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Archive for June, 2010

dad

I am watching Brokeback Mountain for about the 15 th time…and i don’t re-watch movies over and over again, as a rule…books either, for that matter…but i will watch this story anytime I run across it and every time I do, I ‘get it’ some more.

Have I told y’all before that my dad was gay?

Well, he was…or ‘that way,’ I guess, as they probably called his condition back then…and he was fabulous.

Heartbreakingly handsome in his little Air Force uniform and standard issue specs [Rob has a pair just like them from his stint in the Army…and he still wears them and they are every bit as hot in person!] it is no wonder that my little German mother fell head over heels for him back when she was fresh off the boat and working in the mess hall at Andrews Air Force Base [thought I’m not sure how she came to be working there or anything much more specific than that, as mother wasn’t much for filling in a lot of blanks]. They met, they fell in love, and very soon were wildly happily married and hosting hysterical New Year’s Eve parties where men dressed up as ladies.

That’s my dad on the left, being fresh.

Now, my mother was 13 years older than my dad, a fact that she was pretty proud of, actually, as it was a testament to just what a little hotty she was, as well.  I mean, look at her in her little blue pencil skirt and fancy hairdo.

That’s my dad on the right in his spiffy uniform. Apparently, according to that badge on his arm, he was a Senior Airman, and according to usmiliary.about.com, “All SrA should conduct themselves in a manner commensurate with established standards, thereby asserting a positive influence on other airmen.”

It would be a few years before the Air Force would find my dad’s conduct no longer commensurate with established standards.

I have a photo album full of pictures of them, my mom and dad, and their fantastic friends with their snazzy 50’s/early 60’s updos and loafers, laughing and smiling, and seemingly never without a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other [a trend we sort of carried on here at the Casa from about 2001 through 2008].

Mom told me they actually had a pretty happy marriage, though they desperately wanted children and though she got pregnant twice, she was never able to carry to term, and they were devastated both times. However, as it so happened, my dad’s sister found herself ‘in the family way’ in May of 1963, a fact that in 1963 got you ‘going away to school’ or ‘off to visit Aunt Martha’ OR married. That sort of thing just wasn’t smiled upon back then. So, they packed my Aunt Yvonne off to a home for unwed mothers on the outskirts of town, where she stayed until my birthday on February 8, 1964 in Wauwatosa.

I would find out later that there was just a little bit of strongarming going on to get her to bestow her unborn child to her brother and his poor wife…and by ‘just a little,’ I mean like a whole lot…like I’m pretty sure they [her folks, not mom and dad] probably made that poor girl miserable…but finally, she realized that she certainly didn’t have the means or the husband with which to properly raise a baby, so three days after I was born, my mom and dad walked out into a blizzard with their new daughter.

And mom and dad commenced to pouring their heart and soul into their new baby, with dad documenting my development in his beautiful script in the baby book and taking photographs of my every move.

Chrissy tastes green beans!
Chrissy with the dog!
Chrissy with her new dolly!
Chrissy in the snow!

From the photographs I have, it genuinely seemed like a very happy time for them. I hope it was. Truth is, I have come to treasure those old photographs where they are both so happy and hopeful looking [and drunk], because along about the time I turned 5,the Air Force sent our little family to Japan and everyone stopped smiling. Unless they were drunk

That’s Dad there on the right…see if you can tell which one is me in

this picture and tell me if you see the family resemblance]

It was in Japan that a lot of the things that my mom probably thought were charming and funny about my dad stopped being charming and funny…with his drinking being one of them. She probably also didn’t find his penchant for young Japanese men very charming either.

Here she was, 43 years old, living in a foreign country [but an American citizen…she’d become naturalized before Japan] with an alcoholic rice queen [turns out that is a term for gay men who like the Asians…who knew? not me, not til today] who was about to be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for his deviance, because the Air Force also didn’t find him charming anymore.

Sadly, I can remember a lot of what happened then. I remember that he brought one of his boyfriends to live in our little ramshackle government cinder block home…I remember the screaming and the fights and the pot of scalding water my mom angrily tried to throw on him through the crack in the bedroom door when she was so furious at him for not letting her in…and I remember her screaming when he shut her fingers in that same door.What I don’t remember is exactly how he wound up in the mental hospital in a last ditch effort by the Air Force to cure him of his homsexuality and love of the booze, but they probably didn’t really care that much about the alcoholism. The last memory I have of my father was mom and I going to visit him in the hospital. He was angry. She was hurt. I was 5. No smiling.

So the Air Force was kind enough to offer mother and I a one-way ticket to anywhere we wanted to go and somehow we chose Texas, and mother set out to give me the best life she could given the fact that she was penniless and wholly dependent on the kindness of these crazy Texans she found herself surrounded by.

And she gave me a great life.

We didn’t talk very much about dad. I could always tell it hurt her too much, though i didn’t really put together the smaller pieces of the puzzle until some years later. I mean, I found the pictures of him with his Japanese “friends” in the bottom drawer of the dresser and found the angry letters blaming her for his downfall, but she never once said a bad word about that man to me. My feelings for my dad evolved completely of my own understanding of what was reality. He had sent us away, never to offer one bit of support or a phone call.

When I was probably about 12 or 13, a card came that seemed so nonchalant to me…something like ‘Hope you are doing well. Love, Dad’ Then another, after I was grown and had kids, again somewhat nonchalant for my taste “I’m still alive. Love, Dad’
While I found it easy at 13 to ignore the attempt to reenter my life, as a parent, that second one sent me over the edge…like over the edge of Niagra Falls edge. It was after that last card that I sat and wrote the most venomous letter to my dad, throwing every bad thing I remembered back in his face, demanding an answer as to how he could just send the kid he loved so much into the great beyond without even caring enough to send a dollar, and then the nerve of sending a card…the NERVE.

I think it was about 8 legal pad pages, front and back, and it was angry.  I made damn sure I had it all off my chest.

And he died soon after that.

It’s only been in the last few years, as I’ve come to grips with my gene pool and my drinking and how my life really was affected by all that went on when I was little.  Before this period of introspection, I would have sworn to you that I was hardly touched by any of it. But in truth, I was so profoundly affected. What happened in those last years broke something in me. I can see that now.

So anyway, back to the movie.

It’s sort of a no brainer that a movie like Brokeback Mountain would hit closer to home for me than say…someone who didn’t have a dad who was gay who married their mom knowing he didn’t like the ladies but not knowing what else to do.

When i watch that movie, ugh, the heartbreak. I never know who I feel worse for…Ennis, Jack or that poor Alma. The look on that poor woman’s face when she opens the door to see Ennis kissing Jack with a passion he’d certainly never felt for her is so gut wrenching. It hurts me a little to watch it, but I watch it so it will remind me that there were so many men back then who were like my dad…gay men in an era where being gay could get you a nice lobotomy or fired from your job.

and it was 1976 before psychologists dropped homosexuality as a mental illness.

It occurs to me that I’ve never said too much at all about my dad, other than the occasional reference to the fact that he was gay, so I’m glad I felt like writing this today. I am glad that I’ve let the anger go and understand more now what life must have been like for him.  I know that in his later years he had a happy life in California. I’m glad for that. Much like Ennis in the movie,  I have some regret with how I handled things with dad there at the end. I wish I had been…well, less of a bitch.

Wasn’t he beautiful? This has always been my favorite picture of him. I haven’t looked at it in years really. The album that these pictures are in is kept high atop a shelf in the office closet. And it’s odd, looking at it now, grown up and about 1000% more empathetic, I see a touch of sadness in his eyes that I never saw before…

I swear, Dad.

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smug

I have been at this parenting thing a long time. While my friends turned 21 and celebrated with partying it up, I was sleep deprived and covered in baby vom because my newborn had this penchant for hurling back at me all of the precious sustenance I so diligently worked to produce for her.  That first burp after a feeding was almost always followed by the *SPLAT of the babyvom hitting the floor via the back of my shirt.

It was a harsh entry to motherhood.

But my gosh, I loved it. To be truthful, since my mother babysat a houseful of kids from the time I was..eh…8ish…having kids was pretty low down on my to-do list…and by pretty low down I mean never.  But then I got married and really all I wanted was to have a baby.  And she was beautiful. Perfect and precious, albeit the vomiting thing…which worked itself out eventually.

We then set out to have a baby every 3 years…84…87…90.  All precious little girls.

I was a stay-at-home mom and grateful for it.  I loved nothing more than being a mother.  By the time the third one was 2-ish, I’d started cleaning houses and schlepping her around along with the vacuum and my magical tote of cleaning elixirs that garnered me $65 a day for dance lessons and school lunches for the kids and clothes and the like, since that was about when I got tired of having to grovel for every cent and get grilled for every dollar that was spent out of the checkbook.

She never knew it, but she was the glue that held that union together for another 6 years or so, being that I’d had Pappy, a friend of mine’s dad, who also happened to be a very generous lawyer sort, draw up the first of my divorce papers some months before she existed.

But that’s a story for another time.

The point is, I was good at the mothering.  I was good at fixing hair and picking bows and matchy match color-blocked outfits for pictures.

And they all grew up to be the most awesome kids. Never a one of them gave me a stitch of a problem. Not one was ever late for curfew or caught smoking or drinking or cavorting. When other friends would kavetch about how their kids were getting busted for drugs or DWI or getting girls pregnant or getting pregnant or wrecking their cars or kicking their dogs…while I was sympathetic…

I certainly couldn’t empathize.

After all, I’d never had any problems at all with this parenting thing.

I’d gotten 4 girls (3 + 1 that was added when i remarried) to “adulthood” and into colleges of their choice without so much as a stumble.

I HAD THIS, MAN!!!

I was smug.

And then one Sunday morning at church, our children’s minister came walking up and asked if I was going to be taking the parenting class that was going to be going on or if i was still going to be able to help in Sunday school.  I think I may have snorted a little, while I laughed…a parenting class…for me…a 25-year veteran…

And I stood there and I laughed…no, I threw my head back and laughed HA HA HA! “Alan,” I said, with a sort of smirky grin, “I could teach that parenting class.”

Now, looking back, I totally understand the look he gave me. It was sort of like an oh yeah, you think so? look.

Anyway, at that very second, the cosmos, nay God himself, looked down on me and decided it was time to take me down a notch or two.

And life as I knew it began to change verrrrrry quickly, as in like the very ground I was standing on began to quake and fall out from under me like I was standing right on the San Andreas fault line and this was the BIG ONE.

I would find out that coming week that my precious youngest daughter was, to put it bluntly, actin’ a fool.  She would turn 18 and commence to carrying on in a manner I highly disapproved of…and now she is nearly 19, which means we have lived this tumultuous year…or more specifically SHE has…and she still gives me cramps, albeit not nearly as bad as the ones from last year.

And this year has humbled me.  It has humbled me and made me a better person…and certainly a much less smug, much more empathetic one who has learned that even though you think you got something beat, you think you can start counting those chickens before they hatch…you think you are so good at something you can throw your head back and lauuuugh and laugh and offer to teach the class…

maybe you better not.

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