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Is port forwarding safe? Also, downloading torrents kills home network


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Alright, so a long time ago when I wanted to host games online on the first Halo game for PC, I heard that you had to forward a port in your router to have the optimal performance. So I followed the procedure not really knowing exactly what I was doing or what effects it would have, but it seemed like everyone else who hosted games forwarded their ports no problem, so I did too. Eventually my dad found out somehow when he looked in the router's settings one day and gave me a lecture about how if you forward a port, hackers are going to come in and screw up our home server and put viruses on our computers and use them to launch missiles and crap like that.

Now I've got uTorrent, and my download speeds are consistently extremely slow because I haven't opened up a port in the firewall. Could someone please explain all the effects of opening up a port? Because I talked to a guy recently who downloads torrents all the time and I told him about my dad and his mortal fear of forwarding a port and he said that it wasn't nearly as bad as what my dad thought, and he must be crazy or something. So please tell me what all can happen once I open up a port, and if my dad was right and it really is extremely unsafe. Also, when I've been downloading torrents, my dad came to me and asked if I was downloading something really big or something because the internet on his computer was slowing to a crawl, and our phones were breaking up like crazy when my mom talked to her clients (we have VoIP), and I quickly realized that it must be my torrent, so I stopped it and a few minutes later my dad said the internet and phone was working fine, it must have been the rain outside or something. Lol, what a relief, if he found me downloading torrent's he'd tear me a new one.

So I guess what I'm asking is what are the effects of port forwarding and is it really as unsafe as my dad preaches, and if it isn't and I do decide to open up a port, is there any way my dad will find out, and will it help our network to stop going down?

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