"I knew I was attracted to men at an early age, probably around 9 years old," shared Hunter Bigham, dad of three. "The Sears catalogue men's underwear section was the way I knew that. I finally figured out I was gay much later in my 30s."
As a devout Southern Baptist, Hunter did things the "right way." He dated a girl at school (whom he would later marry); they graduated college, moved to a new city, waited 4 years then had 3 kids.
"As a very devout Southern Baptist, I thought I was following a faithful path," said Hunter. "All the while, I was struggling with an internal division and a compartmentalization that wasn't maintainable."
When Hunter was 35, he began to experiment sexually with men. For about 6 months, he had a series of anonymous hook-ups that were facilitated by the anonymity of the Internet. It felt more natural for Hunter to be with men, but still, the anonymity of his experiences, and the fact that he was still married to his wife, left him fraught with stress.
Ultimately, the truth got out and he and his wife went through two painful years of counseling, including a stay for Hunter at a facility for sex addicts. Hunter had persuaded their counselor to send him there rather than the alternative that his wife favored: a religious based change program.
During his stay at the facility, Hunter initially struggled to come to terms with his authentic self, and even at one very low point, contemplating suicide. Thankfully the moment was brief, but terrifying.
Finally, it dawned on Hunter that his son was the same age that he was when he first started to realize he was attracted to men.
"So, two things became evident," explained Hunter. "First, there was no way that he could choose at his age to be attracted to one sex or another. And second, if I really believed that God made me in his image, then I wasn't a mistake. I was on this planet for a reason."
It was like a light went on in a dark room. Pieces began to start falling into place. Hunter and his wife divorced as he could not make the one promise she wanted: not to act on his feelings.
Hunter and his ex-wife co-parented their three kids amiably at first, exchanging keys to each other's homes and sharing the same pew as a family at church. That all changed when she began dating somebody a few months after the divorce; the legal battles began after the ex-wife remarried and tried to remove the children from Hunter's exposure. And living in Mississippi hasn't helped his plight in court.
"Mississippi is a chancery court state, so the judge can make any decisions he wants for the family," explained Hunter. "Therefore, his homophobia is unchecked except by the state Supreme Court. Mothers have all the power where children are involved in any no-fault divorce situation."
Sadly, these battles are still ongoing, but Hunter is as close as ever with his three kids who are almost, if not already, adults themselves at 21, 20 and 16 years of age.
This grew further complicated when Hunter met Johnny. The two men had chatted online for several years, getting to know each other, little by little. In 2013, when Hunter was in LA, where Johnny lived, they decided to meet for lunch.
"And we've never been apart since!" Hunter said. "I am truly blessed. The kids and Johnny get along wonderfully. We worked very hard to incorporate Johnny into a family structure that includes him in a respectful way but that also recognized these relationships need time and work to mature."
It is clear to Hunter's kids that he will always be the parent, and Johnny is his companion and husband. They've managed to strike a great balance for all the family. Johnny and Hunter were married September 18, 2015.
And has his ex-wife's nightmare come true? Has Hunter and his "lifestyle" been a bad influence on the kids?
"Living [with me] as an out gay man has changed their perspective on the world," says Hunter. "They are much more accepting of others' differences than I was at that age."
And although Hunter says he's not one to give advice, he does hope others can learn from his experiences.
"I learned lies are difficult to track, the truth is much more responsible and less hurtful than I thought it would be, and that children are endlessly resilient," said Hunter before adding, "The amount of work and investment is wildly difficult, but the end result is a wonderful combination of relief, love, and bonding."