Today’s guest blog is from Paul Willis, manager of a Costa Coffee branch and partner of our Campaign Director Andy. 

 

So this is me, many of you who are no strangers to Andy’s blogs may feel you know me already but that aside its time for me to put a little more meat on the bones.
‘Significant Other’ – I have never really seen myself as significant in the great scheme of things. I have always been a more ‘here and now’ sort of person, a realist without any great aspirations other than to be happy and have those I love happy also. It has only been with age and insight that I now realise that the happiness and freedom I now garnish have been forged by others. The trail blazers who have been brave enough to stand up and dare to be true to themselves in the face of bias, tradition and fear. Redefining ‘normal’ so we can all be counted as equal and not judged by those who have no right to judge!

Anyway, back to my story, how did I get to be stood here by Andy’s side willing to publicly hold his hand on this journey together?

Well it was a rocky start, a tough upbringing by some standards but nothing compared to the struggle of others. I tell you the following not to look for sympathy but for understanding of my inner struggle.
I have 2 older sisters and 1 younger half brother, we are close, not in terms of distance or indeed contact but we know we are there for each other no matter what!

We had an abusive father who was then absent from the age 7. Admittedly my mother left him but it was after a year long custody battle of manipulation, further abuse and robbed innocence that it was court appointed that my father was not allowed to see us (he made an appearance later but not sure that it’s relevant to this – perhaps I’ll tell of that another time). There then came a stepfather who I did not get on with, enter opinionated know it all teen! He is a good man but did not really know how to be a father or connect with children. It wasn’t easy for him taking on my mother, me and my sisters and then having my brother, their child. He provided for us and kept us safe.

At the age of 19 my mother died suddenly. My stepfather, who I now understand more clearly, was not the sort of person to cope on his own, the only way he could deal with my mother’s death was to close the door on that part of his life. He remarried within the year. My home was no longer my home.

I met Sarah at the age of 18. So similar to my mother in many ways! We got on the property ladder at the age of 20 and married aged 21. We proceeded to have 2 beautiful children.

Did I know my inner feelings all along? Yes probably, but I refused to recognise it. I believed it was something I could choose, something I had control over. I was wrong! I could not provide the love and care my wife needed or deserved. My realisation of my true feelings became apparent to me but I fought it, I fought hard! This was my family, I was not going to have my kids come from a broken home. I had to hold it together. I had to be better than my father! It wasn’t sustainable though. I was making myself, my wife and ultimately my children unhappy by trying to be something I wasn’t. We split and from Andy’s blogs you know the rest of that story.

Andy & Paul

Andy & Paul

I am very lucky, I would class Sarah as one of my best friends and we do Christmas etc together, with Andy and the kids. We have even been known to go on ‘family’ holidays! I can’t say it was plain sailing and my son had a particularly hard time at school because of it/me! But Andy and I are close to both Sarah and the kids and know we have their love and support. So that brings me to who I am now. I would describe myself as a guarded social chameleon, I will adapt myself to most situations but am ultimately socially awkward when it comes to showing public signs of affection (Who is looking? What will they think?) But I need to get past this! I see HH4E as vitally important to the way forward for all of us. It’s not about whether I feel self conscious about it or ‘it’s not my thing’. It’s about being brave to show support for anyone, should they wish, to be able to hold the hand of someone they care about in any circumstance and be looked upon positively without a second glance. This will only come about by it being the ‘norm’, let us all ‘normalise’ it.
I would go beyond saying take a picture of you holding the hand of your partner or loved one, I would love to see pictures of someone straight taking the hand of someone gay or indeed the hand of someone gay taking the hand of someone straight, plus any combination you can think of as a statement saying ‘I care and am here beside you on this journey’!

Andy and this campaign has brought out the optimist in me.

Let’s all be significant!