What I'm about to describe to you, is something I am deeply ashamed of in hindsight. I was a jerk, still in a state of shock and confusion, and "in love" with a handsome Brit I'd only spent less than 24 hours with.
I was standing in the Ontario, California airport watching my wife walk with my two daughters to a different gate than mine. They were headed to my parents in the Napa Valley for Thanksgiving. I was headed to spend my Thanksgiving with the Brit in San Francisco. It was less than one month after I had come out of the closet and I was so caught up in my own freedom and new life that I didn't realize until everything went kaput with the Brit on New Year's Eve, that if I was ever going to manage the holidays with dignity and respect for me, my kids, and their Mom, I was going to have to kick myself in the pants and stop acting like a kid in the candy store when it came to men. Ok, nothing wrong with acting that way since I never got to date guys in high school and college because I was raised to believe – gay no way, was the way. But that's another article all together.
My wake-up call to the first holidays that I wasted after coming out of the closet literally came the night the Brit said "Happy New Years, and good-bye!" How could he do that to me? We were going to raise my kids together. We were going to travel the world together. We were going to create a home together. Yes all that was going to happen while I was only two months in to my journey, not yet divorced, and juggling having my daughters 3 days on and four days off…all during my first holiday season as a "gay man," even though as we all know, gay has always been there waiting to be accepted.
It was through that traumatic holiday season, with me being a complete Reindeer's ass, that I knew that 2000 holiday season would be different. Completely different, and I was going to redesign the holidays in a much saner way than I had in 1999.
For starters I took ownership of my screw-up. Owned what I needed to own, without beating myself up, and vowing to think with the head on my shoulders and not the other one when it came time for the holidays again.
I then took stock and asked myself, what do I want the holidays to be like for me and my daughters. Sure, their Mom was part of that equation, and for the most part, we were pretty darn amicable, but we had this lovely little document to help guide us when it came to the holidays. Yes, the custody agreement. One of us gets the girls for Thanksgiving, the other gets them on Christmas Day, and the rest is negotiable.
From the depths of my guilt and shame about how I acted in 1999, I took the custody agreement to heart, and started planning then how I wanted "to be" come the holidays of 2000. I wanted to be happy, joyful, totally tuned into my kids, on my terms, not on someone else's terms. Of course, if there were a guy in my life (which there was in 2000), then I would work around it or make him part of it in the best way possible for all concerned. But, my priority was my girls first – however that worked between me and their mother with the least amount of friction.
A few other things I did to really begin making the holidays work were as follows:
1. Committed To Not Make An Ass of Myself
No matter how much I wanted a man, a new companion to share the holidays with, or the picture perfect gay family holiday card to send, I committed to myself to check-in and ask myself this one question – "Are you being a ludicrous ass?" If I felt like an ass, I was probably being an ass, even if no one else saw it that way but me. Once I felt that or observed it was time to immediately course correct. Have I been perfect at it? Let's just say I've never done what I did that first holiday after coming out, but as most of us are, I'm still a work in progress.
2. Set The Right Boundaries
There's an interesting guilt that comes along with coming out for many of us, especially us guys who were in a heterosexual marriage, trying to make the gay go away, which never really works. Once we come out we often feel compelled to go above and beyond to fix the chaos we created in people's lives, especially at the holidays. You may thank that works, I did, but it really doesn't. I had to stop the over committing, agreeing to what I didn't want to agree to, and I had to set the boundaries with my ex, my family, my friends, and even my kids as they get to the place where those boundaries needed to be recognized – and you can do the same. In return, honor other people's boundaries too. After all, if you and I want them to respect our boundaries, then respect theirs which may mean, not attending certain events if their boundary is "no gays allowed." Tough as that one may be, you will be better off not stepping over that boundary and moving on to better relationships – trust me I speak from experience. Another alternative is to also give it time. Many things heal with time.
3. Create my own way of being in the holidays that was just for me, my kids, and my man
This one may seem obvious, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. The quicker I started to establish my own holiday traditions, the where do we go, when do we go stuff, as a gay dad, couple, and family, the sooner the rest of my world began to work me and my new family unit into their world. If they can't, then don't turn it into a holiday war zone, find a path to some form of peace with least resistance and let it go.
4. Have an attitude of NO is not forever, it's just NO not right now.
As much as I would have loved my family to welcome me and my boyfriends' to the holiday family gatherings, it wasn't time until the right one came along that I discovered, their NO's were more of a not right now than a NO never, ever. As much as we'd love to have immediate embrace of who we are as gay men, with our own men that we love and children that we bring into the picture – biologically or otherwise – some families need time and their NO's are not forever, until they prove that they are simply not capable of embracing you. In those cases, then take the high road and realize that is how they play in love and you simply cannot meet them on their playground of love in that manner and move on.
5. Do something you've never done or wanted to do at the holidays.
As the custody agreement dictated, there were times that hubby and I did not have the girls on the holidays. As time went on, there were times the girls decided to do other things for the holidays. Make the most of those times to do something the two of you have never done or have wanted to do. Our adventures have been New Orleans, Cruises to the Caribbean, ski vacations, and even staying at Daddy's only resort in Palm Springs. Take the time to relish, reconnect, and relax. You will appreciate giving yourself that gift.
More than anything, know that you have the ability to create whatever you want to create for the holidays as your own, provided you give yourself permission to do so, and do so without guilt or shame.
Rick Clemons is a well-known culture disruptor (in a good way), "closet buster (coming out coach)," and bold move strategist – people to live life with no excuses, no fears, no apologies. Tapping into his 25+ years experience in personal development, and leveraging being a late bloomer, coming out of the closet at 36, he's created a no B.S. approach for thriving as a gay man and father – personally and professionally. A frequent contributor to Huffington Post, YourTango, The Good Men Project, Rick loves writing (Frankly My Dear I'm Gay), podcasting (Life (UN)Closeted and 40 Plus: Real Men. Real Talk), facilitating out of the ordinary personal development experiences, and speaking to audiences across the globe on living life without apologies. He loves wine, his two grown daughters, and his husband, in that order but don't tell the hubby where he fits in the pecking order. Visit his website at RickClemons.com.