On Sunday children across America will be celebrating their fathers. It’s interesting to hear the many ways children of gay and lesbian parents celebrate Father’s Day (and also Mother’s Day). April and I both share Mother’s Day and we don’t do anything special on Father’s Day. We realize that each family has their own unique way of honoring the parents within their household. On Father’s Day April does call her father and when he’s in town she gives him a card and gift.
For me, though, Father’s Day is more difficult. My dad officially died on October 22nd, 2012, yet the last time he was truly with us was on October 12th. A massive heart attack took him from us unexpectedly and he died after spending ten long, unresponsive days in ICU. So Father’s Day, to me, is a little unsettling.
I was a daddy’s girl growing up. Even though he wasn’t much of a talker I still loved each and every moment that I was by his side. He was a great wood worker and I was thrilled when he built me a toolbox so I could work right by his side. I helped him in the garden. Each afternoon we both walked to the pasture to check on the cows.
As I grew up I found much joy in playing sports and basketball was my favorite. My dad was my biggest fan and also my biggest critic. He never yelled during a basketball game. He also never clapped or cheered. Instead he had a small spiral notebook that he brought to each game. He kept up with my shots, points, assists, turnovers, and fouls. He used these statistics to analyze my game and our car rides home were often brutal. He was very critical and I always played to please him. But it was because of these car ride conversations that I became a better ball player.
When I turned 16 he bought me a brand new truck. Perhaps I was spoiled; after all I was a daddy’s girl. I got the shiniest, most loaded truck on the lot. He trusted me and he had every right. I was an honor student, a dedicated athlete, and an overall good kid. My work ethic came from him. He would wake up at 3:30 am, drive an hour to work, work 12 hours, drive an hour home, then work on the farm until dark……6 days a week. During basketball season he would go to my games, get home around 10pm or so, and be up again for work at 3:30am. My dad’s hands were calloused, his nails were dirty from the coal dust, and he had a true farmer’s tan.
My dad didn’t talk much but you could usually figure out his thoughts and beliefs by how he was engaged in a conversation. If he disagreed or didn’t approve he would find something to do—instead of changing the conversation or disagreeing within the conversation he would leave the conversation. That was his way of handling difficult or uneasy situations. In a sense, I am similar. I hate difficult conversations and try to avoid them.
On November 6th, 1998, I was a college senior and I brought up the most difficult conversation of my life to my mom. My dad was already in bed and I told my mom that April and I were “more than just friends”. My mom went and woke up my daddy and told him the news. He got out of bed and proceeded to vomit most of the night. As I lay in bed that night, I heard my mom throw and break dishes and my dad vomit. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I wanted to please my father and it was obvious that this conversation made him sick to his stomach—literally.
My dad very much disapproved of my sexuality, as did my mom. My daddy told me that there was nothing that I could ever do that would make him proud again. He told me that I would never get a job as teacher. And for the next 14 years, this quiet man spoke very little to me. For a man that loved to watch me play basketball he never came to one game when I was coaching basketball on the middle school level. When I asked this wood worker to help me build things, he didn’t have time. Our relationship, for the most part, ended on that November night.
Yet, I felt that he loved me….I wanted him to love me. I still held on to the belief that one day he would accept me. I held on to this belief for a long time. With each visit and phone call I held out hope that I would be a daddy’s girl once again.
Many children will spend this weekend honoring their dad. Instead, I am reminded of what was…..and reminded of how I hoped things could have been different.
Likewise, many LGBTQ persons are disenfranchised from their parents or they are living within a very strained relationship. Before my dad died I had intended to have another conversation with him. I wanted my dad to know that I loved him despite our differences, despite the pain that I couldn’t seem to let go, despite everything. Happy Father’s Day Dad!