There was a chasm between him and his son, and Kevin Newman knew it.
The award-winning anchorman had led an ambitious – read: busy – career. His son was a teenager at the time, hard to reach, and struggling with his sexuality.
“My assumption was, once he came out, it would be a great relief and whatever tension was between us would begin to melt away. I was completely accepting of him,” said Newman, BA’81 (Political Science), of his now 28-year-old son, Alex.
“The epiphany for me, at the time, was thinking I had more credit in his bank than I actually had. I thought being a father meant being physically affectionate, telling your kids you love them, providing for them and giving them a better chance at a future than you had,” he added.
“But it turned out Alex wanted much more than that from me. And he didn’t really know me, didn’t have an appreciation of me as a man, certainly, and didn’t feel like I could be counted on as a father.”
Newman and his son address this relational strain, and its eventual resolution, in a new book, All Out: A Father and Son Confront the Hard Truths That Made Them Better Men, which hits the shelves Tuesday, Oct. 6. The joint memoir is an honest product of two years spent reflecting and writing – first alone, then together, Newman said.
“I had to open up a lot of boxes I had put on the shelf,” Newman said. “It’s not just about Alex coming out; it’s more of a career memoir with half of it being turned to my son. I hate career memoirs just about careers. There are people with good careers but there’s collateral damage in the family usually, and I wanted to have an opportunity to talk about that.”
Those early years, after Alex came out at the age of 17, were lonely and isolating for them both. Alex felt he couldn’t talk to his father; Newman felt he had no external resources, no other parents he could relate and turn to for guidance.
And if he were being honest, he’d say it took writing the book with Alex to realize how many times, and in which situations, he failed as a father.
“It opened up a lot of pain, new perspectives, and I began to realize that my ambition had taken a lot from my family and from me,” Newman noted.
“I’m reading mostly the memories of a teenager – even though he’s an adult now. Teenage memories don’t have the wisdom of time or thought; they’re instinctual,” he said of the chapters Alex wrote on his own before the two met to write together.
“The most troubling thing I learned is, I was never fully aware of the degree of bullying Alex had endured. As a father, to me, that was a terrible failure. He hid it from us because he was ashamed of it, and I wasn’t around enough to pick up the signs.”
Turned out, Alex had also built up his successful father as someone who was contained and controlled, and that made him feel more insecure. Alex didn’t have a window into his father as a vulnerable human being and being vulnerable as a parent can be a good teaching tool because even adults are uncertain and insecure.
“We had a sort of parallel journey of coming to our own conclusions about what it means to be a man. For me, it was mostly through my career. I was co-host of Good Morning America for a while, and that was an experience where I learned if you don’t fight to be yourself in life, and not what other people project onto you, then you end up crippling your own development. It took me until I was 40 to learn that,” Newman explained.
“Alex had his crucial moment much younger, at 17, where society’s definition of what they expect from you is pushed aside, and you declare, ‘This is who I am.’ Standing up to be your own man – I think that’s what we shared and realized each other had gone through.”
Newman’s expectations as a father were to prepare his son to avoid the hurts of his own childhood. That meant he wanted Alex to be sporty and popular, and to avoid teasing. Alex thought this meant he was expected to fit a certain type of masculine mould.
“The great irony of his life is having the guts to admit his sexuality made him the kind of man I always wished he’d be. He’s now confident, athletic, has a good group of friends. He’s adventurous and has all the qualities I hoped he would as a man,” Newman said.
“By opening my story up, and being vulnerable and admitting various mistakes I made in parenting Alex, it’s allowed Alex and I to get closer. Our higher hope is, by exposing our story, our mistakes, and ourselves, and frankly, the homophobia I had, we can begin to break down one of the final barriers here and that’s the conversation between fathers and their gay kids.”
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An evening with Kevin and Alex Newman
Join Western alumnus Kevin Newman, BA’81 and his son Alex Newman at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Museum London, Community Gallery Room, 421 Ridout St N., as they discuss their new book All Out. Registration is $25 and includes a copy of All Out.