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.