I don’t remember ever writing to you when you were alive, not even when thousands of miles separated us. We didn’t have that kind of father-daughter ease of communication and that’s ok. I’ve made my peace with the fact that both of us were doing the best we could. The truth is, writing this now, when you’ve been gone for over twenty years, is the first time I’ve ever consciously wanted to say something in writing directly to you. You would likely be suspicious of this gesture, putting words out there in some kind of public way directed toward you. Toward your memory. But you also had an appreciation for the theatrical, so I hope you can file this under a display with the kind of creative flair that you yourself lived in.
It’s National Coming Out Day today. Did that exist when you were alive? I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook about it and it caused me unexpectedly to cry. You probably would have hated Facebook with all of its over-sharing potential and attention to the minutia of life. You were a private man, at least with me. I don’t know where the tears came from exactly but I do know this: your coming out to mom in 1972 in Topeka, Kansas was one gutsy move.
I have mom’s version of the day but I wish I had asked you to tell me about it from your perspective. Were you afraid? What did you think would happen? Did mom react like you thought she would? What about your fraternity brothers from K-State? How did it feel to have it finally ‘out’?
I’ve interpreted your silence from talking about these things and about being gay in general as being rooted in shame. You had an enormous vocabulary that you loved to wield, but also the ability to not talk at all about the deep things in life. About how it felt when you found out you were HIV+, about losing so many of your friends, about how your own parents expressed their love to you. Maybe it too was hard to talk about. Maybe you were trying to protect me in some way. Maybe I’m over-identifying a sense of shame that wasn’t there in you. I hope so.
Bravery is what you showed me by coming out. Thank you for being true to yourself. Thank you for giving me that example. Thank you for trying the best you could during a complicated life in our messy family. And thank you for passing along your high cheekbones to me. I’m trying to use the life you and mom gave me to be courageous too.