In the mid 80’s when Dad contracted the HIV virus much was unknown about how to cure oneself. Many were dying. It spread like wildfire in the gay community and was a quick end for most. But for Dad, he was one of the lucky ones.
He had been sick, couldn’t seem to shake a cold so he finally went to the doctor. A test identified he was infected. He’d been living in Denver during a break from his partner Jim. He later said it was a time he’d been off on his own. He was promiscuous.
My brother John was the one who’d revealed Dads secret, even when he’d been sworn to secrecy. It was simply to heavy to keep, he needed to share it. Although it ripped a whole in my gut I was glad he’d told me. It would take me a decade more to understand what it would mean to Dads health.
The information landed in my lap at a time when the gay community was being slammed with shame. Hollywood was desperate to stand by their side therefore it was the movie, Philadelphia that educated me. It provided raw scenes of the sadness, how AIDS reduces a person. I took in how a man became the disease.
I understood that once my dad was infected our lives were solidified. Our dad was gay and now infected with a gay mans disease. There was no turning back, only to find ways to cope, to embrace.
It took a long time but Dad found his way. He bore the tell tale signs, the lesions, the sickness, lethargy, weakness, but he overcame. He found treatment, got healthy, numbers elevating to secure levels. He gave back delivering turkeys to the Desert AIDS project in Palm Springs at Thanksgiving and Christmas, hams at Easter. He thrived, found love again with a second partner. He attended my wedding, flew to see his two grandchildren after each birth. He took them to the zoo, he went down waterslides with them and he cooked in the kitchen, baking, then serving multicourse meals full of life and joy.
Many times over we laughed saying Dad was like a cat with nine lives, more than any human should have. He would be down but always seemed to get back up.
I’d been so afraid it was over that week in Chicago when I’d found out in the early 90’s. We’ve come a long way, dad lived a long life…better than any of us could have predicted. Thankfully.
There is a minister in my church that once tearfully said, “AIDS was a beautiful thing that came along to shine the light on the gay community. It made people embrace, love, and help them.” Dad always says, when tragedy strikes never forget. There’s so much to learn on this World AIDS Day, but never forget.