Robert De Niro’s documentary “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr” is currently airing on HBO, after much publicity. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Festival in January. A notable aspect of this highly personal retrospective is that De Niro shared that his father was gay, and separated from his mother when he was very young.
The deeply personal nature of this revelation, and the appearances that the actor made publicizing the film in which he discusses his relationship with his dad in all candor, resonate with today’s children of mixed orientation marriages. We cannot say this enough – our families matter. Our relationships past and present with our gay spouses and ex spouses matter, as long as there is a family connection. And when a mixed orientation marriage produces children, there remains a family connection. It is not often perfect. But it is there, and it matters.
We live in a society that often views our relationships with gay family members as a judgment on who we are. “My son is inspired to know someone as famous and manly as Robert De Niro also has a gay dad” says Hannah Geraghty, a leader for Straight Spouse Network Australia. “He is trying to feel ‘normal’ and like having a gay dad doesn’t define him as weird or strange.” She continued to say that her son writes stories about adults who have gay parents, and admires De Niro for telling his own story.
De Niro’s story of his relationship with his father is personal. He grew up in New York City’s Little Italy, living with his mother. His father was within walking distance. In those days, homosexuality in a family was not spoken of. He had a loving relationship with his father, but describes that they sometimes were not close. He told OUT Magazine when asked about his father’s homosexuality “Yeah, he probably was [conflicted about being gay], being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate… I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”
De Niro also mentioned to NBC’s Matt Lauer that he did not discuss his dad’s sexual orientation with him, as it was not something that directly affected him as his son. Instead, he focused on the love they had for each other, and the respect he had for his dad, the artist.
In our current era, when gay rights and acceptance of homosexuals have become political statements, it is refreshing that one of the most well respected actors of his generation tells this personal story – and tells it as a personal, human, family story.
Gay people have families. Often they have families with heterosexual people, straight spouses like us. And the family continues. Sometimes it’s loving, sometimes it’s not.
Our children have their own stories. We are deeply appreciative that Robert De Niro has shared his.