His inhibitions, his spontaneity were what I loved, what made Dad so infectious. Once while Dad was visiting me in Chicago I arrived home from work to find my apartment newly decorated with several tall tropical plants he’d stuffed into a cab, carted from the local Target store. I can see him hailing the taxi, hustling to move plants in the tight space, swiftly arranging branches like a game of Jenga in the back seat. All the while he surely chittered away, beaming while explaining he was in town visiting his daughter. How plants were an inexpensive way to decorate, give spark to a space. A whirlwind of activity, I’d seen it all my life. Was this his way to distract people from what was really going on? Later in life I considered, maybe.
That same visit we hit The Parthenon restaurant in Greektown with my closest girlfriend Katie and my boyfriend (both keepers of dad’s secret identity from our wider social circle). As soon as we sat down to our table Dad took command ordering for the group — dry Retsina for him, sweet Rose house wine for my friends and I. He’d wave his hand like a wand pointing to appetizers and main entrees, a rainbow of flavors all meant to share. We started the meal with flaming cheese, his booming laugh and got many colorful stories sprinkled through each of the evenings courses. At the close of dinner he flipped his coffee cup onto the saucer. He told us about traveling to Greece where an elderly Greek woman told his fortune. Lifting the cup he pointed to the leftover sludge, a sample of what she had read.
It was 1990 and I’d lived approximately a decade knowing Dad was gay. A decade of shame, embarrassment, fear, and humiliation…impulses from the outgrowth of the time and place I came from, the religion I was brought up in. To share Dad’s true identity was to jeopardize the magic of who he really was to me. With pangs of guilt, I told white lies to anyone outside my inner circle. I wanted to protect but also live a life of the majority, the way everyone else did. It’s why I kept my dad in a small corner of my life, safely tucked away in the shadows, shy of discovery.
I’m still learning to embrace rather than hide…tackling tough moments, sharing my stories, lobbying for even bigger change. I assure you, if you were open enough to sit down to a dinner with my dad you wouldn’t regret it. You may be challenged to think when you’d had a better time.