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Disclosure
May 23, 2006

Doctor Bob,

I volunteer for a charity in the UK, not HIV/AIDS specific. Recently, a client came in who was HIV positive. She is 20 and has been infected for 2 years. She told me about your site and said that there's recently been posts on your forums about disclosure to parents. I've since read these (it's the "worried father" ones). She has a dilemma about whether or not to disclose her status to her parents. The reason I'm writing to you is that like you, I believe strongly that honesty is always the best policy. However, in this particular case, the ramifications could be serious. My client does not live at home, but suffered horrific physical and mental abuse as a child. The family unit is not strong, but the parents still live together. I really want to give the right advice here. I believe that the client in question requires professional counselling relating to both the child abuse and HIV issues, and have said so - I can only hope she takes this option. When I last saw her, I suggested she get some counselling, and seek further advice there on whether to disclose.

As volunteers, we are told that we should not give advice that may place a client in danger, which sounds straighforward, but I just don't know whether this is a risk in this particular case. Obviously I don't want to give bad advice.

Thank you - you provide a wonderful service and example.

Do you have any advice/experience in this area?

Joe

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Joe,

I believe your advice to your client is right on target. Certainly her situation is quite different from the one she read about on this site. I would strongly urge and help facilitate, if possible, counseling for her as a first step. If it will help, you can certainly show her this post or advise her that my recommendation mirrors yours exactly.

For our readers, I'll repost below the "worried father" saga below, including some follow-up stories from the youngster involved and another young man in a similar situation.

Dr. Bob

Re: Are my kids at risk? May 8, 2006

Hi Doc,

I just want to say first, you're incredible, second ur right on with this guy. I'm poz and my father jumped up and down on me pretty hard when I told him. I haven't told the rest of my family and have hardly spoken to him since. I don't live at home so prob not quite the same, and I have a great support network anyway, but I wanted to warn "worried dad." As someone in your son's situation (tho older and straight - tho frankly that's irrelevant), if u push your son away now, you will lose him, possibly forever. How do you think your wife and other kids will feel about that?

Take care of yourself Dr Bob - people like this obviously need you!

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

Thanks for your comments.

Sometimes it seems to me certain people should never have become parents.

I'm pleased to hear you have a great support network. None of us should have to face this challenge alone.

I'll reprint the "worried dad" post below in hopes that it reaches others as well.

Stay well. Let's get through this together, OK? And when it comes time to choose your dad's nursing home, perhaps you'll remember his kind compassionate response to your illness.

Dr. Bob

Are my kids at risk? May 2, 2006

My son has AIDS. I don't know for how long, he is 19 years old and I found out when I found his medications in his room. I was checking for drugs because hes been acting strange, but sure as anything didnt expect this. I have three younger kids, the youngest is only 9. Should I ask him to move out? Hes gay (I have nothing against this) but hes also a bad influence on his brother and sisters. Now hes AIDS is he dangerous to them? Or me and his mother?

Thank you for any advice.

worried father

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Worried Father,

You just found out your 19-year-old son has AIDS and your first inclination is to throw him out of the house???? WOW. Apparently your moniker, "Worried Father," applies to being worried about everyone (including yourself), but not your son!!! Shame on you, sir.

Is your gay HIV-positive son a danger to you, your wife or your other children? No. HIV is not transmitted by casual contact. No way. No how.

Perhaps the reason your son has been acting strangely is because he has HIV/AIDS and has tragically felt the need to hide this information from you and the rest of his family. Of course, now that I see what your initial reaction is, I understand his desire to keep his diagnosis secret.

I suggest you, your wife and your son sit down and discuss the situation rationally. Family counseling may be very beneficial. Go with your son to his HIV/AIDS specialist physician visits and talk with his doctor. Get involved with your son's life and help support him through this crisis. Turning your back on him now and throwing him out of the house would be both cruel and immoral.

Dr. Bob

explanation for worried father May 9, 2006

Dear Doctor,

My father recently wrote to you I'm the "19-year-old-son" of the "worried father." He told me about this site after he'd used it. He was not happy! But thanks for trying. Firstly, I am totally amazed by you and this site. It's helped me so much. Thank you for all your responses to people, you give us hope.

Secondly, like I said, my father has had it out with me, and I just think I should clarify a few things about him, especially after the case worker's response. I know he came over bad, so I totally get your reactions, but honestly, he's not a bad guy. He's just angry because I've gotten myself infected and didn't tell him. So he's been worried, he's not a bad guy. I was in the wrong here. I was just concerned about the consequences, for everyone. My coming out was tough on him, and this is tougher. It's not that he wants to throw me out, it's that it might be better for everyone if I go. He just wants a happy home for his family, and I'm making that damn near impossible. We're a pretty traditional family (apart from me, Republicans (bet you're amazed by that), catholic, we call my dad "sir" you get the picture). I'm amazed he found this site and brought himself to post, may be that's a good start. Really, he's not used to being disobeyed. But he's a good man. Just different to me. That doesn't make me right, or him wrong, just makes us different I guess. The horror on his face at your counseling suggestion would have been funny in a different situation.

I think he needs more time. He's not told my mom or brother and sisters since they're not at risk. I'm going to move out for a bit, let him deal with it first. I may have screwed myself up, but I'm not gonna cause collateral damage.

Jake (guilty son of a worried father)

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Jake,

Thanks for writing in, and I will give "Sir"-Father a bit of credit for at least turning you on to this site. But as for him being such a "good man," nope. I'm not at all convinced. "Sir" just wants a happy home for his family??? Aren't you part of that family??? Your family doesn't sound "traditional;" it sounds dysfunctional and tragic to me. You call your dad "Sir"??? Sounds more like the army than a loving family. Catholic, Republicans yeah, what a shocker! Dad's not used to being disobeyed??? So I suppose that means you're supposed to vote for those morally reprehensible folks occupying the White House and Congress???

And what's this nonsense about "he's not told my mom or brother or sisters . . . ." Why is it up to him? Why don't you tell them? Since when is being honest "collateral damage?"

Jake, you should not feel guilty. I'm sure "Sir-Daddy-Dearest" has never ever made a mistake or had a lapse in judgment or had any type of indiscretion whatsoever, and that's why he can be so self-righteous about you're becoming HIV positive, right? I repeat he should be ashamed of himself.

Jake, you are a much better son to your father than he is a father to you, his son.

My advice:

1. If you move out, do so because you want to remove yourself from a toxic environment caused by an out-of-touch, self-righteous and self-deluded Daddy Dearest.

2. Tell your mom, brother and sisters what's going on. Better yet, show them these posts.

1. Your father is going to need a lot more than counseling, if he's ever to become a truly "good man."

2. I'm here if you need me, Jake.

Be well.

Dr. Bob

You're not alone May 12, 2006

Hi Dr Bob,

Your forum is so incredible. Thank you. So much. I've been positive for 4 years now (I'm 23), and have been reading it pretty regular for the last couple of years. I'm only writing in now because I had virtually the exact same experience with parents as Jake's experiencing right now. Hang in there Jake, whatever you do is going to be tough, but things will get better. They really will. Anyway, Dr Bob, I never told the rest of my family beyond my dad. I just think that you should know why people like me act the way we do (and, from reading Jake's post, he seems pretty much the same).

Thing is, I agree with everything you say in principle, but its easy to stick to principle when nothing's at stake. Reality however is just so different to how I wish it were. I just want to explain why, although I wish with all my heart that your ideas would have worked for me, I think it's just impossible, and from the sound of it, it's gonna be the same for Jake:

1) I grew up with my family. Yes, I know, obvious, but you see, this means it's impossible just to think of that as "toxic." They're what I was always taught was "right." Admittedly, my beliefs and lifestyle are, for whatever reasons, different, but if I didn't tolerate their beliefs, wouldn't that make me just as guilty? So, although I moved out shortly after the fight with my dad, I can't blame him. I still don't. He's my father, I can't switch that off. I was always taught to try to please him, and have always desperately wanted him to like me. I still do. Fighting with him is never going to achieve that. Maybe in time, he'll forgive me.

2) Is it ever right to cause anyone pain? No. Is it even worse to cause pain to those you love? Yes. What would've happen if I told the rest of my family? Simple: there'd have been anger, pain, sadness, fights, all the things my dad strives to avoid. Chaos. How could I in good conscience do that to the people I love? I couldn't. Things would never be the same for them or me. Even now, 4 years on, having done very little, whenever I see my dad (not very often), I see the pain I caused him, and feel the deepest shame. How could I do this to my mom, brothers and sister, who I love more than anything in the world? Also, even if they decided to support me, the outcome would be bad, in fact, possibly worse: that would mean my parents splitting. Not necessarily literally, but it would drive a wedge between them, and that can't be good either for them or my younger siblings, and would be entirely my fault.

3) It's not my job to change my dad. He gave me life, education, food, a home, clothes He's provided for his family and I believe he really does care for us. But how did I repay him? By being gay (tho I refuse to blame myself for that. OK, so I'm sorry I'm not the son he wanted, but that's something I couldn't have stopped). But getting myself infected? That was stupid, and then I gave him lies. Though I never actually lied, just hid the truth. This is why he reacted to my disease with anger and shame.

So you see, I love your philosophy, and your advice, and wish with all my heart that my dad was like you, but he isn't. So personally I didn't dare go charging in like Cheney on a quail hunt. If I'd tried to force my family to change for my own gain, or because of my own beliefs, then I'd be no better than, and in fact, eerily similar to, Dubya and Iraq, (yes I know, completely different scale etc, but as long as the principle's the same, then everything else is just haggling over the price). And that, as you can imagine, is not exactly the lead I want to follow. I dunno if Jake's got the same outlook as me, but it sure sounds like it. Jake, I'll be straight with you, it's a tough ride if you do what I did, but for me, and everyone else, I think it's better than the alternative.

Lastly, I have a great support network, and a wonderful boyfriend. Jake, make sure you develop one (support network, boyfriends are optional but fun!) go to your local ASO, get connected! For me, this means, much as it tears me up, I don't actually need my family to know, and I don't actually need my dad's approval. Sorry this is such a long post, but really, this isn't an easy issue, and there's no easy solution! Take care of yourself Dr Bob, you mean so much to people like me (and presumably Jake!)

Matt

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Matt,

Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your story. You are correct in that there are many "Jakes," and, in fact, many "Matts" out there. However, beyond that, I'm afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on everything else in your post. I'll make just a few points for you (and the other "Jakes" and "Matts") to ponder:

1. "Reality" is just that real! That means you are gay and HIV positive. Hiding that reality, especially from those you love and who love you, doesn't make it any less real.

2. Sexual orientation is not a "lifestyle," despite what you may have been taught. By asking (demanding) your family to accept (or at least acknowledge) your sexual orientation, you are not being intolerant of their sexual orientation. You didn't disown your parents when you realized they were straight, did you?

3. Wanting to please parents is normal. However, if doing so requires "forgiveness" for your innate sexual orientation, that's pure nonsense. Acceptance and forgiveness are two very different concepts. Forgiveness suggests you did something wrong. Being born gay is not wrong. Fighting with Dad may never change him or get him to like you; however, standing up for who you intrinsically are as a person is critically important for your self esteem.

4. Should you tell the rest of your family? Absolutely. The argument that it would upset Daddy's perfect and artificial world doesn't really make sense. Sure, there will be discomfort and sadness, but there may be other emotions as well, like love, compassion, support, etc. Probably the best way to look at this would be to consider a situation in which your brother or sister was HIV positive and he or she decided not to tell you, because he or she felt it might upset you (or Daddy's parallel universe). Meanwhile our limited time on this planet ticks by and you do nothing to help support your beloved brother or sister through very challenging and frightening times. Is that the kind of "reality" you want to perpetuate?

5. On those rare occasions when you see Daddy-Dearest, it is he who should "feel the deepest shame," not you!

6. I agree it is not your job to change your dad. Neither is it his job to cause you shame. You may not be the son he wanted. But don't forget he's not exactly the dad you would have picked out from the dad-catalogue either!

7. Stop feeling so guilty about becoming HIV positive! There are over 40,000,000 million of us in the same boat. You didn't contract the virus on purpose. It was a mistake.

8. If you "love my philosophy and my advice" and "agree with everything I say in principle," why are you so sure my "ideas won't work" for you? Despite your advice to Jake, I do not believe the path you have chosen to follow is better for you or anyone else than the alternative of being honest. Concealing "reality" from your mom and siblings is not loving them, nor is it protecting them. It's merely playing into your father's toxic pathology. By your own admission, you report "it's been a tough ride," and nothing much has changed for four years! You report you "don't actually need my family to know," but that fact also "tears me up." Why would you want this same scenario for Jake? Matt, I suggest you copy your post and my response and take it to one of the counselors at your local ASO. I'll bet they will agree with my position. I'm delighted you have found a way to cope with toxic Dad by developing a strong support network and finding a wonderful boyfriend. I hope Jake does the same. However, I also hope Jake takes a hard look at the "reality" of your life for the past four years and realizes that the alternative approach is really the way to go.

Matt, you're correct: "this is not an easy issue." However, I really don't think you're making it any easier on yourself (or ultimately anyone else) by playing into your father's intolerance.

Give it some thought, Matt.

I'm always here if you need me.

Dr. Bob



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