BIL needs to gay-man-up and admit the truth to himself and the rest of his family and start the healing process. That’s obvious. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can talk him into it (we’re not close), and my sister is left holding this terrible secret while her bewildered kids watch their parents’ marriage crumble with no clue why. I think the kids deserve the truth, and that neither my sister nor the kids can start to heal until that happens. If BIL won’t do the right thing, my sister is going to have to tell them the truth. What can I do to help her with this? She’s awfully fragile right now and I don’t want to pressure her and I can’t tell the kids without causing a big stink. But dammit, Dan, someone needs to start speaking some truth in that house.
Secret second families — and a secret boyfriend of four years counts — aren’t secrets that keep. So your nephews are gonna find out about dad’s boyfriend sooner or later, DGBIL, and sooner is definitely better. Because in the absence of the actual reason why their parents are splitting up — in the absence of the truth — they’re likely to come up with alternate explanations that are far worse. And when they inevitably discover the real reason, your nephews’ anger at having been lied to or left in the dark will reopen the wounds.
Backing way the hell up: seeing as BIL actively wooed and “was clearly in love with” your sister, and seeing as he successfully scrambled his DNA together with hers four times and remained married to her for two decades, DGBIL, I don’t think BIL is a closeted gay man. My money’s on closeted bisexual man.
I shall now say something that will delight my bisexual readers: I’m sure you’d like to live in a world where everyone is out, DGBIL, or, even better, a world where no one ever had to be in. But in the world we live in now, bisexuals are far less likely to be out than gays and lesbians, DGBIL, and the belief that a guy is either gay or straight keeps many bisexual guys closeted. Because if a bisexual guy who’s married to a woman knows he’s going to be seen as gay if he tells the truth — if no one will ever believe he loved his wife or wanted all those kids — he’s unlikely to ever come out. So you can’t fault BIL for not being out, DGBIL, when it’s attitudes like yours that keep bi guys closeted in the first place.
I shall now say something that will piss off my bisexual readers: a family-minded bi guy can have almost everything he wants — spouse, house, kids — without ever having to come out so long as that bi guy winds up with an opposite-sex partner. Coming out is a difficult conversation and it’s one many bi people choose to avoid. And who can blame them? I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of telling my mom I put dicks in my mouth, but it was a conversation I couldn’t avoid. Faced with the choice between telling my mother the truth and possibly being rejected by her and thereby losing her or cutting her out of my life in order to keep my secret and definitely losing her, I chose to tell her the truth. If I’d been, say, your average hetero-romantic bisexual man instead of a huge homo — if I enjoyed sex with men and women but only fell in love with women — I could’ve avoided coming out to her and very well might have.
Back to your nephews, DGBIL: they should be told the truth but you shouldn’t be the one to tell them. Their parents should. Sit down with your sister and make the argument I did above: Yes, your kids are upset about the divorce and it will add to their upset to learn their father is in a relationship with a man. But they’re going to be angry about being lied to when they inevitably find out. And if she’s keeping this secret solely at BIL’s request, well, he can’t ask that of her if doing so will damage her relationship with her kids. I don’t think she should immediately out BIL, but she can and should let him know that she will have to tell the children if he doesn’t. You should have a conversation with BIL. Open it by telling him that life is long, marriages are complicated, and that you know he loved your sister. But to stick the dismount here — to end his marriage without destroying his relationship with his kids — he can’t hide from them. If he doesn’t want to tell his boys about his boyfriend because he fears he might lose them, DGBIL, then he’ll have to cut his kids out of his life — and that means losing them for sure. And then butt the fuck out.