Most people who know me know that I had a gay dad, but what a lot don’t know is that he did not “come out” to my mom or me, and although I knew for ten years, we did not discuss it.
We were extremely close and I absolutely adored him, and I know he felt the same. It caused me a great amount of emotional distress that there was something so fundamentally huge that I was not allowed to acknowledge.
I never brought it up. I was afraid that if I called him out, and he wasn’t comfortable admitting it to me, he might blow up or cut me off (he was putting me through college), or cut me out of his life. I couldn’t risk this, so I just never said anything, even though it caused me a lot of pain.
My father decided to leave me a journal that he wrote directly to me, for me to read after he died. It was very extensive and took him years to write. He basically wrote a book about his life, explaining everything he thought I might ever want to know. (Just writing that last sentence brings tears to my eyes). It is the single most special gift I ever got from him. It is 55 pages, and it is fascinating.
The first time I read it was on the airplane coming home from his funeral. I was in shock and unable to comprehend what I read. I wasn’t ready to look at it again for eight years, until recently. I woke up with no plans, and it was a dreary, cold gray day outside. It was a perfect day to devote to reading.
The most significant thing in this journal was what he said about us never speaking about him being gay. I could never understand how he didn’t feel comfortable telling me. I’ve always been very gay-friendly. I always had gay friends, even in high school. As a teenager, I moved into an apartment complex in the gay area of town, nicknamed “Mary Towers.” A few years later, I moved to San Francisco, which was known at the time as the “gayest city in the United States” and my best friends were a gay man and a lesbian.
When he would visit me, I would take him to my favorite gay bar, where everyone knew me, and they treated us like royalty, refusing to let him pay for drinks. One time he said, “Alisha, why won’t they take my money?” And I said, “Because they love me,” which was true. In fact, when I graduated from college and threw myself a graduation party, the owner of the gay bar and my favorite bartender came to the party and brought me gifts. My bartender friend told me it was the first Saturday night he had taken off from work in ten years. The point of all this is, I was invested in gay culture, and I should have been the easiest daughter to “come out” to of all time. No one around us understood why we weren’t open about it.
His journal explained why. When I was 16, and my dad and I left my mother and moved into a 2-bedroom apartment together, some of my friends started to tell me they thought my dad was gay. I didn’t agree. He was my dad; he’d been with my mom for 20 years. They were saying our house was too clean and decorated and that was the first sign. I thought that was ridiculous. I told them, “Just because he’s neat, doesn’t mean he’s gay!”
I had one male friend that wouldn’t stop teasing me about it. I was sick of it and it was starting to piss me off. He and his girlfriend drove me home one night, and he would not shut up about it. We were arguing loudly in the parking lot in front of our apartment. It woke my dad up. As I got to the front door, he opened the door and found me crying and upset.
You know how a single moment can change a life? Well this one did. I entered the apartment and he asked me to tell him what was going on. We sat down in the living room and I told him what my friends were saying. I was visibly upset. I wasn’t crying over the possibility of him being gay. I was upset that my friend was being cruel and taunting me. Also, frankly, it was none of his business. It was just plain rude.
I don’t know if my father thought my tears were because I thought that his being gay was the worst thing in the world… unfortunately that may have been how he took it. I don’t remember our talk that night in detail, but I believe he told me that he wasn’t gay to calm me down. Also, he was caught completely off guard and was not prepared to have this discussion. I think that he saw how upset I was and decided then and there that he would never tell me he was gay.
His journal explained his side of it. He said he did not remember if he told me he was not gay that night. I accept and believe that. This huge moment in our lives was basically sprung on us by an outsider, when neither of us was ready for it. I have to say that looking back on this, I honestly wish I could go back in time and change that night somehow, because it affected us for the next decade.
My father thought we ended our discussion in agreement that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought and that we were not going to let it affect us. He said that when he went back to bed, he couldn’t sleep all night. He said he couldn’t believe some kid who didn’t even know him knew his secret. This was a secret that he had been holding deep inside and had never acted on or told anyone about in 46 years of being alive. He says he decided that night that he would go talk to a counselor for the first time in his life about the fact that he was gay.
He explained to me that he had an older brother, who I knew existed, but had never met, who was also gay. His brother was a compulsive liar, thief and sociopath. His brother had caused their parents so much grief, having stolen thousands of dollars from local businesses and done all sorts of bad things that their dad bailed him out of constantly. Then his brother was caught having “gay sex” with another boy, and the entire small town in Texas where they lived in the 1950s knew about it and it shamed the family. Back then, being gay was seen by society as being mentally ill.
His brother had been admitted to a hospital and seen by psychiatrists and had received electroshock therapy. Because his brother was a sociopath with no conscience, doctors suggested they cut him off and stop helping him, because he would never be able to stop stealing and lying. This is why I never met my uncle. The family disowned him, and no one ever saw him again.
My father said he fought being gay his whole life, partially because he saw the shame his brother brought their family, and also because he wrongly believed that all gay people were bad people like his brother. He admits that he realized later in life that was stupid, but he was young and impressionable and didn’t know other gay people. He was also raised religious, and says that he prayed all the time and tried to make deals with God to cure him from being gay. This was hard for me to swallow. It broke my heart to read that.
He finally talked to someone about all this. He said that the counselor said that I sounded like a very smart girl, and that I would probably ask him questions about his being gay. He and the counselor decided that he should wait for me to ask him, instead of him “coming out” to me.
Reading that made me angry at his counselor. The counselor’s advice contributed to ten years of ignoring the big pink elephant in the room. There was no reason for us to not be open about it, but these two people changed our lives in a not at all positive way. I know it caused me a lot of pain, and I’m sure it did for him too. Being so close and not being able to talk about something so important was not a good situation.
I felt that because my father was the adult, and it was his truth, it was up to him to “come out” to me. Doesn’t “coming out” sound more positive that “being outed”? I thought if I brought it up and he wasn’t comfortable, I could lose the most important person in my life, so I waited, and waited, and waited. And because his stupid counselor had told him to wait for me to ask, he then waited, and waited, and waited.
It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so sad and hard on me. I never understood why he wasn’t comfortable being open with me about it. Keep in mind that once he went to counseling and decided to “come out” at 46 years old, my dad was not in the closet. He was only in the closet with me. Since I was the most important person in his life and he in mine, it truly caused me years of pain and angst.
My biggest fear in life was that he would die and we would never have talked about it. I carried that fear and pain for a decade. I worried about it all the time. I wrote him a few letters that were ambiguous to try to encourage him to tell me. “I hope you know that I will always love you, no matter what.” I thought he would know that meant he should talk to me about it.
Finally after ten years, I couldn’t go on pretending, when he was so obviously gay, and everyone knew it. I did wait until I only had one semester of college left, and I thought he wouldn’t cut me off when I was so close to graduating. In retrospect, it’s stupid that I thought my father would ever do that to me. He loved me very much and wanted to provide me with an education. He was proud of me and wanted that for me. His parents did that for him, and he had always planned to do the same for me.
I finally “outed him” during a visit back home at Christmas. I didn’t do it with words. We were at his favorite gay bar, with his boyfriend. I wore a button on my sweatshirt that said “I love my gay dad.” He said, “What does your button say?” and I told him, and he said, “Show it to (his boyfriend).” I said, “By the way, Dad, I guess you’re out now,” and that was it. He laughed about it, and the unspoken had been addressed… it was over. A decade of silence was over.
After it was no longer unspoken, we still never spoke about it. It was like we opened the door, and that was finally done, but it did not result in any dialogue. We never had a conversation about why we hadn’t talked about it for ten years. I never knew about the counselor telling him to wait for me to ask, and he never knew I was afraid to make him mad and lose him, and thought I was following his cues that he wasn’t comfortable talking to me about it. I only found out the cause of our 10-year silence by reading the journal he left me. This helps me make sense of what was one of the hardest things in my life. That journal is the most precious thing that I will ever possess. There are so many fascinating things in it.
My father’s journal to me is so affecting and interesting that I’ve decided to have it published, with my thoughts and feelings accompanying it. It could be of help or interest to gay people and their families. I hope our story will touch some people. It was painful at times, funny at times, but above all else, it’s a story of love and respect between a father and daughter. My dad and I loved each other more than anyone else in our lives. No one has influenced my life more. Every move I’ve made as an adult includes him as a factor in my decisions, even after his death. I was so moved by his journal that I want to share our story with the world.