My father and I had a difficult relationship for much of my life.
I’m the youngest of four children. My siblings are twelve, nine, and seven years older than me. I’m told this worked out well for me as a young child (according to my mother) because if one sibling got annoyed with me the other two would come to my defense. “Stop being mean, she’s just a baby!” two of the three would intone at the guilty party before I’d be drawn into a lap or lifted up into arms.
Before me, my parents had seemingly come to the end of the baby making stage of their marriage. Well, that’s what my father must have believed. At the time, they had three school-aged children and new possibilities awaited. My mom, however, tells me she had felt the “biological clock” ticking and not long thereafter was me – bonus baby. My mother was thrilled but I believe my unexpected arrival had my father feeling a bit…trapped.
Because my father was gay.
My parents were born in 1933, so to be openly gay was illegal in the United States for a good portion of his life. My father, like so many in the LGBTQ community, had to hide his true self for a long time. When I asked him about it, Dad said he knew there was something different about himself even as a child. The difference came from the very core of his being, expressed in a variety of ways until the time came when he could claim his identity in private and public life.
He had a long wait.
Raised on a farm, my father never quite fit in with his family. Don’t get me wrong. They all loved each other, but he hated being a country boy. He longed to be cosmopolitan, sophisticated (not saying country people aren’t because I was raised in the country) and worldly. He was “metro-sexual” before it became a thing! My father was different in a world where being so was not allowed, so he found other outlets through his interests and deportment.
My parents met at university. They were married a year later. My oldest brother was born a year after that as my Dad began military service. My other two siblings came along during that time. They were a happy family by all appearances. However, I believe my father may have been planning to ask my mother for a divorce. In 1961, Illinois had become the first state to abolish anti-sodomy laws and is where my family lived.
And then I came along in 1965.
I was eleven when my father confessed his homosexuality to my mother. He’d been having affairs with men for thirteen of their twenty-two year marriage (you can do the math) and could no longer stomach the lies. My siblings were grown and gone from the home. My mother had a career as a teacher. Dad didn’t want to hurt her with the truth, he just wanted the freedom to be himself.
My parents divorced in 1977. Long after I became an adult with a husband and children, my father told me he had loved my mother (and always would) but it wasn’t the kind of love a man should feel toward his wife. When they had met in the 1950’s, dating and marriage was the expected thing to do. A man got married to a woman, and they had children. So, that’s what he did until he just couldn’t anymore.
My family had moved to Michigan when I was one year old, so my dad moved back to Illinois when he separated from my mother. They didn’t tell me the reason they split up other than the usual stuff told to children. My father would come to see me once or twice a year and I’d talk to him on the phone from time to time, but they never did tell me he was gay.
As a sixteen-year old, I spent a weekend with my father and his “roommate” in preparation for a road trip to see Dad’s parents and brother. Clues dropped into my brain as I spent time with them and I figured out his sexuality a week or so after getting back from that trip.
My reaction involved a lot of anger and upset.
The anger came from having to figure out my father’s sexual orientation on my own. Something which felt like a betrayal because I’d had to do the same thing with the divorce. My parents hadn’t told me, believing it better to wait until the Summer. I figured it out while talking to some friends at school. What got me really upset, though, for years to come was the belief that my father would go to hell for being gay.
What a horrible burden and fear this belief places on a person.
Declaring a homosexual (or any LGBTQ person) an “abomination” or “sinful” promotes homophobia and incites some so-called “righteous” people toward harmful action such as writing slurs on posters with “God Hates Fags” emblazoned on them, confront an LGBTQ individual or couple out in the public square to condemn their “sin”, deny LGBTQ people a place to eat, employment or medical treatment. LGBTQ people have been assaulted and some murdered for being outside of what some in our society deem as “normal.”
And the root of it all, in my opinion, is found in an ancient law written for one particular theocratic nation and cherry-picked by another theocratic sect for modern day use. Yes, there are people who try to be accepting. They approach the issue with a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality. Such people do mean to be loving and kind while holding to their religious beliefs on “sin” and what makes a true marriage.
I know because I used to be one of them.
Ultimately, the death of my father and embracing my true self as a Witch is what helped me understand that “love the sinner, hate the sin” is hurtful to those whom it may be directed. Why? Because those words deny the essence, the very being of the person receiving it. For while the speaker may indeed love whomever they say it to, that kind of love is conditional and always seeking a way to change the hearer into what is standard or “acceptable” to the speaker’s beliefs.
June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ community.
And I stand with my children – one who is Queer and one who is Transgender – as an ally. I stand with the Bi-sexual community and say “I’m one of you.” I light a rainbow candle for my Dad, whose picture resides on our ancestor altar, and stand as an ally for him, my step-father and all friends (past and present) who are out or closeted.
You have the right to be loved and accepted as you are.
There has been progress for LGBTQ rights over the last century according to an article on History.com especially in the last couple of decades. Sodomy laws have been removed, LGB individuals may serve in the military (although we’ve had the recent setback with “45’s” ban on Transgendered people being able to serve). Same-sex couples can now legally marry and adopt children in all 50 states. But the struggle remains as LGBTQ activists fight for employment equality, housing and transgender rights.
For those of us who are friends, family, and allies of the LGBTQ community, we must never tire of fighting beside them or telling them we love and accept them. We must embrace those whose families have cast them aside for being “different” and not allow radical right-wing fanatics to pressure the government to reverse what rights which have been gained.
My father and I had a difficult relationship for much of my life. Part of that came from his decision to be true to himself when I was still young. For a long time, I felt like he resented me for tying him to a life he didn’t want anymore. The truth is I felt left behind, so chances are the bad feelings were all on my part. He did the best he could, given the situation. I’m glad to say that before he died, my father and I came to a mutual understanding and acceptance of one another. And really, that’s all either of us ever wanted in the first place.