Our topic over at The Gay Dad Project this month was family. Before the election, I’d have written about my family of origin, friends from childhood, supportive tribes of like-minded souls.
Not today, though. The election has triggered too many feelings in me. I see the world through that filter right now.
Bigotry in America is nothing new, though the rising authoritarianism we’re seeing is. Our country was built on slavery and the near-annihilation of the original peoples. Strains of homophobia have always been with us.
As a child who feels the pain of a closeted parent, it’s the latter that stings me most.
The only family I’ll write about today is my father.
I don’t know how he managed to keep his heart open through it all, but he did. I’m looking to him now as a model for dealing with my own sadness.
The death of my sister, Susan, at age 25, was the event that perhaps challenged him and the rest of my family more than any other in our lifetimes.
Our father was at her bedside the day she died. As she struggled to speak, drops of blood fell from her mouth onto his leather moccasins.
He wore those bloodstained moccasins for an entire year.
When my siblings and I cringed at the sight of them, he remained silent. One day I spoke up.
“Why do you keep wearing them, Dad? It hurts us to see them.”
“They make me feel closer to Susan,” he said.
I never said another word about them.
Each time I visited, there he’d be, out on the deck wearing his memorial moccasins, staring at his garden or up at the sky. Holding my hand while I cried, he’d look straight into my eyes with an ease I’d rarely seen before.
He told me of messages he was receiving from Susan. One day he pointed to a seagull-shaped cloud formation in the sky. It reminded him of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” he said, one of his and Susan’s favorite books.
“I think she’s up there, up in the clouds.”
After one year, Dad’s period of grieving came to an end. He no longer wore the moccasins. Some of us who’d tried too soon to move on would be dealing with our grief for much longer.
As I feel the pain this election has triggered in me, it too feels like a death of sorts. The death of decency. The death of democracy, perhaps.
I ask myself, shall I honor my agony as my father once did his, by sitting quietly with it for as long as it takes?
Or should I change my story, as many are now rallying for, from pain to action?
As if I could…
While my father was alive, our conversations often touched on the afterlife. A few weeks before he died, in 2008, he said he’d try to send me a sign “from the other side.’
Two days after the election, I received it.
He came to me in a dream, though at first the tone seemed wildly off-key. Dad was downright gleeful. His face glowed a shiny bronze, his big blue eyes danced with joy. He wore bright purple pants, a crisp white Mexican shirt, and a shell necklace. The brashness of it all hurt my eyes, even in my sleep.
“Dad! How can you be happy after what’s just happened?”
“Don’t worry, honey,” he said, calmly. “The majority of the people in the world are good. They actually love people like me. You’ll see.”
While I wait and see, I’ll sit with the following question:
What is my equivalent of the bloodstained moccasins?
I suppose I could start by simply being my father’s daughter, holding my sadness in clear view for as long as it takes.
I could even drape my Hillary tee shirt over my shoulders, like a mourning shawl. If someone asks, I’ll tell them why, just as my father did. I’ll tell them it makes me feel closer to her, to a different future.
Whatever I do, I vow to first see my way through my own heartache. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to see you through yours.
I will be your family.
Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming soon to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.
First published at The Gay Dad Project on November 21, 2016.