Ask Mary: I've been keeping my relationship a secret

My boyfriend wants to meet my parents, but my dad's racist and I've been keeping my relationship a secret. What can I do?

I'm really nervous about introducing my boyfriend to my parents. I've been going out with him for eight months, and he's eager to meet my parents, but I think it'll be a disaster.

That's because my boyfriend is black, and I know what my father is like.

I grew up listening to him mouthing off about people of different nationalities and ethnic groups coming here, stealing jobs, exploiting the welfare system -- you know, the usual nonsense you hear all too often.

I love him but, God help me, he's a right bumpkin.

He's known in the local area for being a bit of a crank and a casual racist, but everyone just seems to tolerate him.

My mother isn't as bad as my dad, but she humours him, and rolls her eyes in a 'What can do you?' way.

I wouldn't mind, but my boyfriend is as Irish as they come, with a mad Dublin accent.

He was born and raised here, and is really popular at work and with his group of friends (who are a real mixed bunch).

He makes me really happy, but I've kept him a secret from my parents.

I live at the other end of the country from them and only see them occasionally, so I've been able to make that work.

My sister met my fella and they get on great. But even she is nervous about me bringing him home.

I've met all his family and they don't seem to have any issue with me.

I'm running out of excuses for putting the meeting off.

What's worse is that my boyfriend is starting to think I'm embarrassed by him, and I'm not.

How should I approach this? What would you do? Lisa

Mary's view:

'Your father surely knows and sees many people of other nationalities every day in the streets, cafés, bars...'

I have given a lot of thought to the question you have posed and I am sure that queries such as this will increase all over Ireland as time goes on.

You have a job and a boyfriend who, in turn, is working as well and you seem very happy together.

Your boyfriend is keen to meet your family. He has met your sister and they get on well.

The difficulty is that your boyfriend is black -- born and brought up in Dublin and, as you say laughingly, "with a mad Dublin accent".

Both of you are keen to come home together, where your boyfriend can be introduced to your parents, and, no doubt, as all of this happens, the romance will gather pace.

The difficulty is with your father, whom you describe as a "casual racist".

I feel you are being too judgmental here of your father. There are many people who would feel this way and who would have these sentiments. Your dad is not unique in this.

Now, how do you go about the introduction? Well, first I believe that you have to pave the way for it. There is simply no point in just turning up with your boyfriend and watching the sparks fly. That would be disrespectful to him and to your family.

I would suggest that you come home with your sister for a visit to your family soon. There, with your family and your sister (who knows your boyfriend), you would explain about the new love in your life, which looks like being serious, and indicate that you are keen to bring him home. So far, so good.

Then, introduce the topic of the colour of his skin. Say it calmly and unemotionally while making plain at all times that you and your boyfriend have started a romance which you think is serious and which you feel may lead on to marriage.

I don't know if it will, but I feel from the tone of your letter that it is a serious arrangement.

Your father will no doubt react pretty strongly to this news, but your sister can chime in then, saying that she has met him and that she gets on well with him, that he has a job and is earning money, and that you have a wide circle of friends who accept him plainly for what he is.

Your father surely knows and sees many people of other nationalities every day in the streets, cafés, workplaces, bars of the town where your home is.

You must be straightforward and upfront about your relationship, about the state of play between you both, and about the colour of his skin, his job, his parents and all the surrounding facts about him.

Explain that you want to bring your boyfriend home to meet him and your mother and that you want him to experience the love you have received all your life, and also that you want him to be accepted as part of your family.

Now, I have absolutely no way of knowing what your father's reaction to this will be because it is not a situation that I have come across myself, nor have I encountered it with any of my friends or my family.

However, I do know from the tone of your letter that you have come from a loving family and that you are keen to introduce your steady boyfriend to this same loving family.

Your father may react in one of two ways:

1. He may 'blow up' and refuse to meet him, or even tell you not to bring him home.

2. He may go with the flow and be civilised and hospitable when you, your boyfriend and your sister arrive. Be sure to have your sister there because, as you said, she has met your boyfriend and she will be a welcome ally to you.

Taking the full subject in the round, I think your father will not react badly. I think he may grumble and grouch a bit, but in the end you are his daughter, he loves you and he wants whatever will be good for you.

In this case, it is that your boyfriend would be accepted into your home as a welcome friend and potentially a son-in-law to be.

I really would be keen to find out how this works out -- please let me know.

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