It may be a cliché, but when pressed, many – but not all – gay guys would say they find it easier to talk to their mom than their dad about certain things.
That was certainly the case for 25-year-old Brandon Shypkowski. Raised in Palos Verdes, California by his mom and dad, the gay photographer and actor readily admits that he didn’t feel all that close to his father when younger.
His parents split up when Brandon was 22 and his dad relocated to Fargo, North Dakota. However, he then fell ill, which necessitated him travelling back to Los Angeles for treatment.
‘He’d had surgery and wasn’t able to fly,’ says Brandon down the phone to me. ‘And he need to do it as a road trip. I was 23 and didn’t have many responsibilities at the time, so I shared the trip with him.
‘I was out to everybody in my family, except my dad, so we started swapping stories and I basically heard all these things about the dad I didn’t know. Like the fact he had been in the army, which I hadn’t ever known.
‘He spent two years in the army. I had no idea. There had been no photos.
‘We started opening up about some personal stuff, so at the end of the road trip I finally felt close enough to come out to him.
‘When I told him, he kind of just sat there. This is someone who usually only talked about the weather. Then he finally just said, “You know I love you no matter what.” That was his way of giving me his love and approval.’
‘My secret goal for this is to reach the person I was at High School’
The experience got Brandon thinking about the relationships that LGBTI people in general have with their fathers. He’s now started a photo project, Weather Talk, inspired by Humans of New York, in which men and women talk about their dads.
‘My secret goal for this is to reach the person I was at High School. Back then, I didn’t feel part of any community, I didn’t know anyone who was gay. I turned to the internet.
‘I’d love for people who don’t have access to a physical community yet to read the project, to read all of our stories, to read all our different perspectives, and to feel connected to a community, if only online.’
‘I don’t imagine many of our fathers anticipated having gay sons, which makes the bonds we have with them unchartered,’ said Jared Ross, a Weather Talk Participant, said in a statement about the project.
‘Brandon’s project is a poignant glimpse of where that takes us, whether our identities strengthen us or if they come at a great cost.’
Brandon says the project will culminate in a short film later this year that centers around the strained relationship between a gay son and his father as they drive together across the United States.
Check out some of the Weather Talk stories below
Taylor: ‘I never actually came out to my dad it was just kind of known. There was one time when I was 5 or 6, I walked right up to my tennis instructor at tennis camp and kissed him. I was sent home and I think that was probably the first time my parents had an idea I might be gay.
‘I asked my dad later what he would do if I was gay and he said that he would be heartbroken. So I guess at first he was pretty uneducated about LGBT, but he’s come such a long way and he really is the most accepting dad ever now.
‘He even goes to gay bars with me which I never thought would happen, I’m sure he might even go without me. He is so open now, I got lucky that way.’
Devion: ‘My dad has an old school type personality, All-American in high school, Chief Fireman, Master sergeant in the military, and he believes in certain gender roles.
‘In the south there are certain boxes that guys and girls fit into and I didn’t fit into those roles. When I came out to my dad, everything stopped and besides that time, I have never seen my dad cry. My dad is not a cry-er, he’s not a person who shows his emotions. And he’s a good dad to my brother and his family.
‘I love my dad and I want him to be proud of me. But I came out, I waited, I did my part, you know. If my dad won’t take the time to learn about having a gay son or learn about me, then it’s hard to think he cares. It sucks to see disappointment on your dad’s face.’
Charles: ‘When I came out to my dad he initially disowned me for “the lifestyle I’d chosen.” He eventually came around but apparently couldn’t bring himself to contact me directly so he had the owner of a men’s store call me and tell me to stop by the shop to be fitted for a suit. That was his olive branch, I suppose.
’30 years later he insisted on signing our marriage certificate as a witness. Although at times we still have trouble carrying on a civil conversation (both of us are always right, you know), our relationship is better now than it ever was. And at age 53 (he’ll be 80 this year) I’m grateful for that.’
Libby: ‘When I say my parents I mean my adoptive parents, my aunt and uncle. I had a family meeting with my parents and my therapist. I basically broke down and I was listing all of these reasons why I felt alone and disconnected from my family.
‘At that point I felt like I couldn’t keep it inside any longer and pretend to be straight so I just blurted it out, “I’m not even straight.”
‘I remember there was this silence and I was so scared my heart was beating so fast. My dad finally said, “That’s how it should be really.” And we talked about me being Pan – that I fall in love with who someone is and not their gender.
‘Since then we haven’t really talked about it. One day I hope to just be in the car or wherever and be able to say “I’m dating this girl and I really like her.” And they would just say back, “That’s really nice”.’
Dustin: ‘My older sister said she has seen my dad cry multiple times, which to me sounds like a myth. I could be wrong but maybe he acts stoic around me to set an example.
‘Subconsciously I picked up a lot of unhealthy habits from him growing up including shutting people out, isolating myself, and suppressing my emotions. It’s all a facade of strength but truly a fear of vulnerability, and it’s a lonely and unforgiving way to live.
‘My dad’s only primal concern as a father is to keep his children alive into adulthood, but it wasn’t until I moved across the country for college that the distance created a yearn for communication and an emotional connection among my family.
‘I came out to my parents over the phone, which was still unpredictable and terrifying, but it turned out okay. My parents and I never used to talk about anything, but it took me coming out of the closet and putting myself out there to get them to reciprocate the vulnerability and openness.
‘Or maybe I aggressively cornered them into spilling their secrets. Either way, my dad and I now have deep open conversations every so often; he can pretend he doesn’t care but I know it means a lot to him.’
Dave: ‘We all have assumptions and expectations about how our parents will respond to our coming out. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.
‘After coming out of the closet, that night my family sat down at the Dinner table. Scrounging up every ounce of strength I had, I asked my father if my boyfriend could spend the night. His response was, “Sure, can you pass the butter?” For the first time in my life, I was thrilled to be wrong. Thanks Dad.’