"It's hard to be gay in the Deep South," said father of four, Jay Turner. "I was excommunicated from my church when I came out, I lost my relationship with my parents and extended family, and I've been discriminated against in some very severe ways."
"But I wouldn't trade being a dad for anything."
Jay with his kids
Jay grew up in an ultra-conservative environment in rural Kentucky, and didn't come out till 2014. He was married to the mother of his children at the time.
Although Jay had experimented with other guys in college, he had never considering himself gay. It wasn't until he fell in love with his best friend in 2012 that he came to terms with his true self. After their relationship ended, Jay decided he couldn't stay in the shadows any longer.
"I can't tell you how good it feels to live openly and honestly about who I am."
But living his true self hasn't come without its struggles.
"Fatherhood as a straight man was easy; fatherhood as an out gay man is much harder," said Jay. "I completely lost the support of my family. I haven't spoken to my parents in over three years, even though they're still involved in the lives of my children."
But despite these hardships, Jay has message for other closeted fathers:
"Drop the mask. Let people see the real you. Be authentic. Be vulnerable."
It was his children who helped him find happiness and thrive as he chose to live his authentic life. When Jay came out, his children were still relatively young and he was able to use simple stories to explain to them that their dad liked boys and not girls.
"My children were largely unfazed," explained Jay. "They ask questions sometimes, but I don't think they really dwell much on the fact that I'm gay."
And from his kids, he learned to love.
"Kids don't see the same divisions that adults see. I've learned to love people in much deeper ways because of the example set by my kids."
Jay also learned to seize every moment and to always allow time for play.
"From singing at the top of your lungs in the car, to playing a game while waiting for dinner to arrive at the table, there's always room to play."
Jay and his ex-wife have maintained a very good co-parenting relationship for their kids. They coordinate closely for the children's schedules as they're always on the go with their sporting activities. Jay also has the kids almost every weekend. How does Jay find time for himself? Many of the members of his gay dad support group in Birmingham asked him the same thing.
"I'm the kind of person who is constantly on the go," said Jay. "I get up early every morning for a little me time with a run or to hit the gym, put in my hours at the office, and then spend time with friends during the week. Almost every weekend is reserved for my kids."
Jay thrives in his busy life as he loves being a dad!
"It's a simple, easy joy that comes with being a dad. From visiting the library and checking out books, to cooking dinner together - we make everything an adventure. After becoming a dad, I realized that I was not my own. That I had a greater purpose. I was put here to love people unconditionally."
The message is clear: All you need is love, and for your kids to teach you that lesson.