When I picked up the phone that evening, I didn’t hear my father’s normally measured voice. Instead, it was loud and animated.
“What is it, Dad?”
The year was 1985. I hoped Jody, my 15-year-old daughter, was okay. She was spending a few weeks with her grandparents on the San Francisco Peninsula as she did every summer while growing up.
Their days were fairly predictable.
Dad, 67 and retired, took Jody to the library every few days to exchange a pile of books for yet another armload of them. Other days, they might catch an early matinee, afterwards sharing a pizza at the mall.
They also shared stories.
“Jody was telling me about some friends of hers,” he said. “And you wouldn’t believe what she said.”
He drew in a deep breath. I reflexively did the same.
“She told me about a boy she knows at school…”
I assumed he was referring to her latest crush.
“…and she mentioned he was gay.”
“…and she acted like there was nothing wrong with it.”
I of course knew this about my own child. She’d long had both gay and straight friends. But the pride and relief I heard in my father’s voice saddened me. How could he not know this about his own grandchild? Then I thought about it.
At our family gatherings, homosexuality was never discussed. Dad had come out to me ten years earlier, but he was still in the closet. I’d just joined him in it.
Though we lived in the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, homophobia was rampant throughout most of the U.S. and the world. Dad had been on the receiving end of it for most of his life. Of course he’d be elated at hearing of his granddaughter’s acceptance of LGBT people.
I’d never shared Dad’s secret with Jody, even though little else had ever been off-limits between the two of us. In contrast to my own childhood, I’d vowed to be completely open with her from the time she was born.
But I hadn’t been.
Just as her grandfather had long kept his secret from his four children, I’d done the same with her.
After Dad’s call, I decided to tell Jody. She shrugged, as if I’d just told her the sky was blue. I didn’t have to tell her not to discuss it in front of her grandmother. Her grandparents would be celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary later that year.
My parents had both passed by the time Jody told her own daughters. They were as nonchalant in their reactions as she’d been decades earlier in hers.
A few years ago, I asked my youngest granddaughter, then 17, if there was anything she’d want to tell her great-grandfather if he were still alive. I wondered if she carried any of the weight of the family secret on her shoulders.
She didn’t hesitate.
“Yes. I’d tell Papa that I understand why he didn’t fight harder…you know, to live a different life.”
“Yeah, Grandma,” she said. “He wanted to stay alive.”
And that was that.
Transgenerational healing? Check.
This post was originally published on The Gay Dad Project blog on May 11, 2016.
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.