I've always wanted a good relationship with my dad. For me, however, it's always been an on-again, off-again sort of thing. It seems like we're now doing some serious work to hopefully repair things for good. At least I hope so.
It's funny. There's this one memory I have going all the way back to when I was about 6 or 7 years old. Me and some of the neighborhood kids were outside running around like kids do. I also remember a lot of chaos was going on. You know, nobody was in charge and we were just all over the place having fun. I seem to remember there was a soccer ball involved, like we were just kicking it around with no clear purpose in mind. We were all in a good mood, laughing, yelling, screaming, just being typical little kids.
I don't know how reliable every detail of my memory is, but I do remember making a lot of noise, giggling, flapping my arms all over the place, running around like a kid raised by the wolves!
I remember seeing my dad leave the house heading for the car. He was probably on his way to run an errand or something. I like to think he was watching me for a second and just enjoying seeing his only son playing and having a good time. At least that's the memory I wish was true.
What I remember as clear as anything in my childhood is him yelling at me, "Brad, stop running around like a girl!" I also remember it suddenly getting very quiet. All the other kids seemed to stop in their tracks and were looking at me, then at my dad, then back at me. My dad got in the car and left. After a few more seconds of total silence, there was some snickering and the other kids were making fun of me. You know how kids can be. There was this chant, "Brad's a little girl! Brad's a little girl!" Even the girls were joining in.
I honestly don't remember what happened after that. One thing is absolutely sure in my mind, though. Somehow I fully understood what he meant. In the space of like three seconds I go from being a girl to a boy. I stop giggling. I straighten my body. I stop having fun. I don't know what to do next. I just wanted the chanting to stop. What did my dad see that I didn't see? All I knew was that he was my dad and I trusted him.
We never talked about what happened. I was totally afraid to bring it up. I mean, I was just 6 or 7 at the time. How do you talk about something like that with your dad? Especially if you're a little afraid of him? I was always waiting for him to bring it up again -- kinda hoping he would but also terrified that he might. I mean, I was hoping he would apologize for what he said and say he was just in a bad mood or something. That he really didn't mean to hurt my feelings, especially in front of my friends. But, then I was also afraid if he brought it up he might lecture me about how bad I was for "being a girl," and how disappointed he was that his only son didn't seem to know how to act like a boy.
Since he never brought it back up, I figured he was probably right. Maybe there was something really wrong with me that I was "acting like a girl." Maybe there was nothing more to say about it. End of discussion. Case closed.
I think that was when I first started feeling totally different from everybody else. Even though I didn't know the word for it then, I believe that was the beginning of some kind of depression. All I knew at the time was that what he said made me feel so sad and ashamed. And there was nobody to talk to about it. What I decided to do was to watch the other boys and try to act like them. Looking back on it now, I think I started dying inside. I was so confused and and didn't know how to be what my dad wanted me to be. I wanted him to love me more than anything.
I think he wanted to like and accept me, but it came at the cost of stopping all that "girly" stuff. I tried a few times to toughen up and be what I thought he wanted me to be. He seemed to like me better that way. But did I want to give up playing dolls with my girl friends? And what about the thrill I got when some of the girls showed me how to apply makeup? None of it made any sense to me.
Fast forward to my early teenage years. My dad started drinking more than usual. I know he and my mom were arguing more. It scared the hell out of me. I worried they were going to divorce and I didn't even want to think about how my world would collapse after that. I was totally convinced I was the cause. I knew at some level that he felt all of us were a total disappointment to him. But, I felt I was more responsible for everything. I mean, I kept going back to that incident when I first disappointed him by "acting like a girl."
His drinking got gradually worse. He never, ever got physically abusive. But when he was drunk, he would say horrible things. I had come out as gay to them when I was 15. Maybe that was a mistake. I mean my mom and sister totally accepted it. My dad just looked disgusted and called me his "faggot son." He never said anything like that when he was sober. He actually was a decent dad and did normal stuff with me, like talk to me about school, how I loved playing soccer, etc. He even use to come to some of my soccer games and appeared proud of me. But then when he was drunk, it was some other person inside my dad's body.
I don't want to go into all the details here for personal reasons, but the end result was that he decided to stop drinking. He started going to some A.A. meetings, which I know was hard for him to do. He had a few slips but it didn't seem like he was going back to his old ways where he became verbally abusive. He actually went back to his meetings and got what they call a "sponsor," which, from what I can tell is like some kind of guide or somebody you could call when you feel like drinking and get encouragement and support.
He's been totally sober now for almost a whole year! June 15th to be exact. During this past year, he and I have been doing a lot of talking about our relationship -- one-on-one! How cool is that? We've also been to see this family counselor, another thing I knew would be hard for my dad. Tell you the truth, it was hard for all of us, including me. And you know what? This counselor is totally cool and smart and honest and blunt and, most important of all, caring. I can feel it. I totally trust her.
She eventually pressed the issue of how everybody dealt with my being gay. And my dad talked about his feelings about his relationship with me -- his feelings, for God's sake! Not his bullshit feelings, but his honest-to-God feelings of being sorry for causing so much pain to me. I have to be honest and say it was hard to believe him at first. Was he just saying this to get the counselor off his back? Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. I've gotten to the point where I trust what he says when he tells me he is truly sorry for the verbal abuse and not being there for me.
Last week he took me to see this soccer game a friend was playing in. Afterwards he took me out for ice cream. Just me and him. Without any prompting from me, he brought up the gay thing. He told me he was totally cool with it. I just grinned and said, "Even the girly-boy part of it?" He smiled, lowered his head, then raised it and looked me directly in my eyes. All he said was, "I'm cool with the girly-boy part, Brad." Then, wonder of wonders, he just added, "You're my son. And you know what that means? I love you. All of you. Period. End of discussion."
We both got teary and then he asked how me and Matt were doing. Well, that got on a happy subject. He actually asked all kinds of questions about Matt. As we were walking back to the car to go back home, he put his arm around my shoulder and just said, "Matt deserves somebody like you."
So, I'm learning a lot about love and forgiveness. And guess what? My dad's proud of me! I think this is going to work. I have to believe that. I mean, that's what "hope" is about, right? Hope and love.