I have had my fair share of angst because my dad was a gay man. For so long I wanted to share with friends and peers, that yes, my dad was gay. I also wanted to shout: Can we all just get over the stigma that comes with that?
More than anything my dad was like an iceberg. What you saw on the outside was only a fraction of who he was. Some might have seen a man that was gay and jumped to their own conclusions of what that meant. People might also have seen a man who stood tall who was interesting, engaging, who always brought something to the party.
Over the years I looked at my dad through many sets of eyes. As a little girl he was my hero. He built my first and only swing set and sandbox. I often saw him dash from one project to the next, cooking, gardening, rehabbing a boat, or headed off to work.
In my teen years my suspicions that he was gay finally came true, and in the blink of an eye he went from hero to shameful.
As I matured I realized my dad was multifaceted sometimes even complex. I grew up in the 70’s, and 80’s, watched as he found it necessary to wear masks to hide what society deemed unnatural.
Underneath the cover ups and labels if you really knew my dad you would know he was a born salesman. He was an educator of a host of things, loved to talk your ear off. He was often insightful, could even help you see the movement in a piece of sculpture that an artist surely intended. He was a gracious host at his many parties, turned his home into yours within minutes of your arrival…amazed visitors with his ability to decorate his homes seemingly effortlessly.
Dad also cared deeply for diversity, read endlessly about the Holocaust; emphatic we never forget the horrific acts that we should never turn an eye to the tragic events that occurred.
My dad often got deep and emotional especially in his last year’s of life. As he reflected on the amazing gifts life awarded him he also gave me a peek at the wounds, moreover the scars that developed from all the shame that comes with the life of a gay man with HIV.
I will always remember how he was funny, fun, that it was hilarious just to listen to his booming laugh. He lived life to the fullest but also did what he could to give back, even in his last few years as he helped people through their last days in Hospice. He worked as a volunteer, said it was one of the most fulfilling times of his life. He read to patients or simply sat with them as they slept. It made him sad to see people go but he knew it was meaningful work, to let the sick and dying know someone cared while he also gave caregivers a break.
He was a strong willed man, evident as I saw him make a comeback after cancer, after open-heart surgery, after the loss of his 25-year partner in the 90’s.
Yes he had imperfections, warts and sometimes did wrong. Don’t we all? He admitted he could’ve been a better father, knew in the end he was meant to be a better friend. In the end we were friends, held each other up when we needed each other most.
A deep multilayered iceberg he was grounded more than he should have probably been. I think about his trials and tribulations. I think about mine, my disappointments, many that related to him. Sometimes I wished he had been different. But in the end, he was mine, taught me so much. Dad showed me that an iceberg is strong, and sturdy, that it takes a lot to build one, and a lot to break one.