Fathers and Gay Sons

Writers often circle around the same themes in their writing. I think of this circling as a kind of creative hiccup. You get stuck on an idea or storyline or character even though you’re not always sure why. For me, it’s a compulsion to return to familiar material again and again, perhaps with the hope that, the more I write about it, the closer I’ll get to reconciliation.

One of my creative hiccups is my father.

In my novels, Natural Order and Fruit, I created a father character who was accepting of his gay son. And while that acceptance wasn’t known to the son (and even perhaps to the father in any tangible way), it was known to the reader – and it was known to me.

For most of my adolescence, I hid from my father. I didn’t want him to know I was gay because I was afraid of his rejection. My father wasn’t one of those macho types. He never made me feel unworthy or unloved. But not unlike many struggling youth, I had come to put more weight on the opinions of strangers and peers than on my own. I believed my father would reject me because that’s what the world had told me about fathers and their gay sons.

When I came out to my father at 23, nothing of what I feared would happen actually happened. He didn’t disown me. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t tell me I was sick or wrong or sad. Instead, he did the last thing I expected – he hugged me.

I am extremely lucky to have had parents as supporting as mine. I am a better person because of them. I believe that when you have support at home, it gives you armor to make your way through life. But since my father’s death, I keep returning to those years when I wasn’t out to him, when a silent wall divided us, when we were unknown to one another, when fear held me back. Even though I know these sorts of things are impossible, I wish I could’ve known back then that it would all work out. I wish we could’ve done without that silence. I wish we could’ve started getting to know one another on our terms and not on everyone else’s. I wish I hadn’t let the bullshit of strangers get in our way.

My creative hiccup is a father who accepts his gay son and a son who doesn’t realize it. It’s a story I keep telling to make myself feel better; to remind myself that things came together for my father and me, even if my beaten-down teenage mind didn’t have the capacity – or the willingness – to believe it was ever possible.

My dad, I'd come to learn, was always there.