At 17, I already felt a large tear in my life, in my heart. Dad had been so dear to me, so animated, so gregarious, so loving. Now, in the forefront of my mind he was gay. He was what my friends would label: homo, fag, queer – all negative labels, words used to make fun of men, who in the early 80’s were thought to choose the taboo lifestyle, to be with other men. Everywhere I turned gay people were less than, period. To know or discover a person that had been out’ed, was to gasp at the true definition.
I joined in with friends. I went along with the name calling, the joking at the expense of gay people who surfaced in conversations. I laughed in communion but guilt rippled over the surface. Deep inside I was confused, at odds with how I could possibly pick sides, how I could be a champion for my dad.
A week before my junior year Dad announced he was leaving, moving two states away to Denver, CO. Another layer of anger, confusion, betrayal, abandon. I was left to feel empty, left to see our family as broken, separated on a new level. Was this what embarking on adulthood was really about? Dad always seemed to dance to the beat of his own drum, now he was taking his party elsewhere. I wondered why he would leave so suddenly?
Angry, hurt, I wanted to lash out. I refused to see him one last time before he left. I told him I was too busy getting ready for the new school year, too busy for him. I heard the hurt and understanding in his voice, “well, okay Steph, I know you’ve got a lot to do.” I knew it stung him but felt it was my only recourse, my only means of attempting to control a situation that bared so many layers I had no control over. I wanted to hurt him for not being honest, not sharing he was gay, not sharing how and why this could be. I wanted an explanation of how we would get through it together.
I needed support to feel whole – I needed the amazing dad I’d grown up, one who could turn washing a car into a carnival ride. I wanted him to hold my hand like when I was a little girl, help me through the darkness. He was running from something himself. It seemed he couldn’t save me. He needed to run to save himself.
Would Denver provide what he needed, better than my love or would it pull him deeper into despair? I would later understand it would create the dawn of permanent struggle, would mean new beginnings, and the beginning of the end.
I didn’t see or speak to Dad nearly as often as I had after he left Davenport. He sent a couple letters along with a picture of his apartment. A meager act to stay connected while keeping his distance. I felt his dim light from afar. Not long after he left I worried for him, a feeling that long replaced my anger. I never told a soul how I felt, until I tried to replace his love with a boyfriend three years older.