The story of W5's Kevin Newman and the coming-out of his son Alex
I feel fairly naked. Which at my age isn’t something any sensible person should volunteer to do. Yet, here I am. All out.
The public striptease which led to a memoir began two years ago on W5 as I hosted a Scribble Live online forum, while our feature story aired about how a family coped with their son coming out over a number of months.
Scott Heggart and his family were brave and vulnerable as they shared with Canadians the unique challenges of parenting an LGBTQ child through their journey to honesty. A story I knew intimately through my own son, Alex, coming out 10 years earlier. As the profile ended in each time zone I saw the same pattern in the concurrent online conversations: Scribble Live came to life. Hundreds of Canadians were sharing their relief that W5 had brought them inside a family dynamic they too shared, but had never seen explored in depth. There was a clear hunger for more. So I raised the idea with my family of writing a book.
Initially I approached our publisher, Random House Canada, with the concept of my family exploring the coming out process from four perspectives: Alex’s, my wife Cathy’s, my daughter Erica’s, and mine. And for months we wrote that narrative until our editor and guide, Kate Fillion, concluded the bigger and better story was between my son and I.
Our relationship hadn’t grown over the years the way my wife’s and daughter’s had with him. Part of the reason was my very demanding career, but the other part (which I was unaware of) was his belief that I didn’t truly embrace his life. I easily accepted his sexuality, tolerated his frequent public displays of affection, but I had some difficulty embracing all of gay ‘culture’. And that drove a wedge between us the book has helped heal.
Building that bridge took being much more public about my life than I intended to be as I started writing. As Alex wrote his chapters in isolation, and I wrote mine, Kate recognized that Alex’s writing was much more intimate and his willingness to bare all was creating a lop-sided narrative. I had to dig deeper, question more, and confront things about myself I would have preferred remained in the nice neat construct that was my public life before the book. As a storyteller I had shaped my profile and largely retained control over how I was perceived. I had to be talked into converting the book into a father and son memoir and letting go.
There were many compelling arguments for the change in direction, but the one which ultimately convinced me wasn’t among those presented at a lunch between the publisher, Kate and my family. I agreed to start over because I didn’t want to let my son down. Again. If he was willing to be brave about his life, how could I not? And as a journalist, how could I not embrace a level of transparency that I expected of others? So for the next year, whenever work demands ebbed, I would lock myself in a room in our apartment and examine my life’s junk.
Just before ‘All Out’ was finished, and I had the chance to finally read Alex’s chapters, I called him up to make sure he was comfortable with what the world was about to know. I’ve had a 35-year career, but at 29 Alex has a long runway before him and everyone who might hire him would know a lot. He was fine. I was more nervous. He said, “Dad this is your coming out. Don’t worry, everything will change.” That didn’t sound very reassuring.
And it has, in unexpected ways. People who have read the book now approach me with a level of intimacy that at first was unsettling, but now I find comforting. There is much less small talk with strangers and much more real talk as we compare stories of our relationships with our sons, our journeys as men, and the challenges of balancing career and family. I feel I am contributing to a conversation which is still new for many of us, awkward, but rich. And by exposing the ups and downs of my career and family life, every relationship that had atrophied from my lack of attention has been renewed and reset. That’s something I never expected.
If he was willing to be brave about his life, how could I not?
There have also been many bonding moments for my son and I as we have travelled together to promote the book, but one stands out. We invited the Heggart family to join us for a book launch party in Ottawa and they graciously accepted. As Alex took the microphone he turned to them and thanked them.
“You didn’t only help give us the idea for this book,” he said, “you gave me something much more important. You helped open my father’s eyes and gave him back to me”.
If by revealing ourselves Alex and I can help pay it forward, the I am proud to stand before you, naked.