Grateful he stayed

Looking at Dad’s find at the beach, 1956

I’ve been struggling to express something about my dad that’s been bubbling up inside me this past year. I’ve swatted away the whispers, but it’s now a roar.

Today, Father’s Day, I’m giving it a voice. So, here goes:

I’m happy my dad stayed in the house with our family until the end.

I can’t believe how hard it is for me to say that. How could I, someone raised to fight for social justice and equality, wish that upon anyone, for any closeted person to remain in a straight marriage? Especially my own father.

Maybe it’s a little easier for me to (finally) say this out loud because from the time I was 24 my dad was no longer closeted to me. He was authentic with me for the next 35 years, as I was with him about my life. But still.

I know he was grateful to my mother for saving his life back in the 1940s when she married him after two arrests and then turned away from the Navy for being gay. I know he was grateful to her for giving him four children.

Hours before she died, I listened at her door as he sat at her bedside and told her, “I’m so glad you said yes” (to their marriage, back in 1942).

I listened when she told him she’d do it all over again (even though she’d found out in 1957 that he was gay).

So even as I pray that no one will feel compelled to closet themselves in a straight marriage, today I’m saying that I’d choose my family all over again, exactly as it was. My straight mother. My gay dad. Both in the same house until my mother died in 2006. (He died in 2008.)

I’d even choose to have the anxiety I suffered as a young child over something I couldn’t then name so I could be the person I am today.

My heart is pounding now because I feel like a traitor to the cause. Hopefully after airing this out, I’ll feel differently. But whenever I join the chorus of wishing my dad would have left our family at some point to lead an authentic life, I go back to this photo. It’s always this one. He’s pointing out something special to me and I’m the child leaning down, paying close attention.

My teacher. My protector. My loving father, the one who stayed in the home with me, with us, despite what must have been his own personal hell of yearning to be out. A dad I could see and hug and talk to every single day of my childhood.

I want to thank him for that. I’ve never been able to say that out loud, worrying about how exposed I’d be as the selfish person I must of course be. But I’m saying it now because it’s how I genuinely feel. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my family story…

Thank you, Dad. Thank you for always being there…for me, for mom, for our family. You didn’t have to be there, especially after the gay pride explosion in the ’60s and ’70s, but you were. You were in both places, but you were with us, too. I’ll always be grateful you were.

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

Comments

  1. Eddie Casson says:

    Your voice is beautiful, your words so powerful. Life, relationships and love are complicated. We do our best and the universe moves us forward. Such glory in being able to look back and understand it’s all good. It’s all love… Xxxxx

    • Laura Hall says:

      We do our best and the universe moves us forward – I just love that. You’re sure good at turning a phrase. Thanks so much for your support along the way, Eddie. xoxo

  2. Hi Laura, what a wonderful Father’s Day gift. And a gift to me as well. I’ve been thinking about my own daughter a lot today as I’m finally watching her bloom in an intimate relay with a guy that’s willing to show her with his deeds and behaviors that he loves her, consistently, every day. She is softening and blooming. My daughter’s father always chose to not be with her or there for her her entire life, although he lived close by. I tried to be everything to her, for her but she was inconsolable and raged. Still does sometimes. At her core i think it made her feel not valued, not loved and that there must be something really wrong with her. I watched with my heart breaking at her lack of confidence and struggles with life. I applaud your papa and mamma. We are multi-faceted and can live spherically. And being there for our children is the most important thing to me. Thank you for sharing this. Your dad wasn’t just gay, he was a good human.

    • Laura Hall says:

      He was a good human, Betty. I appreciate you saying that. May your daughter continue to bloom. Thank you for sharing your story. xo

  3. This is so beautiful, Laura. I know it was difficult to write, but I’m grateful that you did and that you shared it with us. I believe it would mean a lot to your dad to know you feel this way.

    • Laura Hall says:

      I believe it would, too, Cayla. Then again, I have a feeling he already knows. And thank you. xo

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