In 1972 Father’s Day became a national holiday, a few weeks after I turned 7. I don’t think I understood or gave much thought to the meaning of the American holiday at the time. I simply longed to be with my dad, a dad I thought was funny and fun…one I wanted more of. Reality was he wasn’t around nearly as much as I wanted him to be. He lived and hour plus away and there was no set schedule to seeing him.
The older I got the more I began to understand his situation, his roommate was a partner, his underlying status was gay. As America was getting into the swing of this new Father’s Day ritual I was learning it would soon become a tricky time of year for me. Still, I felt obligated to acknowledge it. Each year as spring turned to summer and June suddenly appeared I knew I needed to get a card, consider a gift. As time went on advertisers began to paint an idyllic picture of dads and families they wanted to draw in. The more aware I became of Dad’s lifestyle I began to think this day was set for more of a picture perfect dad. The Ward Cleaver type if you will, one who walked through the door each day greeted by a wife kissing him hello. A home cooked meal would follow this image, well deserved after a hard day at the office.
This picture did not fit with my family or my Dad.
Shopping at the local Hallmark store for a card became a painful ritual knowing what I would find. Moreover as I entered the store, located the Father’s Day card section I winced at the array of what wasn’t there. Most cards read something like…To the dad I always wanted, always dreamed of or Thanks for always being there, or To Sunday finest bbq’r. Each offering struck a hurtful, hollow cord. My search went on thankfully landing on a generic enough sentiment that would fit the bill. Somehow by miracle I would always find one that expressed what a fun dad he was or one that simply offered to have a great day because he deserved it.
Last year I stumbled upon an article that was promoting a line of cards for gay dads. Wow, I thought, things are changing! The cards were geared toward two dads, as not to assume there was only one. Each one perfectly handled non-exclusion of a dad. The acknowledgment of this new sentiment alone had to be powerfully moving for those dads who were to receive such a card on Father’s day.
As for my upbringing, time on the trajectory of the out gay timeline, such cards were non-existent, where not to be presented or enjoyed. Growing up there were plenty of stresses, confusions and heartbreak while being brought up by a gay dad, one that society didn’t embrace. He lived a lot of life without me because in my time outwardly gay life was not friendly or conducive to raising children in such an environment. Not in the Midwest, not in a family whose history was grounded in Catholic faith.
The older I got I was squeamish about what it meant to be a kid of a gay dad. I didn’t know what to think of it, therefore wasn’t sure how to respond come this national dad’s holiday.
This year marks the second Father’s Day since my dad passed. If Dad where here today I would like to think I would revert back to my kid years when it was less about searching out a store bought card, more about creating, coloring, sharing precious simple sentiments. Given the opportunity I would share the following:
Thanks for doing the best you could.
Thanks for the delicious foods you forever prepared in your many kitchens along the way, magically with little stress, barely glancing at a recipe.
And thanks for impressing my friends Katie, Kurt, and Melissa lighting Banana’s Foster on fire at our dinner party.
Thanks for London, extra large Kit Kats during ‘Evita & My Fair Lady’ intermissions, for trying to make the guards laugh at Buckingham Palace & The Tower of London.
Thanks for making sure Shelly and I stayed in a safe place in Athens when we planned to travel on a dime. For the emergency money you sent stat when the gas tank in my college car was rusted out, pouring fuel onto the station floor upon filling.
A highlight of my youth, I thank you for buying a boat for next to nothing and turning it into a rehab project we worked on during visits, only to later launch and teach us kids to waterski.
Most precious of all, you taught me the lessons of hard work – for taking me on the ride of reinventing oneself, picking oneself up when things go wrong…your long list of changing careers as examples and my divorce at 25 years old.
Still thinking of you this Father’s Day, still learning after your gone.