Later this week, my daughter turns 4. It seems like just yesterday that we were bringing her home from the hospital. I now understand the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short” far more than I ever thought I would.
Later this week is also the yahrzeit for my father. He passed away 3 years ago. The day before my daughter turned one, actually.
My dad was not a particularly great dad. But he was mine, flaws and all.
My daughter will know my father only through the stories I tell, so I am careful to only speak of him in a positive light. I want her to like him. It’s strange, since he is not here, that it’s still important to me to make a good impression in his eyes. I never wanted to disappoint him.
My dad was complicated. He married my mom in 1969. He loved her, that is for sure. But he was also in love with love itself, and had a hard time settling down.
I am not sure if my dad knew he was gay before or after he made the commitment to marry. In later years, he claimed he knew, but that he really wanted a family and so he tried to “will it away.” But you simply can’t will away who you are, and the nature of your love and desire.
I feel terrible that my dad had to hide his true self, and that he felt the only way to be a father was to live a lie. I feel worse, though, for my mother who had no idea what she was in for when she said, “I do,” only to find out three kids down the line that he really meant, “I don’t.”
Would my father have been a better dad had he been able to be his true self? It’s impossible to say.
When my dad finally came out, he was still terrified. It was the start of the AIDS epidemic and so his fear was real. To be gay seemed like a certain death sentence and for many of his friends, that was the case.
My father, though, had many lives. The public one and the private one, for example. He was at war with himself more than anyone else. To the outside world, he looked like he had it all. Inside, though, he was more alone and angry and stubborn and depressed. When he passed, on one level it was a relief that he would not have to act out his pain any longer.
But I still find myself wishing I had more time with him, time that might have brought him peace. I still find myself wishing my daughter had gotten to know him. Would she have seen who he really was? I do not know. I am still not sure I know that person, even now.
So what is the lesson here, if any? Be present. Be honest. Be who you are. That is the kind of parenting my daughter needs. That is the kind of parent I hope she has in her dad and me. I have tried to learn from the mistakes of my father.
But it’s easier now. The world is different now than it was back then. The same fears are not there. People are freer. We have made great strides in the last fifty years and that, at least, gives me hope.