The Moment I Realized I Still Love My Father
This is a letter to my father he’ll never receive.
All in all, you’ve been so good to me. I’ve never hurt for my basic needs, and you always supported me earnestly in my academic and artistic endeavors. Sure, maybe you were a little hesitant when I asked you to help out with my right hand “painting” my fingernails with color pencils in kindergarten. And you weren’t exactly thrilled when I announced I wanted to do winter guard my senior year of high school, but you bared through it. You never seemed to mind that I was different. Actually, I think you secretly took pride that I stood out.
Sometimes I like to think, deep down, you actually know your homophobia is baseless and your version of Christianity may not be the divinely inspired word of God, verbatim. But you’re too invested now, and to accept me fully would be too great a surrender of your own pride. Perhaps one day, set in my own time-worn ideologies, I will better understand the difficulty of changing a fundamental belief, but as of now, this is where I fault you — your blatant decision to prioritize your bigoted dogma over validating the basic human decency of your own son.
You try and make it seem so simple, that we “just have to agree to disagree.” “You can come over any time, son — our house is your house (so long as you don’t bring the person you love.)” For years, we have spoken about little more than your health and what’s for dinner, and I suppose like this we will press on. Don’t get me wrong, it beats the fighting and shaming, but I believe you will never fully appreciate what it means to be denied love and acceptance for whom you love.
I hid in the closet from you for so long. When I was younger, it was because I was afraid you’d send me to some sort of therapy or counseling — as if your conservative church three times a week wasn’t bad enough. Later, it was because it was becoming more and more apparent my greatest fear would come true — that you wouldn’t empathize with my most vulnerable secret, and it was every bit as bad as I thought it would be. So far, the day you loved me a little less was the second worst day of my life.
I can’t even begin to tell you the toll it has taken. The rapid shift in acceptance for the LGBT+ community over the past few years is a constant reminder the world accepts me, except my dad. It inevitably affects my relationships, no matter how irrelevant you’ve become in my life. I often tell boys my baggage is that I have no family to give. Years in the closet has taught me to lie, to hide, to cover up things, and imbued a certain shame to my sexuality I believe has led to more reckless acts of promiscuity than I care to admit. Ironically, all that time and effort to keep me sheltered has produced the godless, sex-addicted faggot you so desperately tried to avoid. I can almost hear your usual protest as I write the words — ”What about all the heartache it’s caused your mother? What will the folks at church say? Think of your grandmother!”
With all due respect, dad-in-my-head, shut the fuck up and listen for once:
YOU CARE SO MUCH ABOUT HOW WE APPEAR TO EVERYONE ELSE, YOU NEGLECT BASIC COMPASSION FOR YOUR OWN GODDAMN SON!
But then you got sick, and the conversation changed. Suddenly, my own elephant in the room became a bit smaller, shadowed by the rapid decline of your health. I don’t count it as any sort of blessing. I felt awful for you. I wanted to somehow donate part of my own health so you could catch a break. The increasingly frequent trips to the hospital became exhausting, and I began to wonder if my desire for your recovery was selfish. I’m not going to pretend your absence wouldn’t make some things easier, but it would also make some things worse. My biggest concern was mom. She’s not strong without you, and we both know she won’t fare well when you die.
I’ve questioned for the past ten years whether you actually love me. After all, what’s love without full and unconditional acceptance of another? In many ways, after I came out, it felt as if a bitter obligation and charade were all we could maintain. That I wanted you alive for my own sake is a troubling idea. I questioned whether all the arguments and hurt feelings over my sexuality left me with a numb ambivalence for your wellbeing and a guise of empathy motivated by my own self-interest.
The worst day of my life began with a phone call from my aunt. I was in the kitchen preparing to bake a pie. She was hysterical, and through her sobbing, all she managed to say was “He’s stopped breathing; go now!” Mom had told me earlier you went back to the emergency room, but, at this point in time, this was nothing unusual. I’d made plans to visit the next day after you’d been admitted, but I quite literally dropped everything and barely managed to put on my shoes as my anxiety began to escalate. My boyfriend, who had been casually playing video games on the couch, must have heard my aunt, judging by his perplexed look. I just said, “He’s dying,” and I rushed out the door.
I have no idea how to explain my 20 minute car ride which normally took me 30, other than to say I learned I still love you that night. I honestly can’t believe I was able to drive at all in that condition. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, exclaiming a grief I didn’t know and couldn’t express. To this day, I’m not sure if I’m more traumatized that you nearly died or over my reaction to it. I cried with the intensity of a toddler’s tantrum and sprinted to the emergency room entrance with the agility of a teenager, and it was all for you, dad. When I arrived, you were still in an induced coma, and I asked the nurse if you were alive. You were intubated. You’d pissed yourself. I thought I was going to puke, but I wouldn’t let go of your hand. As you began to regain consciousness, all you could do was squeeze my hand, and through those squeezes, we told each other we loved each other. Not like we’d ever said it before; in fact, we’ve never spoken about that moment, but our words could never accomplish what our hands said that night because we actually meant it.
Perhaps I’m just grasping for a silver lining, and I’m not sure your near brush with death was worth the life lesson. But now I have a better understanding of love, and the truth is it’s pretty fucked up. It turns out I don’t need your blessing and acceptance to love you. Who knew that blatant disregard for common decency is irrelevant to the time-welded bond between father and son. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but now, at least I no longer doubt that I do love you, dad, for your sake and not my own.