BOSTON—Having hidden in the closet his entire life, homosexual Neil Pivarnik, 47, lives vicariously through his openly gay son Jeff.
"I really want to show him he's not alone, that I would never shun him," Pivarnik said. "I just know he's going to grow up to do really exciting things, go great places, and meet great people. Hopefully, I can be there to share a lot of that with him."
Pivarnik's only child, the 20-year-old Jeff announced he was gay four years ago while a high-school junior. Jeff currently lives at home while attending Emerson College, enabling his father to experience secondhand the thrill of living a life free of secrets and shame.
"It just fills me with so much happiness to be able to say, 'My son is gay, and I'm not ashamed to say so,'" Pivarnik said. "When I was his age, it was too dangerous to proclaim your homosexuality. You would have been completely ostracized. He's so lucky to be growing up during these enlightened times. So lucky."
To show his support for his son, Pivarnik attends gay-pride marches, subscribes to the gay magazine Out, and rents gay-themed movies to "better understand what Jeff is going through." When Jeff first revealed his homosexuality, his father was there to help him through the difficult period of discovery, doing everything from talking with him about the challenges of "coming out" to helping him assemble an elaborate costume for a drag show.
Pivarnik's wife Linda, whom he married in 1981 after just two months of dating when she became pregnant, has also been supportive of Jeff, though not as involved.
"Neil has been unbelievable," Linda said. "A lot of fathers might have hit the ceiling when they heard that their son is gay, but not Neil. He just gave Jeff a big hug, and they became closer than ever."
Though they've never engaged in typical father-son activities like sports or camping, Neil and Jeff spend many hours together, watching old black-and-white movies, tending to the family's expansive rock garden, and simply acting silly, dancing to Jeff's Madonna records.
The pair also frequently engage in lengthy, frank conversations about Jeff's dating life, during which Pivarnik gives his son advice about which boyfriends he feels are best suited for him.
"Recently, Jeff started dating this Emerson senior named Rick, who I'm completely crazy about," Pivarnik added. "He's smart and funny, and Jeff finds him incredibly attractive. Last night, Jeff and I stayed up for hours talking about Rick. I think it's a good match. I made sure Jeff knew that if he ever wanted to bring Rick over for dinner, he should feel completely comfortable doing so."
Pivarnik said that his son's coming out has actually helped him, as well.
"Honestly, if it wasn't for Jeff, I don't know what I would have done," Pivarnik said. "I had a good career in computer-aided interior design and a wonderful wife, but I still felt trapped and spiritually empty. It wasn't until I really started to take part in Jeff's life that I realized the one thing I had been denying all along—that I was a father. I had to start playing the part."
A small, shy boy in high school, Pivarnik went through many of the same difficulties growing up that his son would later experience.
"I had a hard time dating and always felt different, just like Jeff," Pivarnik said. "Of course, with Jeff, a lot of that had to do with his homosexuality, but I still can somehow relate. I guess it just goes to show you that, deep down inside, we're all the same."