying to pluck up the courage to try his firs man on man experience? Or was he building up the courage to start something? I had no idea, but I had to figure him out. So, when I poured his next drink I settled in and started to chat. After a few pleasantries like “how’s work?” and “how’s this weather?” He finally built up the courage to get to what was on his mind.
This place isn’t what I was expecting. They are all so, you know, normal.” Ted stated
I started laughing. It was unexpected and a relief.
“Yes, we are pretty normal, as far as normal goes. Some days are much louder and more colourful here.” I replied while chuckling.
He turned slightly so he could see some of the regulars in his peripheral, as if turning and facing them would draw their attention.
“Yes, but I mean they all seem like happy and normal blokes and women.” By his tone of voice, I could tell that he was expecting anything but that.
“Yes, that is exactly what we are.” I stressed the word we because he was speaking as if observing a strange new species and I wanted to remind him that I was a part of that group.
“Wait. You are too? You’re a…”
“A Gay. Yep, we aren’t all sequins and feathers, well not all the time. We are normal men and women. We go to work, we pay our bills, we look after our friends and families. To be honest mate you probably know dozens of us but have no idea.’ I wasn’t offended, this wasn’t my first rodeo and it was clear that he just didn’t have the right words to express himself, so I continued. ‘So, what is a guy like you doing in a place like this?”
Ted looked at me for a moment before his eyes misted up and he started weeping. I grabbed him a napkin and let him compose himself before he spoke.
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to ask for help.” He sniffled.
“How about you tell me from the start what’s on your mind and then we can go from there.”
“Okay,’ he took a few breaths to calm himself and another swallow of beer, ‘I just found out on the weekend that my son is a poofter…”
“Gay, your son is gay. Please don’t use that word as some people find it offensive.” I corrected him.
“Okay, my son said he was g-gay. I’ve never met a poo... a gay before. I don’t now what to do! I’ve always known how to fix things, but I don’t know what to do or how to fix this.” It was all said in a rush, as if a dam had broken or he was starting to panic.
“Well, okay. Let’s break that down. How many blokes do you know? How many have you met or worked with or played footy with?” I started as I continued polishing glassware.
“How many? I don’t know, dozens, maybe more, a hundred.” He said vaguely.
“Statistically one in every ten of them are gay.’ He looked at me blankly trying to wrap his mind around the fact and trying to process who they could be. ‘You never knew because at the end of the day it wasn’t important. Well, it was to them, but it wasn’t necessary for you to know. Maybe they thought you wouldn’t be okay with it?
Now to the second point, there is nothing you can do because there is nothing to do. There is nothing to fix. It’s not about you, it’s about him, it’s about your son’s life, not yours. Do you get what I am saying there?” I kept my tone soft and sympathetic because I didn’t want it to sound like an attack or a lecture.
“But what am I meant to tell our family? Our mates? It’s not right, what am I going to do?” Ted whined gloomily.
“I’m going to stop you right there. You need to understand a few things here. You are scared yes?’ He nodded, ‘You are scared about how they’ll treat your son?’ another nod, ‘then you need to lead by example. You need to show them the standard that he should be treated. Your boy is going though this and every person here in this room can tell you how absolutely terrifying it is. Now you can leave him to go it alone and turn your back on him, in which case you can finish your drink and get out. Or you can learn about your son, who he is in his heart and you can be in his corner through thick and thin. There is no grey area there. You support him or you lose him completely.”
I’m not a counsellor but I tried to get it through to him. As things have a way of working out, two of our regulars popped up to the bar for a drink at that exact moment. There were a couple who were both around the same age as Ted. They had also both come out later in life after being married with children, most of the staff and locals called them Mum and Dad. I poured a round of drinks and introduced them to Ted, they pulled up a chair and started talking about their experiences and answering his questions. Eventually other patrons filtered through and had a chat until he had been sitting there for several hours and spoken to most of the people in the venue. Eventually when he left, he had business cards for the local PFLAG chapter, local support services, a copy of the local QNews magazine and a few patrons phone numbers. We wondered if he would be back and if we had wasted our breath. I was very proud of the locals who had their chance to speak with a dad who was reaching out and helped him challenge his ideals, and was trying to learn about a whole new way of looking at the world and just maybe saving his relationship with his son.
So how does the story end? Well Ted returned a few times for advice and to let us know that things were much better with his son and eventually we all had a very special 18th birthday party.
Written by Max Duncan
Max was born and raised in remote NT in the 80s. He is passionate about mental health support and suicide prevention. He is also a regular volunteer and contributor to NGOs wherever possible.
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