“Mind if I play with you guys?”
“No worries,” I say, shaking hands with the man in the sunglasses, “My name’s Bill and this is my son Jack.”
We are on the first tee of a brilliant little nine-hole course nestled into the foreshore of Apollo Bay, our annual summer holiday spot. One of the beaut’ things about golf… total strangers can walk up and ask ‘can I join up with you?’ I like it that my 15-year-old has played the game enough to know that this is part of the etiquette.
So we all hit off and so does our conversation – no small talk on the first hole!
“What do you do for a crust Bill?”
I explain the Time & Space programs.
“Right – have you come across any situations where kids have suicided?”
I reply, “Oh, the parent-child programs aren’t necessarily for kids who are in trouble. It is for any young person really and their parents.”
Andrew explains, “It’s just that the boy who was captain of our primary school, a few years ago… just took his life. Real shock to our staff.”
“That’s awful,” I say, fairly amazed at how deep the topic of conversation is for a couple of blokes who have just met… “So you’re a teacher Andrew?”
“Yep. Love it – the classroom for the first 18 years. PE specialist for the last twelve.”
Andrew is a really good fella… I can tell.
“Gee Andrew – any reason, the boy… why he took his life?” I ask.
“No clue whatsoever,” Andrew answers, “it is a complete mystery. We were reeling as a staff at the end of the year when it happened. Such a great kid.”
I’m conscious as we talk, my son is quietly taking all of this in.
We tee off on the second.
“Have you got kids Andrew?” I ask.
“Daughter’s the oldest and two sons… 23, 22 and 19 years old,” Andrew then pauses… “Yep, they’re all doing their thing.” There’s a satisfied tone indicating they’re all going well.
Third hole and Andrew asks Jack if he plays sport.
“Yeah soccer,” offers the young bloke, “I’m a goalkeeper.”
There was genuine interest on Andrew’s part.
We are covering a breadth of topics on every hole. Andrew explains about his oldest two who were heading overseas together. He was really proud of their get up and go.
“They’re not really sure what they want to do career-wise but they’ve worked hard, saved to make this trip happen.”
We talked and enjoyed our golf. We all had a few good hits. Andrew actually chipped in for birdie on the Eighth.
As Jack chipped to the green, I thought back to what Andrew said before… “I liked how you said that all your kids are each doing their thing.”
“Yeah, great kids. The youngest one has had his challenges. My nineteen-year-old Brett,” Andrew pauses, takes off his sunglasses, “is gay.”
Even though we’d only known each other for eight holes of golf, the chats we’d had till then seemed to allow the space for such a personal detail to be shared. What a privilege to be trusted.
“Wow… when did you find out?” I ask.
“He came out when he was sixteen,” answered Andrew, “I’ll admit it, I cried for about 24 hours but came good after that. The way I see it, my son showed great courage.”
Jack has putted, joins us and he picks up the thread of Andrew’s story.
Andrew continued, “I asked my son, I said, ‘I’ve only got one question… did you become gay or were you born gay?”
“He told me ‘I always thought I was gay dad.'”
It’s clear that Andrew admired and supported his son. He learnt that a lot of dads ‘go crook’ and even worse, sometimes physically abuse their sons if they come out… kick them out of home and never want to see them again.
We are on the last tee now and Andrew remarks, “How do those dads come back from that?” he is perplexed as he says, “I mean someone you love has just come out… that is showing the utmost courage. I said to Brett, who’s highly respected by his peers, ‘mate you’ve just shown the way and made stuff so much easier for other kids.’”
Jack then pipes up… “Yeah, one of the kids at my school came out… on You Tube* actually… you know what was really good about it? No-one gave him any crap.”
“I’m pleased to hear it,” said Andrew.
We finished our round, shook hands and said goodbye. The three of us had had a pretty extraordinary conversation.
Later in the day, Jack remarked, “Dad, that Andrew, he’s a good bloke.”
Thanks for reading and as always, you are welcome to share your responses, your stories in the space below (even if you don’t have a Google account, you can log on as anonymous but it would be great if you wrote your name).
* I looked up the clip when writing this article and discovered it was part of a global campaign by many people called ‘It Gets Better’. It includes this video contribution from US President Barack Obama.
And importantly if for any reason you need to talk to someone – you can call…
Lifeline: 13 11 14 Kids Helpline (for young people aged 5 to 25 years): 1800 551 800 Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978 SANE Helpline – mental illness, support and referral: 1800 18 SANE (7263) Reach Out: http://www.reachout.com/