Toronto·Metro Morning

From coming out to partners in parenting: Ex-spouses on their do-over

Janine Cole's life changed instantly last fall when her husband announced "I'm gay" over breakfast — ending their 21 year marriage.

'We just knew we had to protect our kids,' Mike Cook says

Janine Cole, right, says her do-over came last fall when her husband of 20 years, Mike Cook, told her he was gay. (Submitted by Janine Cole)

Janine Cole's life changed instantly last fall when her husband announced "I'm gay" over breakfast — ending their 21- year marriage. 

"Everything left my mind and I went on autopilot," she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"We were expecting 10 nine-year-olds at the time, we were hosting our daughter's book club ... and I think I just went into autopilot mode of just getting the kids ready, getting through the day, which is what we had kind of been doing for the last couple of years."

Cole's husband, Mike Cook, had disclosed his growing attraction to men two years before the morning revelation.

"This attraction, this realization really picked up speed and I couldn't ignore it — and I had been," said Cook on Friday.

"I had sort of been screaming at the top of my lungs inside of my head for months and not sleeping and losing weight, just sort of agonizing over how do I do this?"

'It came out of left field for everybody'

The next step was figuring out how to tell their three children.

"We were celebrating the fact that Mike was gay and that he accepted that, but at the same time that meant sadness because our family as we know it, and had known it, was to change," Cole explained.  

Cook describes his coming out experience as "odd" because once he acknowledged that part of himself, things moved quickly, including their separation.   

"As I sort of faced it and admitted it and came out, I became freer, but I kept feeling like I was pulling rugs out from other people left, right and centre — Janine, our friends, our family — it came out of left field for everybody," he said. 

When they finally sat their children down, they handled the news well, the couple said. 

"They were awesome," said Cook. "Our two little guys, they're too young to understand the sexuality piece. It wasn't until I moved out and they'd come into Janine's room in the morning and said, 'Where's dad?'" 

'This is the new us'

As for their friends, Cook said it wasn't as hard to tell them as he originally anticipated because he had Cole's support.  

"Once the decision was made, there was no bitterness, there was no acrimony. We just knew we had to protect our kids," he said. 

"A friend of ours said that we have to get ahead of this like a PR brief. Don't give people the chance to gossip and don't give people the chance to say, 'Oh poor them.' Present ourselves as this is what has happened, this is what we're doing and this is the new us." 

Cole says this ultimately allowed them to remain friends during their separation. 

"I saw Mike go through a major struggle ... I know he didn't choose this, this is what he is," she told Metro Morning.

"For our kids, we have three awesome kids and we had a 21-year relationship that was real and out of that an awesome friendship."  

For Cook it was his ex-wife's compassion for his journey.  

"The other thing that really resonates and really sticks out for me is Janine turning to me at one point and saying, 'You freed us. Your acceptance and realization and ending our marriage, you freed us to find new hope and new love.'"

Although both have now moved on, they continue to co-parent their children. 

"I went apartment hunting with Mike. We looked together," Cole said.

"We still share the minivan because when you have three kids, there's no having two cars in downtown Toronto. We came into this relationship as friends and we [are] going to leave this relationship as friends."