When I was a little girl I didn’t know our family was off or different, things just were the way they were. Yes, I felt the ups and downs of first living with Dad, then with Mom…really with Grandparents shortly before Mom found a house for us. The important thing is I was unassuming, resilient and it was beautiful.
The older I got the more I saw, the more I learned our family life was actually quite difficult.
Being with Dad really equated to short snippets of time. He wanted our time together to be good, meaningful, and memorable so he always had a plan for our weekends together. We would race from one place to another; we made big elaborate meals and sometimes we went out to dinner. And on holidays we met up with his sister’s family, their kids – our cousins. That was the easy stuff, the good stuff.
What became hard was growing up and into who we really were as a family – who and what Dad’s true sexuality meant to the world. One step further was how we coped with and covered it all up during each of our developmental milestones.
When I was little and involved in Blue Birds campfire girls group, one big event was a Dad-Daughter-Date night. Disappointingly Dad didn’t attend; it was my aunt’s husband who took me. I often wondered, had that been a cover-up to avoid an uncomfortable scene? Either way, it was me who ended up uncomfortable because I didn’t understand why my Dad wasn’t there — especially because I didn’t know the uncle that well.
In my teen years I began to closely examine Dad and his relationships, but what I saw I buried deep inside. I knew I was uncovering a different kind of Dad, different than what I’d known when I was younger, more importantly, he was different than my friends dads and dads of families I knew. It didn’t feel safe to share the truth of who he was, the aftershock of sharing might cause dad or myself to be looked upon as outcasts. Walking this path was difficult because instead of moving up or forward I learned to layer, to instead build up defensive walls.
I also picked up on Dad’s ability to orchestrate funny, loud stories. He was the warm up and the main act at social events; he had a knack for turning a dinner or conversation into an artful happening. His laugh would inevitably end in a crescendo boom. It was amazing to watch and be a part of. As I grew older I grew to think, some of that too might have been a kind of diversion.
In my early 30’s after I’d purchased my first home I threw an intimate dinner party while Dad and his partner Jim were visiting. All seemed to be going smoothly. I was sure I’d carefully created a safe haven of a few friends who knew our family situation therefore we would be safe for an anything goes conversation. That is, until Dad became the center of the spotlight, and the question of how he and Jim met was asked. Suddenly Dad became noticeably uncomfortable and unusually quiet. I think the underground world he had been forced to live in had become so secretive he struggled to cross over into our social world even as we were adults. We kids had never brought friends into his world therefore Dad shut down.
Sadly I too felt myself batten down my armor. You see, over the years Dad’s life had become a quiet, hushed family affair. I now see that I grew from a playful little girl to a concerned woman watching people’s moves, especially my dad’s. Over the years I’ve watched society carefully and stepped forward ever so frightfully.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to the little person stage. Mostly, I want things to really change so we are all comfortable being and saying who we are.