It just so happens that my dad was gay. It’s a long and complicated story. He also contracted HIV and then AIDS and was sick for seven years. When he died, I was teetering on the brink of my 11th birthday.
I wrote a whole book about it. But my father wasn’t just gay or just HIV-positive. Like any of us, he was so much more than one or two of the arbitrary details that make up our biographies. But all those mores tend to get lost behind the attention-whoring details like sexuality and AIDS.
Naturally, our relationship wasn’t only sad and difficult, though it was certainly both of those. It was also, at least for me, extremely informative. Especially because I was taking notes. Taking notes because, for better or worse, I was a writer even then. But also taking notes because I knew he was dying, and therefore, recording whatever I could became a compulsion. He knew where he was headed. He knew it better than anyone else did, which is not always true of the dying, but in his case, it was.
It’s a strange thing when two people in any sort of intimate relationship are both aware that one of them is on his way out. Even stranger when the other is on her way in and up, as every child deserves to be.
So how do you live when you are terminally ill and know for years ahead of time that you are dying?
People, obviously, are individuals and so handle such things each in their own way. What I do know is the way my father handled it. Which was by pressing the fast-forward button. By pretending that I wasn’t five or six years old but already older, so that he could tell me things you wouldn’t ordinarily tell a child.
Together, we sped up time, and, in this rickety way, we acted out some semblance of an adult relationship. The psychological effect this had on me was not insignificant. (Another non-surprise you can read all about in my book.)
But the singular dynamic he orchestrated between us was not entirely to my detriment. It’s also how I came to collect my father’s fashion and beauty advice. Sure, he knew he was going to die long before I hit puberty and had a need for any article of clothing beyond the bedazzled JCPenney sweatshirt I was irrationally obsessed with. (It was covered in silver glitter and polka-dotted bows and was a nightmare to wash.) But that didn’t mean he had to leave me completely unprepared for the fashion hurdles waiting in my fatherless future.
So he threw out little tidbits of advice, not unlike like a sitcom stereotype of a gay best friend. Though we didn’t know that then, this being both before Ellen’s coming out and "Will & Grace." Keep in mind, too, that his advice was mostly meant for one particularly gay man and one particularly pale little girl, so I make no promises about its usefulness for anyone else. That being said, it cannot be denied that my dad, when he wasn’t sick anyway, cleaned up pretty damn good.
1. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, less sexy than chapped lips. Always carry a tube of Chapstick Classic Original in your purse. (I’ve since updated this with my preferred 21st Century savvy organic brand but the concept remains the same.)
2.Really hot showers are terrible for your skin, but they feel amazing. So just keep ‘em short.
3. A silk pillowcase if you can find one. Satin if you can’t. Black if possible but only because colored silk and satin are garish.
4.Go sock-less as often as sensible. It will almost always look better.
5.Master the art of the no-makeup makeup look. (He didn’t actually know how to do this, but he stressed on more than one occasion that I should figure it out sooner rather than later.)
6.Chew gum if you must, but only when you’re home alone. But seriously, try to get over gum altogether.
7.Invest in a signature pair of sunglasses that flatter your face shape and wear them often.
8.Washcloths are annoying to fold and when stacked, tend to fall over. Total waste of money and space. Use your hands -- nature's washcloth.
9.You’re pale. Extremely pale. You will never tan, so don’t even bother trying. Instead go to the other extreme, and try to stay as white as possible. Make pale your look.
10.On that note, have children with someone darker than you, so your kids will be able to tan.
11.If you invest in elegant, well-made, well-tailored clothes, you will be able to wear them for decades without looking dated. (He was not a fan of the JCPenney sweatshirt.)
12.You look best in red and black. But don’t wear them together. Too 80s.
13.Hats. You look good in hats. Wear them. And not just baseball caps.
14.Paint your toenails. Never your nails.
15.Shave. Regularly. It will make your legs look thinner.
16.On you, long hair. Always.
17.Whiten your teeth every once and awhile. White teeth make everyone look younger.
18.If you’re going to be a jewelry person, which isn’t necessary, by the way, either wear a few small, delicate pieces all at once or one big piece all alone.
20.There is nothing wrong with perfume but never wear an identifiable scent. Find something obscure or make your own. Always apply sparingly!
21.Never, ever get a perm.
22.Don’t underestimate the value of a good belt. A good belt can make clothes an outfit.
23.When in doubt, ask yourself if Lauren Hutton would wear it. If not, don’t put it on. (He loved Lauren Hutton.)
24.Some men will think you’re beautiful. Others, not so much. But that’s OK.
25.Sleep naked. Your body needs to air out.