It feels like home

Me, 3 years old (1954

My father breezed through the front door that warm summer evening after work with a big smile on his face. He hung his cowboy hat on the rack by the door and tossed his leather shoulder bag onto the nearby sofa. I’d just put down my algebra homework, drawn downstairs by the rich aromas wafting out of Read More…

Finding my tribe

Laura Hall, 1975

This photo was taken of me on my 24th birthday in early June, 1975. My father picked out the gold-thread-embroidered, gauzy peasant blouse I’m wearing. I loved it. I can still feel the exuberance I felt that day. My new husband and I had just moved into a cute rental house in Sonoma County. My Read More…

Elders: LGBT and others

An elderly woman out shopping in Philadelphia

It’s too late for my father to live in an LGBT-friendly retirement home. He died in a conventional assisted living facility in 2008 when he was 90, two years after my mother died. There, as far as I could tell, he kept his homosexuality hidden from his fellow residents. He and I continued to talk Read More…

AIDS and our fathers

Fairyland: A memoir of my father, by Alysia Abbott (2013, W. W. Norton & Co.)

My father was one of the lucky ones. Though he was sexually active with men in the exuberant 1970s and early 1980s in San Francisco–the brief era when the unknown AIDS virus was infecting an unknowing gay population–he never contracted AIDS. But many other fathers did. Victoria Loustalot, author of This Is How You Say Goodbye: Read More…

Questions I didn’t ask

My parents, 1942

From the time I was a small child, my father listened carefully to me when I asked him questions. His eyes didn’t dart off to his newspaper or the TV in the other room. He looked me straight in the eyes when he answered. Daddy, do you think there’s a God? “I don’t know, sweetheart,” Read More…

His great-granddaughter speaks

This past week I was visiting my daughter and her family in northern Virginia when my 17-year-old granddaughter turned on the TV to watch a recording of Glee. I knew the show dealt with a host of social issues, including bullying and sexual orientation as well as typical teen angst, though I’d never watched it myself. Read More…

Gratitude for a mentor

James Heig (1931-2013)

I first met Jim Heig three years ago. We were students in a writing class in San Francisco. Our teacher was Adair Lara, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist and Jim’s ex-wife. Jim was gay. One of our first assignments in class was a short essay using the title, “My Father’s Clothes.” I was excited as I Read More…

Shame is a contact sport

Best Little Boy in the World

My parents loved me. They were kind and supportive and always in my corner. Given this, I’ve never understood the deep, unsettled feeling I’ve carried with me since I was a child. My father grew up gay in a straight world and lived most of his life in the closet. Shame was his constant companion. Read More…

The look of love

Duane Hall, 19, in 1937

Writing a memoir is like peeking into an old steamer trunk in a dark corner of your grandmother’s attic. It takes awhile for it all to make sense. A brown-tinged envelope addressed in unfamiliar writing and posted with a purple, 3-cent stamp. A photo of your mother sitting close to someone you don’t know. An empty perfume bottle. You drag the trunk Read More…

Puzzle Pieces, Part I – Social, cultural & legal

Gay LA

History books. Memoirs. Books from my father’s childhood. Wartime correspondence. Scrapbooks and journals. Newspaper articles. Videotaped interviews. Audiotaped ones, too. These are some of the things that have opened my eyes along the way. My father’s prized print of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that stared at me from the walls of all of my childhood homes. It was one Read More…

How did my father make it to 90?

My dad at 90 (2008)

I’ve asked myself this many times. From the time he was about 50, the story we told in our family was that he’d never live to old age. He’d already had too many strikes against him. It was in the army that he smoked his first cigarette, and he never stopped. He was tormented and bullied Read More…

All gay all day

Greenwich Village, 2013

It’s an inside joke among my friends, that my life since I started my memoir about growing up with a closeted gay father has been all gay all day. And it’s true. I now see people, politics and just about everything else through the prism of gay rights and social justice. I’m reminded of the 1961 book, Black Read More…

The Road Taken, Part III – Mine

Laura Hall, 17, in 1968

As my parents had done before me, I too chose many life paths on the basis of fear. Unlike my parents, though, I eventually found footing on another path. But it took me a really long time. I think back to when I was 17, the first time I was faced with a big decision about a Read More…

The Road Taken, Part II – My mother’s

Mom, 1957. That year.

I’m sure we looked like the stereotypical working class American family of the postwar 1950s. An ambitious father and a stay-at-home mother. Lots of babies born in rapid succession. Roller skates and Boy Scouts. Console TVs, lawnmowers, swimming pools and Disneyland. There was that, but it wasn’t the whole picture. My mother found this out Read More…

The Road Taken, Part I – My father’s

Duane Hall, 1941

I’ve been sifting through old photos of my parents since their deaths, my mother’s in 2006 and my father’s in 2008. With a nod to Robert Frost, I found myself asking the following question: Are there photos that capture those periods of time when each faced their own fateful, fork-in-the-road decision? The answer is yes. The photo of Read More…

Paradise

My father, 84, feeding a horse

Nothing could have surprised me more than to see this photo my mother took of my father a few years before he died. He was feeding carrots to a horse in a grassy pasture near their Sonoma County home. New subdivisions hadn’t quite yet gobbled up all of the open land. But my father befriending a Read More…

What it was like

Me at 7 (in dark coat)

Over the years, friends have asked me what it was like growing up with a closeted gay father. I’ve often responded by saying that my childhood was probably the same as theirs. Until 1975, the year my father came out to me, I didn’t see my life through that lens. Even for years afterwards, I can’t Read More…

My father gave to me…

My father and me, 1988

On the 12th day of Christmas, my father gave to me… Twelve Baccarat goblets, Eleven Whitman poems, Ten Nureyevs leaping, Nine Steinbeck sagas, Eight Wagner operas, Seven Shakespeare sonnets, Six Easter bonnets, Five sym-phon-ies. Four river rocks, Three jade plants, Two leather bags, And a tale so others like him might be free. Read more in Read More…

Oh, brother

Duane & Happy, 1936

‘Tis the season for family get-togethers. And for revelations, both gladdening and pesky. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I joined my late father’s side of the family in Pismo Beach. This is the same California shore to where, as young boys in the 1920s, my father and his younger brother escaped the hot, dusty oilfields of Fellows for breezy Read More…

When the Politics is Personal

Dad, 36, and me, 3, in 1954

I wish I didn’t care so much about this presidential election. I really wish I didn’t care. But I do. Beyond the left versus right political positions, I’ve been asking myself why it’s been so agonizing for me this time. I now think I know. I was born in 1951 and have voted in ten Read More…