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three pairs of lovers with space

“HE’S MY SON’S BEST FRIEND”
BY WOLF VOGEL

 

This is the eighth chapter of Secret Love: Eros between Boy and Man (2022), an anonymous translation of Wolf Vogel’s  Heimliche Liebe: Eros zwischen Knabe und Mann (Hamburg: John & Ernst, 1997).

 

In the following interview, a mother reports on her son’s romantic relationship with a man which she has been keenly observing for several years now. The family lives in a city in southern Germany.

Question:  Since your son was twelve years old, he’s had a romantic relationship with 35-year-old Jean-Claude. When did you first become acquainted with your son’s lover?

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Mother: Right after my son met him. Tobias was playing soccer with some other boys, when he injured himself so severely that he was bleeding. Jean-Claude must’ve been watching the boys play, and fetched a first-aid kit from his car in order to bandage up Tobias. Then he gave my child a ride back home. Out of gratefulness I invited the man in for a cup of coffee; we chatted a bit, and as Jean-Claude said goodbye, I of course had no idea that—out of this incident on the soccer field—a real friendship between Jean-Claude and Tobias would develop.

Question:  Okay. Then, when did you suspect or discover that the encounter between your son and this stranger wasn’t just a one time thing?

Mother: At first, I neither suspected nor discovered anything about it. It was only several weeks later, when Tobias asked if Jean-Claude could be invited over again, that I became aware that the two of them must have been meeting up since that time. This struck me as a bit odd because, generally speaking, of course it’s not everyday that your own child brings home an adult stranger.

Question:  At that time, did it perhaps also cross your mind that this friendship might also be paving the way to a possible erotic aspect later on?

Mother:  At that time, not yet. I myself strive—in so far as possible—to not inhibit my son, and Jean-Claude seemed to me first of all like a man with a soft spot for children. At that point, I hadn’t given any thought to eroticism between the two of them.

Question: As things developed, did Tobias tell you more details about Jean-Claude or his get-togethers with him?

Mother: Yes, but not that something sexual played a role. From Tobias’ accounts, I got above all the impression that he was happy, that he liked the man. He told me what they’d done together, and probably also that they’d cuddled with each other, and that he felt safe with Jean-Claude. My husband died in a car crash when Tobias was eight years old. Therefore, in some way I could understand how my boy would seek out the customary fatherly affection from a substitute-father.

QuestionHas he told you any specifics about what he’s experienced in his get-togethers with Jean-Claude, or what the two have talked about? Has he shared these things spontaneously, or only after questions were posed to him?

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Mother:  Well, it was more along the following lines: when we had a quiet moment, which I had with my boy from time to time, so that we were alone, then Tobias would often start talking about Jean-Claude, how happy he was around him, that he would listen to Tobias, and that Tobias could talk about anything with him. At that time, our familial situation made it necessary for me to work a lot, in order to keep the household going, which undoubtedly meant that sometimes, my child’s interests got rather short shrift. Because you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to listen. Of course, you dismiss a lot of stuff with “not now—later!”

Question: Were you accustomed to—insofar as time permitted—discussing with your son everything that was on his mind, or was this need to talk with other people something new to you?

Mother:  No, I was used to it; Tobias has actually always been that way.

Question:  Did your son’s accounts also include things which made you suspicious?

MotherHmm... yeah. Here, I need to say something about my own experiences growing up. As a twelve year old girl, I was raped by my father. Here one is—especially with an only child—first of all a bit skeptical, when a grown man is so involved with a boy. On the other hand: Because of my own negative experience with my father, I was of course keenly observing everything; but as far as my son’s relationship with this man was concerned, there really weren’t any alarm bells going off in my head. It’s not as if Tobias suddenly fell silent and was no longer talking about what was of concern to him; nor did he show any sort of nervousness or change in personality. Quite the contrary: He developed positively; therefore, no negative changes whatsoever. And that’s why I took a wait-and-see approach. But a certain wariness on my part was already there, because I had this notion of power in my head; so, a wait-and-see approach.

Question:  What changes did you see in your son?

Mother:  First of all, Jean-Claude was the first man Tobias trusted, although of course cautiously at first. He was basically still defensive, because of course he had yet to find his role with regard to this substitute-father. He’d had too little experience with men in general for his feelings to be clear right away. Jean-Claude was the first man he sensed he could trust, who he came to trust. And yet, instinctively Tobias was so insecure when it came to men that, when he thought he sensed a change in Jean-Claude’s feelings, he feared the grown-up would reject him, which would then cause him to withdraw into himself.

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In the meantime, I realized that there was some eroticism involved in the relationship. Tobias had spoken to me about it. I had even asked: “Has he compelled you to do anything, or has he said anything, where you had the feeling, you had to do this now, because he gave you a lift or did something else on your behalf?”And then came the unambiguous statement from Tobias: “No. I find this nice, and I also think it’s nice when he touches me, and then it’s really cozy.” At that point I just thought: As long as Tobias is happy, that’s fine, and it was obviously good for him. And so I let it go.

And then there came a phase, when Tobias got older, midway through puberty, when he had a bit of internal conflict going on—when he had a period in which he couldn’t even stand Jean-Claude touching him, even just on the arm or wherever, non-sexually. And then there came a phase where he withdrew completely, even from me, also with regard to Jean-Claude, until one time, I spoke with Tobias, and asked what was actually going on with him.

Tobias said: “It depresses me, I don’t like it at the moment, I don’t know why but right now I just don t want to be touched.”

I asked him: “Well: have you spoken with Jean-Claude about this?”

Tobias said: “No.”

I asked: “Well, why not?”

He said: “I don’t know myself, and I also do not want to be without him, and I feared this would hurt him.”

And so, my son was afraid not so much of Jean-Claude perhaps pulling away, but rather, of hurting or offending his friend.

Then I said to Tobias: “You know—you’ve already had such mutual trust between each other for so long, and if you want it to continue, and also that Jean-Claude will continue to have trust in you, then you must also be open with your friend.” Then he took heart, spoke with Jean-Claude, and returned very much relieved. In my opinion, this made the relationship even stronger.

Question:  So, your son had a real fear of losing his adult friend, but also, of hurting him?

Mother:  He was mainly afraid of hurting him. This was his biggest fear.

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QuestionIf, at this point, the adult had broken off the relationship for whatever reason, would your son have been deeply affected by this?

Mother:  Oh yes, most certainly. This would more or less have really been the worst thing that could’ve happened to Tobias.

Question:  During the period of the relationship, have you ever had the feeling that your son really was afraid that the adult might end the friendship?

Mother:  No, never. Tobias had so much trust in Jean-Claude’s sincerity—no, my son wasn’t afraid of that. What he feared first of all was hurting Jean-Claude’s feelings.

Question:  Did he include you in the evolution of the friendship with Jean-Claude?

Mother:  Yes, from the very beginning.

QuestionHas Jean-Claude ever asked you for advice with regard to the relationship?

MotherYes. When he was uncertain as to whether he had treated Tobias properly, whether he had decided correctly in important matters which concerned Tobias, then he actually did come to me and ask for advice.

Question:  How is the friendship between your son and the adult man going now?

Mother: Jean-Claude has invited Tobias to spend the weekend with him. They’ve done a lot together, gone on trips, gone sightseeing, which Tobias is interested in. He’s vacationed with him, asking me beforehand if Tobias would be allowed to come along, and whether the trip fit in with our plans. I’ve basically asked Tobias what he’d like to do, at which point he usually responds that he wants to go with Jean-Claude. I’ve given my approval, although I initially had a problem with the fact that he’d rather do something with an outsider than with me.

Question:  Were you a little jealous of Jean-Claude?

Mother:  Yes, sometimes, because following the death of my husband I was single for several years, and poured everything I had into my child. The fact that a child would then rather do something with someone else when you’ve just bent over backwards for him—this was of course a bit frustrating. So, first I had to deal with that as a mother. But then I thought: When you realize that your own child has also developed positively within the family, that because of the friendship with this other person even the relationship with mom has changed for the better, then it makes everything easier.There is also the fact that the relationship between Tobias and me has evolved from a purely mother-child relationship into more of a friendly relationship, and this is certainly thanks to Jean-Claude.

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Question:  As a mother, do you also have a desire to give something back to the adult who has done so much for your child, perhaps by having him over?

Mother:  I’ve often invited Jean-Claude over, not out of a desire to atone for my sins, but rather because, over time, I’ve also developed friendly feelings towards him. At first it was gratitude, because he’d given my son so much; but later, through conversations, when he brought Tobias back, and because he sympathized with my concerns, I also learned to appreciate him in other ways. He has also shown complete solidarity with me: For example, when Tobias didn’t get his way at home, and because of that Tobias then tried to play us off one another, Jean-Claude told Tobias quite clearly: “If your mother’s life is made difficult because of something you’re doing with me, then when you come over, I’ll just make an arrangement with your mother.” Jean-Claude has always tried to help me with Tobias’ upbringing as well.

QuestionHas there been anyone else who has been jealous of the friendship between Tobias and Jean-Claude?

Mother: During the friendship, my partner at the time—now husband—moved in with us. Of course I told him about Tobias’ friendship, because I had to give an explanation as to why a strange man came into the house so often. My husband was raised in a very conservative home, and therefore definitely had reservations of his own. However, he said: “If you think and believe that this friendship has a good influence on Tobias, then I have no problem with it.” Nevertheless, at the beginning, my husband was wary; he really didn’t know how to deal with the relationship. However over the course of time this changed completely, and today, my husband has deep feelings of friendship for Jean-Claude.

Question:  Have you been invited to Jean-Claude’s home?

MotherYes, even more often. That’s how I was able to see how he lives, and this helped to reassure me even more. I was able to dispel any notion that Jean-Claude had to scrimp and save for everything he did with Tobias—a thought which I already had due to my own financial situation. But above all, I saw these invitations as evidence of openness. As a mother, you get the feeling that nothing is being held back from you, which is a really good thing in situations like this.

Question:  It certainly does a mother’s heart good to be able to inconspicuously get a closer look at the outsider-adult’s home, in order to see if your son’s landed in some den of iniquity, What were your impressions?

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Mother(Laughs). No, in no way did I have any feelings along those lines, because by this point, I’d already spoken with Jean-Claude a great deal; anyway, I never had a sense that he was hiding anything from me. I’ve always gotten frank answers to frank questions. Because of that, I wasn’t worried about some den of iniquity.

Question:  How is the friendship between Tobias and Jean-Claude going now?

MotherAfter my son signaled that he wanted to put some distance between himself and his friend, Jean-Claude said to him: “In that case, only come to me when you feel the need to.”

Then things were quiet for a few weeks: that is to say, Tobias didn’t go over to see him. But there soon came a desire to again go to his adult friend, because he wanted to be free to make his own decisions. From this time forward, Tobias has had a strong need to deepen the friendship. And when Tobias was prevented from spending the weekend with his friend, he also had a strong need to have Jean-Claude over at our house. From the perspective of hindsight, I believe that the frankness between the two is precisely what strengthened the friendship. Better yet: Tobias made the friendship stronger than over, like a breath of fresh air so to speak.

Question:  Doesn’t a pubertal boy’s friendship with a man foster dependence?

Mother:  No, not at all. Certainly not, when the relationship plays out in a way that both of them had a hand in deciding.

Question:  Does the relationship continue to exist or has it ended?

Mother:  It continues on, stronger than ever, and I am sure that it will last a lifetime.

Question:  How old is your son now?

Mother:  Tobias is now nineteen.

QuestionNow, let’s imagine you’d had a girl instead of a boy. What would you think if a situation were presented to you in which your daughter had—or still has—a similar friendship with an adult, be it a man or a woman?

Mother:  I would think it was a good thing, to the extent that such a friendship had positively effected my daughter in the same ways. So long as there was no force or violence involved, so long as the child liked it and was happy about it, it would be irrelevant to me whether she were with a man or a woman, with a 15-year-old or a forty-year-old.

Question:  So, is Jean-Claude something along the lines of a close friend of Tobias?

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MotherYes, in every way. He is Tobias’ best friend, althoughTobias also maintains friendships with people closer to his own age. But Jean-Claude is the friend in whom he has the most trust and for whom he has the greatest affection.

Question:  From time to time, many parents fear that through an erotic friendship with a man, their son could become homosexual. What do you think about that?

Mother:  I’ve never had that fear. After all, even children who do not have relationships with men are homosexual.

Question:  So, it wouldn’t bother you if one day, your son came to you and said: “Mom, I’m gay”?

Mother:  No, not at all. So long as my son is happy, I could accept a gay partner as well.

Question:  Do Tobias’ female friends know about Tobias’relationship with Jean-Claude?

Mother:  Yes. I have personally advised my son—after a certain period of time has gone by—to tell them about it. My thinking was as follows: Of course, if a boy is laying in bed intimately with—and filled with trust for—a girl and the topic of an adult man in the family comes up, he can’t deny the nature of the adult’s connection to the family.

Question:  Does your son tell you about his erotic experiences with girls?

MotherWell, not in detail. But when, for example, we talk about sexuality in the family, and my husband and I also touch on intimate matters, he also discusses his own encounters, sometimes quite frankly. This even livens things up a bit.

One time, Tobias told me that he also has a strong desire to have sex with a mature woman. I think this desire has a lot to do with the loving and considerate way that Jean-Claude treats him. He may want to also experience this with a woman.

Question:  When you look back on the friendship which has existed between Tobias and Jean-Claude up to this point, what positive things have come out of it?

Mother:  First, that Tobias has become a lot more self-confident; although he does not overestimate his power, he has learned to assess it correctly; he is much more aware of what is passing many youth of a similar age by. Because of the conversations he’s had with Jean-Claude, he can talk not only about relationships, but also about anything and everything under the sun. He is far more conscious of the world around him; he does a lot more thinking than he did before. And he has the self-assuredness and the self-confidence also to decide not to do something.

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For example, he dreaded attending a gymnasium.[1] Although his scholastic performance was good, due to this self-doubt, he missed out on the transition to the gymnasium; in the end, however, he really did want to go, but the teacher ruined his prospects and said that a change of schools was now no longer possible. Through the initiative of Jean-Claude, who went to a great deal of trouble and wrote to every conceivable authority, in the end, we were successful in getting Tobias accepted into a gymnasium. Also, because he has learned to trust in his own ability, his performance has not dropped off. Although he would have done quite well with his studies there, and we parents would have supported this, he nevertheless decided at that point—with the same self-confidence—to pursue a vocational training (apprenticeship) program.

The result of this relationship with Jean-Claude is that Tobias has become a self-confident person, trusts his abilities, shows consideration toward others, and is very sensitive.]

Question:  Wouldn’t this have been the case even in the absence of a friendship with this man?

Mother:  I’m firmly convinced that the answer to that is no. Tobias was far too shaken by the loss of his biological father, at precisely the time he most needed a father. And I, as a mother, have probably tried too hard to be the ‘good guy,’ and have given him too much free rein. Because of all of this Tobias had fallen through the cracks, and no longer knew whom he felt close to.

QuestionWhat advice would a mother whose son had a years long intimate relationship with an adult give to other mothers whose children might find a friendship with an adult appealing?

Mother:  Never stand in the way of the friendship, establish and strengthen contact with the grown-up person, also on your own part, so you’ll be sure this relationship has nothing whatsoever to do with force or violence. Without a doubt, parents should carefully monitor such relationships. When they are certain that no force or violence is involved, they should always support these relationships, including contacts with the adult.

QuestionDo you believe that parents will know—perhaps not consciously, but rather, subconsciously—when force or violence play a role?

MotherAny mother who is concerned about her child will notice. Without exception. Actually, not just physical, but also emotional force or violence.

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Question:  Is it difficult for you to talk about these things?

Mother:  No, not at all. Quite the opposite: I think that, when a mother does not talk about such things, it also hampers her relationships with her own children, who are carrying on such relationships. This can very quickly wreck a relationship—either the mother’s connection to the child or vice versa; or, it could break the child, because he or she is constantly straddling two different worlds.

Question:  During the relationship between Tobias and Jean-Claude, have you been able to discuss this friendship with other adults as well?

Mother:  Yes, certain people. It’s no big deal for me to talk about such things, but there are many people you simply cannot say anything to. You can’t discuss it with people who have preconceived ideas about what one should do or allow concerning this, because they are not prepared to be open-minded. But I talk about this just fine with people who are a bit more tolerant.

Question:  Do you, from time to time, fear that your not very liberal surroundings could find out about this relationship and have a negative view of it?

Mother:  It really doesn’t matter to me what other people think.

Question:  Because this relationship also had a sexual aspect, it was not entirely without its dangers as far as your son’s adult partner was concerned. The law forbids most sexual relationships of this sort. In your opinion, would this prohibition need to be relaxed?

Mother:  Yes. In my opinion, first and foremost, the children themselves should be asked, and must be allowed to decide for themselves. When children are happy in such relationships, and they are neither pushed nor forced into anything, then such relationships should be permitted. Because I know how positively my own son has been changed by it, I would never have had any problem denying there was any sexual aspect to it, if doing otherwise would have been dangerous for Jean-Claude.

Question:  Based on your experience, are children able to decide whether they like something, or even if it’s good?

Mother:  Yes, quite well. Children are in a very good position to decide what’s best for them. So they’re able to do this in other areas: why shouldn’t they be able to do it in the sexual sphere?

Question:  Is there—in your opinion—a minimum age for sexual relations?

Mother: (Hesitating) No—not really.

Question:  Does this mean that the adult must use great sensitivity in order to discern and respect the child’s will?

Mother:  Yes, of course. But above all: This must emerge out of the relationship itself; otherwise, I would, of course, have never tolerated the relationship.

Question:  Do children need adults?

Mother:  Yes, always.

Question:  In all areas? Even in the sexual sphere?

Mother:  When children like it and it is good for them—yes.

Question:  That means that children should decide?

Mother:  Yes, first and foremost, children should decide.

 

[1] In Germany, upon completion of primary school, young people typically branch off into one of two tracks: the ‘gymnasium,’ which is a secondary school specializing in one ofseveral areas, or, vocational training/apprenticeship. It should also be noted that the latter would not be associated with the same ‘stigma’ that often accompanies vocational training in the United States; well-paying jobs usually await them upon completion of their apprenticeships. [Translator’s note]