Stephen Advocate was my high school therapist. He not only helped prevent my suicide, but he also helped me come to terms with being gay.
I saw him twice a week and walked one mile each way to get to his office, even in the Michigan snow, because he was so important to me during my teenage years. He listened to me, talked with me, and cared about me in ways my family didn’t. He helped me explore my erotic interests, too, and was nonjudgmental, unlike many authority figures back in the seventies.
Over the years, we reconnected several times over the phone, and we finally met again in person 37 years later when he was 80 and I was 54. I told him how he had influenced my decision to become a therapist; that I remembered sitting across from him thinking someday I wanted to be in his seat, helping people with their sexual health the way he helped me. Neither of us could stop crying.
Mr. Advocate also disclosed something he’d been going through around the time we first met, something I hadn’t known about. He had divorced his wife, and she was keeping him from seeing his adolescent son. Having me around back then, he confessed, was like having his son back. Growing up with a father who later abandoned and rejected me, I told Mr. Advocate that he was the father I never had. Our bond was special and intense.
When I became a therapist, I assumed that all teenage clients came regularly and on time. To my surprise, I found that largely wasn’t true. It was unique to me, because I so valued the experiences I had with Mr. Advocate. They were crucial to my later development. Before I decided to pursue therapy, I’d been thinking about becoming a hairstylist, but Mr. Advocate changed the course of who I became. Today, I love what I do, and I’m happy I can make a difference in people’s lives, just as he made a difference in mine.