Pride Month is winding down, San Francisco is awash in rainbow flags and banners, and my emotions are in high gear.
Growing up, I was inordinately proud of my father. He wasn’t like the other dads in our neighborhood on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Instead of football games and fishing trips on weekends, we visited the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park where my dad pointed out the “gorgeous” clipped evergreens, the “elegant” Japanese maples, and the giant pagoda and the exotic lanterns.
We attended art exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art and the Legion of Honor Museum in Lincoln Park in San Francisco. On our drive home he pointed out the “amazing” modern architecture under construction throughout the City.
I never heard other fathers talk that way. I considered myself one lucky girl.
At home my father taught me needlepoint, how to make paper chains out of his discarded cigarette wrappers, and how to write fancy lettering using a dip pen. We made mosaics together out of tiny square pieces of old magazines and glued them onto poster board. He bought me a pretty light pink ruffled dress for my eighth grade graduation and funky bell bottoms in the sixties before they were popular.
He only revealed his orientation to me in 1975 when I pressed him about his marital fidelity. I was 24 and the only one of his four children he’d ever formally come out to. Even though my mother discovered his secret in the 1950s when I was six, the two of them remained married for 65 years. As a family, we never discussed his sexual orientation.
Cloistered inside my own closet with my father’s secret, I didn’t allow myself to openly or even privately express pride for him as a gay man, nor for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, while my mother was alive. I feared a casual mention of any pro-gay activity within earshot of my mother might be read by her as a betrayal.
Even though I live in San Francisco and grew up on the Peninsula, the 2011 Pride parade in San Francisco was the first one I ever witnessed. I recently attended an event at the GLBT Historical Society where the last known fragment of the first rainbow flag was unveiled. Designed by Gilbert Baker, it flew over the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco in 1978, three years after my father came out to me. In seeing it, I felt only sadness for the decades of Pride parades I’d missed during my father’s lifetime.
Growing up in a closeted family caused me to repress the pride I felt for my father as a gay man. I became the closeted daughter of a closeted father. I regret that I did not have the fortitude to witness the first rainbow flag in person in its inaugural parade.
But I am present and proud at Pride events now in honor of the marginalized and oppressed, but especially for the loving and kind gay man who was my father.
Laura Hall grew up on the San Francisco Peninsula. She and her husband live in San Francisco. Her new memoir, “Affliction: Growing Up With A Closeted Gay Dad,” will be released July 13.
Brian Hicks says
Hi Laura – I was lucky to have a father who was in many ways like yours. Straight, but interested in the same kinds of things you list. At his memorial, one young friend said that he was the first ‘metrosexual’ man she had known. (I just looked it up and it doesn’t mean what I thought!! I thought it mean a man who liked museums and such…) This raised many eyebrows among his contemporaries at the memorial, who had never heard the term. 🙂
Did you see the piece on the Cherry Grove Exhibit, today in The Times?
Laura Hall says
That’s so interesting, Brian. Your father was ahead of his times! Thanks for sharing. And thank you for mentioning the Cherry Grove piece in the Times. What a treasure trove of photos! And what a place that must have been at the time for many who lived in the shadows elsewhere. Interestingly, that was the same decade that my mother discovered revealing photos of my father. I wonder if he knew about places like Cherry Grove, communities that allowed everyone to lead their authentic lives, at least there.