I looked at the note and I just knew that the time had come. It’s difficult to explain, but from that instant I stopped running scared. Any sense of fear dissolved into thin air. I dreaded this day. In fact, for years I never thought it would come. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never acknowledge my true feelings and that I would just get on with life as best I could. Everybody had a cross to bear and this was mine, even though I didn’t fully accept it. Most of all I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, especially when I discovered there was not only one, but two of us in the family. I knew they would be devastated. The note my flatmate left beside the telephone explained that my dad was coming to Dublin to deliver a parcel and he wanted to go for a drink afterwards. It was like an inner voice told me his intentions, and I realised without hesitation that I couldn’t deny my sexuality any longer. I felt a sense of relief, even though this was only the beginning of a long, arduous path. But it had to be done. Having delivered the parcel, as if rehearsed my father suggested we go for a drink nearby in Maddigan’s in Donnybrook. It was quite amusing to see the frustration on his face when I declined his offer and threw his plan into jeopardy. I wasn’t trying to avoid the inevitable; I just had a better suggestion, which was the newly opened Barge Pub down the road. It was there on a dull evening in February 1995 that I finally confirmed his worst suspicion. As if on autopilot, we trundled off in the car to Dundalk to face my mother. I remember numbly gazing out of the windscreen, looking at all the things I had said and done, or, to be more precise, all the things that I didn’t say and didn’t do that had given rise to this situation. For as far back as I can remember I knew I was gay, even long before I knew what the word meant. It’s not just something that I thought or felt – I just was, am and always will be. Whereas I have control over my thoughts and feelings, this is something that is in every fibre of my body. Just like the fact that I have hazel eyes or sallow skin. It’s easy for me to make sense of all this now; however, that wasn’t always the case. Like the majority of Irish people, I had a fairly traditional Catholic upbringing. I went to a Catholic primary and secondary school, made my first Holy Communion and Confirmation, and went to mass every Sunday. My parents were an excellent example to me, provided for my every need, and did the best they could. Many Catholic values that I was taught, I still firmly believe today – perhaps best summarised simply as “love thy neighbour as thyself”. However, for whatever reason, the Church’s teaching emphasised sin and instilled fear in an effort to steer people in the right direction. Of course what is “right” and “wrong” in the Bible is open to interpretation. In my case, from an early age I believed that to be gay was an “abomination”, or to quote a recent Papal encyclical, “intrinsically evil”. Hardly what you would call soft words. In fact, I am sure that this ignorant interpretation of the Bible has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of miserable lives and indeed deaths. Society at large indirectly ridiculed me, sneered at me, condemned me, even hated me to the point that it had beaten me, the real me, into repression. It would take a strong soul to stand in the face of such prejudice and openly declare, “I am gay and I am proud of who I am”. I certainly wasn’t capable of that at that stage in my life. When I caught sight of my mother waiting up in her dressing gown that night, and as she opened her arms to accept me, my sluice gate burst open and an avalanche of bottled-up emotion flooded the world around us. We clung to each other, our hearts wrenched, and we sobbed to the core. It is without question the most emotional moment of my life. For each of us, though, “coming out” had different implications. For me, it was the dawn of a new era. Though fully aware that a rough ride lay ahead, I was relieved that for the first time in my life I was truly honest with myself. For my mother and my father, that night spelt disaster – a mixture of despair, blame, guilt, fear, and of course sin. A visit to Icebreakers, a coming-out group in Dublin, followed shortly afterwards, as did my first relationship with a great guy, which only lasted 10 weeks but resulted in lots of new friends. It took almost another year to tell my best friend, who, surprisingly, didn’t suspect a thing. Realising there was nothing of which to be scared, I gradually told all of my friends and was comforted by the fact that they all stood by me. I have had no adverse reactions, none that are worth worrying about anyway, which proves to me that if you are content with who you are, nobody else’s opinion matters. I sometimes look back to those days, almost six years ago now, and wonder about all the fuss. The wall, which seemed insurmountable then, looks like a stepping stone now. Yes, it’s been a roller-coaster ride, full of highs and lows, swings and roundabouts, but the main thing is that I’m on the ride and getting value for money. If only I knew breaking the silence wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had imagined, I would have made the move long ago. However, I have no regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason, and this was no different. Had I come out earlier, I may not have focused on my career or travelled around the world or met some fantastic people and formed great friendships. 10 YEARS LATER I wrote that story in response to a request from my dad. He said he wanted to establish a support group in Dundalk for parents of gay children and he wanted to write a book. His idea was to get each of us in the family to write about our experiences, and our stories would be compiled in a book and made available to other families and friends in similar situations. I thought it was a good idea and eventually put pen to paper, and that is what I wrote. I had intended to write more, but never did, and as a result I never sent my story to him. At that time I was living in Sydney. On the surface, I had a great life. I was living in a trendy apartment on Bondi Beach, drove a nice car, had a decent job, and was physically in good shape. However, I had got caught up in the Sydney gay scene and was getting wasted most Friday and Saturday nights. My working week would be spent recovering until I was recharged again for the weekend. It was a vicious cycle, and something I knew I had to break. When my visa came up for renewal, I knew the best thing for me to do was to return home to live in Ireland. It would prove to be a wise and necessary move on many levels. Within a few months of returning home, my Uncle Gerry died of bowel cancer. Then weeks later, my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The prognosis from the outset wasn’t good. Though he was determined to fight and had a positive outlook, the disease would prove to get the better of him. He died five months later, ironically on Edel’s birthday. Seven months after that, my Aunty Anne, who was also my godmother, died after a long battle with cancer. Three siblings, killed by cancer, all aged 60. It was a bleak time for all our families. I didn’t cope with my feelings very well. Just like burying my feelings around being gay, I didn’t grieve for my dad in the way I should. I returned to work very quickly and put the head down and got on with life. Not being able to express my feelings was something of which I was very conscious and it concerned me. Since my previous relationship, I hadn’t allowed myself to get close to anyone. I was aware that my own behaviour was quite destructive at times and that I should see a counselor. A good friend of mine had been seeing a psychotherapist, and I had seen a huge change in her during the course of her sessions. So I was inspired to take some action and made an appointment with the same practice, which specialised in group therapy. I initially had a couple of one-on-one sessions, and then I joined a group with considerable trepidation. This was a whole new experience for me – a forum where people freely shared very personal issues in their lives. Initially I was very reluctant to let go, but bit by bit I began to open up and depend on the group. In fact, it became part of my weekly routine, and much to my surprise I continued to attend for more than three years. I explored a lot over that time, which helped me get in touch with my feelings at a time when I needed an outlet for my emotions. It uncovered feelings of resentment that I didn’t realise I had built up towards my mother and best friend, who I felt didn’t support me enough after I came out. It took a long time, but eventually I could see my part in what I had created, and I cleared it up with each of them. A year after dad passed away, much to our horror, Edel was diagnosed with breast cancer. Again, from day one the prognosis wasn’t good. The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, which meant it was in her bloodstream, and from there it could go anywhere. However, despite the doctor’s opinion, Edel swung into battle and was determined to beat the disease. Within days, she had a mastectomy and was receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy. She appeared to be making progress as time went by. However, just as it seemed she was getting somewhere, she would have a major setback, and would be starting from scratch again. Each time Edel was knocked back, she would dust herself down and off she’d go again. About two years into her illness, her friend Kevin, who was qualified in complementary medicine, believed he could help her. He offered to give up his job and take care of her. In what was a miserable situation, he was a breath of fresh air, offering Edel and our family some hope. He introduced her to a healthy diet, complementary therapies and The Oasis of Hope – a clinic in Mexico with a holistic approach to cancer treatment. Though the prospect of travelling to Mexico for treatment scared Edel and our family, there was a sense of taking control of events and not just letting them happen. At €35,000 a trip, the cost was another worry. However, once Edel and Kevin committed to going, everyone got into action to raise money to help fund the trips. The response was staggering. Friends held concerts, coffee mornings and sports days all across the county. Interviews with the local radio and newspapers helped spread the news, and Edel’s willingness to openly share about her illness resonated with a lot of people. A fundraising dinner at a local hotel was attended by more than 540 people. Her bravery in the face of such adversity touched, moved and inspired a whole community. After three and a half years of fighting cancer, including the best conventional and complementary therapies, two mastectomies, one hip replacement, and two trips to Mexico, Edel could take no more and was taken from us. My little sister who I loved dearly, her life cut so short by a cruel disease. It was heartbreaking. And still is. I didn’t do much in the months that followed. Unlike after my father’s death, I didn’t rush back into work. Not that there was much choice. The global financial crisis had hit Ireland hard, and jobs were being lost left, right and centre. As did a lot of my former colleagues, I signed on the dole and picked up work where I could. Saddled with hefty mortgages from acquiring my own home and an investment property in the boom, it was a struggle trying to meet the monthly repayments and survive each month. Then one day out of the blue, I got a call from an old client of mine in Australia, offering me a job in Melbourne. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down, and though it was difficult leaving my family and hometown, I returned to Australia to live. The past couple of years have been pretty good. Thankfully everyone in my life has been in reasonably good health. I’m enjoying my work and I have made some great friends here in Melbourne. With less worries and having a bit more head space, I was on the lookout for a challenge. Then late last year, a friend introduced me to a three-part course called the Landmark Forum. It sounded like a powerful program and just what I was looking for, so I started the course earlier in the year. I gained a lot from it, including improved relations with family and friends, and being more comfortable in my own skin. However, the main gain is that the course led to the CREATION of a community project, and it was obvious to me that I needed to complete this project that my dad started more than 10 years ago. So it’s thanks to Landmark Education that my dad’s book will finally be realised. And if the stories that I’ve received are anything to go by, I really believe my dad’s simple idea about sharing our experiences will make a difference in people’s lives and help bring about a more tolerant society.