For my son, he's the best friend

This report is an interview that the author Wolf Vogel conducted with the mother of a boy. The mother has closely watched her son’s relationship with an adult man for years.

Translated by JUMIMA
Original German text

In the following interview, a mother reports on her son’s love affair with a man, which she has observed closely for years. The family lives in a southern German city.

Question: Your son Tobias has had a love affair with 35-year-old Jean-Claude since he was twelve. When did you first meet your child’s lover?
Mother: Immediately after my son had met him. Tobias had played football with other boys on the soccer field and injured himself so badly that he was bleeding. Jean-Claude had probably watched the boys playing and got a first-aid kit from his car to help Tobias. Then he brought my child home by car. Out of gratitude I invited the man in for a cup of coffee, we chatted a little, and when Jean-Claude said goodbye, naturally I didn’t think that the incident on the soccer field would develop into a real friendship between Jean-Claude and Tobias.

Question: When did you suspect or learn that the encounter between your son and the strange man was not a single occasion?
Mother: At first, I had no idea about it or learned anything about it. Only many weeks later, when Tobias asked to be allowed to invite Jean-Claude, did I realize that the two of them had probably continued to meet. It seemed a little strange to me, because in general it is very rare for a child to bring an adult home with him.

Question: Did you also think that a friendship was developing, a friendship that could also have an erotic side?
Mother: Not at that time. I myself try to deal with my child as unbiased as possible, and Jean-Claude initially seemed like a man with a heart for children. At that point, I had no idea of the eroticism between the two.

Question: Did Tobias tell you further details about Jean-Claude or about the encounters with him?
Mother: Yes, but not that something sexual would have happened. Above all, in Tobias' stories he mostly said that he felt comfortable, that he liked the man. He told me what they had done together, that they were cuddling and that he felt safe with Jean-Claude. My husband had died in a traffic accident when Tobias was eight years old. He missed his father very much. In a way, I could understand when my boy was looking for paternal affection from a substitute father.

Question: Did he tell you in detail what he experienced during the meetings with Jean-Claude, what the two had talked about? Did he speak on his own initiative or did he only answer your questions?
Mother: It was more like this: When we had a quiet moment, I’ve had those occasionally with my boy, when we were alone, then Tobias often started talking about Jean-Claude. About how great it felt to be with him, that he feels that he was really listening and that he could talk to him about everything. Our family situation at that time made it necessary for me to work a lot to ensure our livelihood, and my child was sometimes neglected in some respects. One just doesn’t have unlimited time to listen. You have to push a lot of things away with “not now, later!”.

Question: Were you used to your son discussing everything he had on your mind with you, when there was time, or was this need for communication something new to you?
Mother: No, I was used to it, Tobias actually always did that.

Question: Were there any things in your son’s stories that made you wonder?
Mother: Hm, yes. I have to tell you something about my family. I was raped by my father when I was twelve. Something like that makes you a bit skeptical at first, especially with your only child, when an adult man cares so much about a boy. On the other hand: Through my own negative experience with my father, I naturally observed more closely and found that there were no alarm signals at all in the relationship between my son and the man. Tobias never fell silent or stopped speaking to me about what was moving him, nor did he get somehow agitated or show any change in character. On the contrary: he developed positively, no negative changes. And so I waited a bit. But there was some caution on my part because I had this memory of violence in my head; a wait-and-see caution was there.

Question: What has changed in your son?
Mother: First of all: Jean-Claude was the first man for whom Tobias showed confidence, initially with some containment. Basically he was still in a defensive position, because he still had to find his role towards this substitue father. He had too little experience with men in general to immediately be clear about his feelings. Jean-Claude was the first man with whom he felt an inner trust, whom he trusted. However, Tobias was so emotionally insecure about men that if he thought he felt a fluctuation in the feelings of Jean-Claude he feared that the adult would push him away and in consequence retreat internally. By then I knew something erotic was involved in the relationship. Tobias had spoken to me about that. I also asked: “Is there something he is forcing you to do, or does he say something where you feel you have to do it because he is taking you places or is doing good things for you?” And then came the clear statement from Tobias: “No. I think it’s nice, I think it’s nice when he touches me, and I feel really cozy when he does.” Then I just thought: As long as Tobias feels good, it’s okay, and it was obvious that it was good for him . So I let it happen.

And then came a phase when Tobias grew older, when he was in the middle of puberty and was not quite in agreement with himself. Then he had a time when he couldn’t bear when Jean-Claude even touched him, just by the arm or wherever, without any eroticism. And then came a phase in which he completely withdrew from me, also from Jean-Claude, until I spoke to Tobias and asked what was actually going on.

Tobias said: “It worries me, I don’t like it at the moment, I don’t know why not, but I don’t want to be touched right now.” I asked him: “Have you ever spoken to Jean-Claude about it?” Tobias said: “No.” I asked: “Why not?” He said: “I don’t know myself, and I don’t want to be without him either, and I’m afraid that hurts him.”

Turns out my son was not so much afraid that Jean-Claude would withdraw, but rather he was afraid to hurt his friend.

I said to Tobias: “You know – you have had such a great relationship of trust for a long time, and if you want it to continue to exist and you want Jean-Claude to continue to trust you, then you have to go to your friend and be open, too.” He then took heart and spoke to Jean-Claude and came back with immense relief. In my opinion, that episode really strengthened the relationship.

Question: So your son was really afraid of losing his adult friend, but also of hurting him?
Mother: He was mostly afraid of hurting him. That was his greatest fear.

Question: If the adult at this point, for whatever reason, had broken off this relationship, would this have affected your son profoundly?
Mother: Oh yes, for sure. That would have been pretty much the worst thing for Tobias.

Question: Did you ever feel that during the relationship your son was afraid that the adult could end the friendship?
Mother: No, never. Tobias had so much faith in Jean-Claude’s sincerity – no, my son wasn’t afraid. He probably was afraid that he might somehow hurt Jean-Claude’s feelings.

Question: Did he involve you in the development of his friendship with Jean-Claude?
Mother: Yes, right from the start.

Question: Has Jean-Claude ever asked you for advice on this relationship?
Mother: Yes. If he was emotionally unsure whether he treated Tobias right or whether he made the right decision in important matters relating to Tobias – then he actually came to me and asked me for advice.

Question: How did the friendship between your son and the grown man evolve?
Mother: Jean-Claude invited Tobias over the weekend. They did a lot together, went on excursions, visited sights that interested Tobias. He took him on vacation and asked me beforehand if Tobias was allowed to join and if the trip would fit into our planning. I basically asked Tobias what he wanted to do, and then the answer came mostly that he wanted to go with Jean-Claude. I agreed, although at first I had difficulties with the fact that he preferred to do something with a stranger rather than with me.

Question: Were you a little jealous of Jean-Claude?
Mother: Yes, a bit, because I had been a single parent for a few years after the death of my husband and all my fervor was about my only child. That a child would rather do something with someone else and you can do nothing about it – that was of course a little frustrating. As a mother, it took me a while to deal with it. But I think to myself: if you notice that your child develops positively in the family, that the friendship with this other person changes the relationship with the mother to the positive, then everything becomes easier. In addition, the relationship between Tobias and me developed from a pure mother-child relationship into a more friendly relationship, and that was certainly owed to Jean-Claude.

Question: As a mother, did you also want to give something back to the adult who did so much for your child, for example through invitations?
Mother: I have invited Jean-Claude many times, but not because of the desire to repay debt, but because I have also developed friendly feelings towards him over time. At first it was gratitude because he gave my son so much, but later, through conversations we had when he brought Tobias back or through his concern for my worries, I learned to appreciate him in other ways.

He was also absolutely in solidarity with me: If something was not allowed for Tobias at home, for example, and my son tried to play us off against one another, Jean-Claude said very clearly to Tobias: “If by what you get from me you make your mother’s life difficult, then I’ll only talk to her about when you may come here, from now on.” Jean-Claude has always tried to help me with his upbringing.

Question: Was there anyone who was jealous of the friendship between Tobias and Jean-Claude?
Mother: During the friendship, my partner at the time and current husband moved into my apartment. Of course I told him about Tobias’s friendship, because there had to be an explanation why a strange man came into the house so often. My husband came from a very conservative family and therefore had his concerns. But he said: “If you think that it is OK and this friendship has a good influence on Tobias, then I have no problems with it.” But my husband was still observant at the beginning, he couldn’t really deal with the love relationship. But that has changed completely over time and my husband has a deep friendship with Jean-Claude today.

Question: Have you ever been invited to Jean-Claude’s apartment?
Mother: Yes, often. It enabled me to see how he lived, and it made me feel more reassured. I was able to push the thought away that Jean-Claude would have to scrimp and save everything that he does with Tobias – a thought that I have had because of my own financial situation.

I found to be a proof of openness above all. As a mother, you get the feeling that you are not cut off from the information, and that is very good in such a situation.

Question: It is certainly tempting for a mother to look around the stranger’s apartment to see whether her son has landed in a den of vice. What were your impressions?
Mother: (laughs) No, I didn’t go there with such feelings, because at that point I had already discussed so much with Jean-Claude; besides, I never had the feeling that he was hiding anything from me. I always received open answers to open questions. That’s why I didn’t worry about a den of vice.

Question: How did the friendship between Tobias and Jean-Claude continue?
Mother: After my son had signaled that he wanted to keep more of a distance from his friend, Jean-Claude said to him: “Then only come to me if you feel the need for it.”

After that there was a pause for a few weeks, that is, Tobias didn’t go to visit him. But soon the desire to go back to his grown-up friend returned because he knew he was really free in his decisions. From then on Tobias had a strong need to deepen the friendship. He also had a strong need for Jean-Claude to come to our house when Tobias was unable to go to his friend for the weekend. Seen from a distance, I think: the openness between the two has deepened the friendship even more: Tobias needed friendship more than ever, so to speak, like the air to breathe.

Question: Doesn’t the friendship of a pubescent boy to a man create a dependency?
Mother: No, definitely not. Certainly not if the relationship works the way it did for the two.

Question: Does the relationship continue or is it over?
Mother: It continues, stronger than before, and I’m sure it will last a lifetime.

Question: How old is your son today?
Mother: Tobias is now nineteen.

Question: Let’s assume that you didn’t have a boy, but a girl. What do you think about it when you imagine that your daughter would have had or would have a similar friendship with an adult, that is, a man or a woman?
Mother: Positive, if such friendships had the same positive effect on my daughter’s personality as on Tobias. As long as there is no violence, as long as the children like it and they are happy with it, it is irrelevant to me whether they are with a man or with a woman, with a 15-year-old or a 40-year-old.

Question: Is Jean-Claude something like Tobias' big friend?
Mother: Yes, definitely. For Tobias he is the best friend, although he also maintains friendships with boys of his age.

But Jean-Claude is the friend to whom Tobias has the greatest confidence and affection.

Question: Some parents are afraid that an erotic friendship with a man could make their son homosexual. What do you think about that?
Mother: I never had this fear. After all, children become homosexual even when they have no relationships with men.

Question: So it wouldn’t have bothered you if your son came to you one day and said: “Mommy, I’m gay”?
Mother: No, definitely not. As long as my son is happy, I could also accept a gay partner [sic!].

Question: Do Tobias' girlfriends know about his love affair with Jean-Claude?
Mother: Yes. I advised my son to tell them after a while. I think to myself: a boy cannot lie intimately and confidently in bed with a girl and at some point, when an adult man appears in the family, deny the relationship that adult has with the family.

Question: Does your son tell you about his erotic experiences with girls?
Mother: Well, not in detail. But when we talk about sexuality in the family, for example, and my husband and I sometimes touch intimate things, he also talks about his encounters, and sometimes quite openly. It depends on the mood. Tobias once told me that he also wants to have sex with a mature woman. I think this wish is strongly influenced by the loving and considerate way in which Jean-Claude treated him. He also wants to experience that with a woman.

Question: If you look back on the friendship between Tobias and Jean-Claude so far – what positive things do you see as a mother?
Mother: First of all, that Tobias has become very confident, that he doesn’t overestimate himself, but has learned to judge his strengths correctly, that he is more aware of many things that fly past among some young people of his age. By talking to Jean-Claude, he can talk not only about relationships, but about everything. He sees the world around him much more consciously, he thinks much more about things than before. And he dares to confidently decide against something.

For example, he used to be very afraid of going to high school. Although his academic performance was good, he missed the transition to high school due to these self-doubts, he finally wanted to go, but the teachers blocked his way and said that it was no longer possible to change schools. Thanks to the initiative of Jean-Claude, who tried very hard and wrote to all kinds of institutions, Tobias was finally accepted into a high school. He has dropped in academic achievements either because he has learned to trust his skills. Then, although he could have studied and we as parents would have encouraged it, he opted for vocational training with the same self-confidence. The conclusion from this relationship with Jean-Claude is that Tobias has become a self-confident person, who trusts his abilities, is considerate of others, and is very sensitive.

Question: Wouldn’t he have become a man without friendship?
Mother: No, I am quite convinced of that. Tobias was far too unsettled by the loss of his biological father, especially at a time when he would have needed a father. And as a mother I probably tried to do too much of a good thing and let the reins slide. This caused Tobias to fall into a hole and no longer know who he felt close to.

Question: What advice does a mother, whose son has had a love affair with an adult for several years, give to other mothers, whose children may have a friendship with an adult?
Mother: In any case allow friendship, establish and develop contact with the adult, also for yourself, so that you can be sure that nothing violent is going on in the relationship. Parents should watch these relationships carefully. If you are sure that there is no violence, you should definitely support the relationship, but also keep the contact with the adult.

Question: Do you think that parents notice – perhaps not open but rather hidden – when violence plays a role?
Mother: That would be noticed by any mother who takes good care of her child. In any case. And not just physical, but also emotional violence.

Question: Do you find it difficult to talk about these things?
Mother: No, not at all. On the contrary: I think that if mothers don’t talk about such things, they also deteriorate their relationship with their own children who live in such a relationship. This can very quickly destroy a relationship – either the relationship between mother and child or vice versa, or it can break the child because it is constantly torn between two worlds.

Question: During the relationship between Tobias and Jean-Claude, did you have any adult people with whom you could talk about this friendship?
Mother: Yes, a few people. I don’t mind talking about things like that, but you just can’t tell many people. You cannot argue with people who have preconceived ideas about what to do or not to do because they are unwilling to open up. I talk to people who are a bit more tolerant about it.

Question: Were you sometimes afraid that your less liberal environment could find out about this relationship and think negatively about it?
Mother: I don’t really care about what people think.

Question: Since this relationship also had a sexual aspect, it was not entirely safe for your son’s adult partner. The law prohibits most such love relationships. In your opinion, should this ban be reduced?
Mother: Yes. In my opinion, primarily the children should be asked and allowed to make decisions. If the children feel comfortable in such relationships and if they are neither forced nor coerced to do anything, then such relationships should be allowed. Knowing how my own son has changed in a positive way would have made me ready to deny the sexual aspect at any time if it had become dangerous for Jean-Claude.

Question: Based on your experience, can children decide whether what they like is actually good for them?
Mother: Yes, very well. Children are able to decide what is good for them. They can do that in other areas too; why shouldn’t they be able to do it in sexual matters?

Question: In your opinion, is there a minimum age for sexual relationships?
Mother: (hesitates) No - not really.

Question: Does this mean that the adult has to be very sensitive to recognize and respect the child’s will?
Mother: Yes, sure. But above all: It has to result from the relationship itself, otherwise I would never tolerate the relationship.

Question: Do children need adults?
Mother: Yes, definitely.

Question: In all areas? Also in the erotic area?
Mother: If children want it and it feels good for them – yes.

Question: That means the children should decide?
Mother: Yes, primarily the children should decide.