So, Dad, your great-granddaughter told me a story.
That little girl who went to you so easily when she was only a year old, is all grown up and she’s lovely. She graduated from college and works professionally in DC now. You’d be so proud of her, and of her younger sister, too.
She and the family visited San Francisco last month. We went to some of your favorite places, including Gump’s where you spent many a lunch hour when you worked in the Financial District.
We did the touristy things, too. We drove down the crookedest street in the world, enjoyed hot fudge sundaes at the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, took selfies under the red lanterns in Chinatown, and watched the cold, swift-moving fog at Crissy Field blow through the Golden Gate.
We also gazed up at the enormous Dutch Windmill out near Ocean Beach and at the colorful pedestrians in the Haight Ashbury and Castro Districts.
We also discussed politics.
I know you wouldn’t be surprised by the angst I’ve felt since the election, Dad. At times I feel that same sense of powerlessness I felt in the late 1970s and ’80s, when our government turned its collective back on your kind at the very moment in history when they were felled en masse by a deadly disease.
All at once I’m back out in the family garden with you, watching you choke up as you describe the wasting away of your friends.
We were both appalled in 1983 when Pat Buchanan, then-President Reagan’s Communications Director, joked, “The poor homosexuals – they have declared war on nature and now nature is exacting an awful retribution.”
You seethed at Reagan, who didn’t speak the word AIDS in public until 1985, at which point tens of thousands of (mostly) gay men had already died.
With our current president’s talk of eliminating the Affordable Healthcare Act, many HIV+ survivors who are living long lives due to new life-saving drugs, now fear that the cost of these drugs will soon become prohibitive.
I often feel helpless and angry, just as you did so many years ago.
But your great-granddaughter lifted me up with a story. Her story. I know it will lift you up, too, Dad. She’s given me permission to share it publicly.
“Grandma, I know how hard things were for Papa,” she told me. “I know how much he suffered. But when I fly home to DC tomorrow, my girlfriend will be waiting for me in the airport. I’ll run up and put my arms around her and give her a kiss. Then I get to go home and make dinner for her.”
How about that, Dad? Your great-granddaughter won’t be arrested for kissing her girlfriend in public as you were in 1940 when the LAPD caught you with a man.
A judge won’t blackmail her into paying for conversion therapy, as one once did to you.
She won’t be fired from her job as you were from yours in 1967 when the U.S. Civil Service Commission discovered you were gay.
She reminded me that over the course of four generations, in our family at least, things are better.
The grandkids are alright, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!
This post first appeared in The Gay Dad Project blog on June 15, 2017.