I called my dad the other day for something random and the conversation made me want to write a quick note about our relationship…since I’m usually focusing my attention on Her Eminence Queen Mother, Empress of All That Is Holy, Righteous, and DoItMyWay.
I’ve decided that I haven’t totally let go of some lingering hostility and ill will I have towards my pops. I was actually pretty lucky to grow up with two parents who love each other. So many of my friends were being raised by single moms or grandparents or step-parents, but I had my mom and my dad living in the house together with no abuse, no alcoholism, no gambling. I just had regular parents who went to work, made dinner, and took lots of vacations.
After I came out, that changed quick. My dad did not take it well and we basically stopped speaking. To be honest, I was always a little uneasy around my dad growing up because he was such a Man’s Man and I could never really measure up. I wanted him to be proud of me…but not enough to actually go outside and sweat and get dirty and win sports trophies. I read instead. He seemed happy when he would tell family and friends how smart I was, but he had already gone through that with my Genius Sister. I thought he would’ve actually been happier to brag about little league playoffs and flag football championships. When they found out I was gay, I got two reactions: Mom—You’re my baby, I love you, you’re young and this is just a phase but we’ll get through it because mommy loves you and she’s gonna pray for you; Dad—I knew there was something wrong with you, you little sissy queer.
Not great either way! But at least my mom did the whole nurturing thing sort of.
So fast forward ten years and Mom is still praying and getting more hopeless everyday, but my dad is pretty awesome. I can’t pinpoint when the change happened, but at some point he stopped seeing me as a freak, as some kind of social deviant who had the grand idea to like boys and pretty things at 7 and pick that road for the rest of my life. For the past five years or so, our conversations have gone from “How could you be gay? That is wrong and disgusting” to “When are you gonna find a husband and adopt me some grandbabies?”
I’ve had a block against how profound that change is. I have flashbacks of being a little gay kid being beaten up and called names everyday and all I can think is “Where was my daddy? Why couldn’t he be there and help me out? Why couldn’t he accept me?”
At some point you have to let go of the past. Everybody makes mistakes, even our parents. He’s never really addressed my adolescence and I’m not sure I want him to. He’s not the same person and neither am I, so we just need to build from what we have now. I have a 60something year old, southern, conservative, black father who’s done a damned good job adapting to the times and trying to be open-minded about something he never imagined he’d have to accept. And he has a pretty awesome kid who just happened to be gay.
I feel like we’re at the point in our relationship where he doesn’t accept me because he’s my dad and he has to, but rather he respects me and likes me as a person, a gay person yes, but as an interesting adult that he likes to talk to. I think that’s a cool thing to be able to say—My dad really likes me.
So back to the phone call.
We were talking about a lot of nothing as usual—his job, the weather, family dramas, etc.—and then he had to go. My dad doesn’t say goodbye. The conversation just kind of ends and he hangs up the phone. It’s super abrupt, and sometimes you’re on the other end like “hello? You still there?” He didn’t say goodbye this time either, but right before he hung up he said, “I love you.” I had to sit down on a bench.
I don’t have any doubts that my parents love me (even my mom loves me in her own controlling, self-righteous way) but we don’t really say it. My mom does every once in awhile, but I don’t think I’ve heard my dad say that ever. I just don’t come from that kind of mushy family. That probably affects my relationships now because I’m very closed-off and reluctant to show any sort of emotion whatsoever, but we’re not Huxtables. We don’t say “I love you.”
I sat down after he hung up and just thought about the gravity of the situation. This old man, southern manly man, conservative black man, finishes up a long-distance convo with his adult gay son and says “I love you.” Right then I just let go of the past, all of the bad stuff, all of the hostility and I started fresh.
Because my daddy loves me.
And it makes me feel good about myself.