My wedding anniversary was last Saturday, 18 years and counting. The romance began in the midst of my seventeen-year professional marketing stint, included a move in and out of a gaggle of neighborhoods of Chicago, to the north suburb of Evanston, landing in Boulder, CO. Waking up, suddenly, to kids in high school. A whirlwind like something out of OZ, shockingly magical, Technicolor and advanced. The astonishment of a marriage lasting that long dates back to inception, what I harbored inside all those years ago when we kicked around our perspective apartments in Wrigleyville. That I knew little about what a successful marriage comprised of as I went into mine – falling ass backward into what I desperately wanted.
When I met my husband we were acquaintances, friends, then tripped into love. Within months we rocketed into a dreamlike chemistry and lickety-split he was ‘the one.’ Transforming into a storybook romance I easily understood marriage was our obvious next step, though with all this positivity blooming, I still didn’t have the confidence to believe I’d be good at the long-term concept. Truth told, I thought I wouldn’t know how to go it for the long haul. Live out a successful marriage to last decades, on into grandparenthood. Like an irritating fly forever-buzzing overhead, my parent’s history, theirs was a marriage that existed a few years before me, and the first two of my life. It was all I knew. No, there were no crystal clear images of what that had looked like. I only had blurred tragic scenarios of what went to pieces. With a model of the minimal sort how would I be good at it?
Eighteen unconceivable years later, my husband and I have had our share of hic ups, but we’ve worked to create what some have deemed a ‘tight-knit’ family unit. Through the good and bad of what comes with a lifetime of a parents divorce I do believe I was influenced to stay committed, to work at it, because I am one of the fortunate ones. Having a lifetime of a gay father mostly from intolerant times has given me perspective of the human condition and how I raise my kids. Case in point, it’s ritual to remind ourselves, and our influential teens how important it is to respect one another. To respect peers in our perspective groups and in our community. Respect to respectfully disagree, (sticky as it can be) and honor others choices even if they are not our own. We send messages to ourselves, remember that we all have a valid place in society, on this earth. Above all, we don’t have a right to shove our views down someone else’s throat. Theses ideas don’t always play out perfectly but we go back to them as primary building blocks to a good life.
Maybe my marriage is strong due in part by having been forced to see another’s point of view, because my gay father was different. A road built brick by brick, growing up I longed for a whole version of a family (the normal kind by societies standards), both parents wanted exactly that but it wasn’t meant to be. Alternatively, I became open minded. I grew sympathetic to gay prejudice, radar on high, cringed at stories of gay couples having children. On one hand I applauded them, aware of their reward for sticking their necks out in the eye of the storm but also was cognizant of how difficult it must be for them – even in the most loving situations. Life can push people to the brink of cracking in the most typical circumstances, I thank my lucky stars my husband and I have a relationship socially accepted by the masses. Societies pressure on relationships, what’s acceptable, what isn’t; adds a whole other complex layer to the equation. A fine representation of this, civil unions are more available slash legal, but it doesn’t mean gays aren’t still snickered and sneered at daily.
Risk and reward are two of my favorite freedom riders. Those who fight harder than the rest of us, walk the long road, have the most impressive stories to tell. It wasn’t that way for Dad, he didn’t reap comfort in speaking openly about his sexuality among the masses, timing was askew for him. Though he had two long-term partners in his lifetime, (one of 20+ years and the second 16) until I was in my mid-thirties when he lived in a carefully chosen, isolated community, was he finally able to co-habitate in a dignified manner. Having quietly marched along side, intimate with his progression I am doubly blessed for what I have. That marriage didn’t come easy for Dad is one reason I subconsciously didn’t take mine for granted.
Each year on our wedding anniversary I try to take time to remember something about the inception of our love. Two years ago during a celebratory dinner we clinked glassed then gathered memories like rare treasured coins from every past year shared as one. We reminisced about artwork, jewelry, vacations, and surprises. With our 20th knocking on the door it all feels so monumental. I started thinking about our actual wedding day all over again. Flooded with a melting pot of loving thoughts, I recall the trance state we were in, each time we gazed into each other’s eyes. All eyes were happily on us, embracing our togetherness; we simply wanted to ride off into the sunset in solitude. How happy I was to know I was starting a life with someone I so deeply loved, someone who accepted and loved my dad.
With very wedding comes snafu’s, glitches, moments we’d love to erase. Overtime most of the thorns melt away, transcend into soft wrinkles, even humorous stories of yesteryear. For me however, there is one dark blemish that continues to sting. It’s a wart that remains ever present just above skins surface. Specifically, it was the day after the wedding. In a fog of days on very little sleep, walking on a billowy cloud of love, we were officially newly weds and had just checked out of our suite at the Four Seasons off Michigan Ave in Chicago. Admittedly the hotel was extravagant for our budget but it was Dad who had encouraged us, pointing out it should be special. “Even if you can’t afford it go all out, you will remember it for the rest of your lives.” Not particularly savvy with money he had the best intensions. In wholehearted agreement we checked out feeling like royalty. The only thing left was to stop by our apartment, pick up pre-packed luggage, race to the airport, and jet off to our honeymoon. Nothing could go wrong, thought my young and innocent self.
Bags in hand I quickly scanned the apartment, my eyes twinkled catching sight of our new dishes, the assorted wedding gifts holding down the fort, waiting to be used upon our return. With a few minutes to spare I decided to quickly call Dad, to say goodbye and thank him for persuading the night of grandeur. A second was all it took, after he’d answered I could tell he was far from jovial.
Rewinding a bit, our wedding weekend, October 4, 1996 was the first Dad would meet my future in-laws and extended family. Dad lived in California and most of my future in-laws were from the East Coast. They were in total a large traditional, religious, conservative group, so I worried (as I always did). There could be uncomfortable questions relating to Dad’s private life, raised eyebrows or whispers — suddenly a blissful occasion would become soured. To make matters more complicated Dad recently entered a serious relationship. It occurred to me he might spring at the last minute he’d like to bring a plus one. Oh my! I wanted to be respectful so I didn’t dare ask, I wanted to be progressive, but a layer under my skin I worried. Days before the hoopla began I decided, as usual it was a cast of characters in my head mapping out a lot of scary scenarios that didn’t come to pass – the key element Dad was attending solo. Conversation instead centered on Dad’s new tuxedo for the occasion, one he surely couldn’t afford.
On my big day Day arrived not only in his new duds but was sporting a turned up, twisted-cornered mustache, oversized ladies Sophia Loren branded eye glasses, and a gold pinky ring with diamond stud to boot. Okay for the dessert in Palm Springs from whence he came maybe, but not in this mix where I was sure the entire ensemble screamed gay! I had wanted impressions to be stately and low-key, with few questions asked. Maybe I was being over sensitive, had been living with ‘gay-dar’ on high for too long, maybe no one would see things in their true light. It was a wedding, I told myself to calm insecurities, surly everything would run smoothly.
Dancing at the reception I eyed Dad at a high top round table lining the dance floor. His face hinted he’d pay anyone to put him out of his misery. When I heard his voice the day after, during the call in my apartment I knew something was about to shatter the glass house I’d been living in. How could I be so happy, while simultaneously he was robbed of his the joy of owning a new tux? “Dad, what’s the matter, what happened?” I suddenly cringed with the plethora possibilities. Flatly he explained, “I asked for a dance but was turned down.” Coldly, after a bloated pause, he continued, “They are bigots.”
Shocked, hurt, humiliated for him, I was furious. “Dad, I am so sorry!” I shouted while trying to soothe. “Its okay honey, its just people being stupid. I’ll get over it. I just didn’t think it would be that way.”
Dad had immediately clicked when he’d met my perspective husband. He had fallen in love, was so happy with the young man that was to be my new life partner. I believe he thought the same would be possible with his family. Instead, during one of the first traditional dances he was turned down, turned away. Hearing of this, feeling Dad’s pain through the phone lines, tears steam-rolled down my cheeks. Dad was used to having to rebound, “Don’t worry about me honey, you go and have a great time. Call me when you get back.”
Hanging up the phone I too threw shoulders back, armored myself as I’d done countless times before. “How could someone be so cruel?” I barked to my husband of one day.
Nearly two decades later rest assure Dad has taken the person in question for a few spins on a redeeming dance floor in heaven. Petty choices in the end were written off as ridiculous missteps. Here on earth, unfortunately, in real life, they still recklessly happen. If we take a second, a breath, to consider the consequences of our actions hopefully we will evolve, choose the high road. Admit to ourselves many can be negatively affected by our choices. Please consider what if feels like to be in someone else’s shoes, and next time choose kindness.