Father and Son

I was really touched by this episode of This American Life, about stories of fathers reaching out to kids in “dad-like” ways, in which fathers show their love using the tools they know. Not always talking about their feelings, not being direct about their emotions but in ways that are more indirect, but no less sincere: help with preparing taxes, giving advice, fixing things around the house. Men in general are not as adept as sharing their feelings, and although it takes some reading between the lines, what can be inferred is no less of an eloquent statement than a direct “I love you.”

My dad and I always had an intense relationship, as we are very different in many ways and both can be quite stubborn. I think the big breakthrough in our relationship came when I told him I am gay. He had come to visit me in Chicago and we were having brunch in a diner. The conversation went something like this:

Dad: So, do you have a girlfriend?

Me: Nope.

Dad: Why not?

Me: I don’t fall in love with women. I fall in love with men. I’m gay.

(At this point, we both knew we were having a “milestone” conversation. So, instead of eating, we just started pushing food around our plates.)

Me: How does that make you feel?

Dad: Well, it’s just new to me. I don’t know any gay people.

Me: You probably do, you just don’t know that they are gay. It really isn’t a big deal.

Dad: You’re probably right.

So that was basically it. It seemed like a movie to me, enhanced by the fact that the diner we were in was full of gay men in leather gear since it was International Leatherman Weekend in Chicago. Later on in the day, when the mood became lighter, I said “Well it’s been quite a big day for you huh, finding out you’re son is gay?” and my dad said, “I always kind of had a feeling. You were always dressing funny and doing funny stuff with your hair.” I thought that was so cute and such a Marvin Kitchen thing to say. And it made me realize that him coming to visit me and asking about my personal life was asking to be more a part of my life, and one that I was ready to welcome him into.

My favorite picture of my Dad and I was taken a few years later when he came to visit me in New York. We were walking around New York and I thought we’d pop into my friend Giasco Bertoli‘s photography studio and Giasco took this picture of us:

It was one shot taken with a polaroid and I love it… love how we look similar but different, me trying to be cool and dad being his earnestly awkwardly adorable self. I made a print out of it and my dad has it hanging in their house in Oklahoma.

When I heard this duet of “Fathers and Sons” of Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple, I thought it is just perfect … Johnny Cash is my dad’s favorite musician, and Fiona Apple is mine.

I was once like you are now, and I know that it’s not easy,
To be calm when you’ve found something going on.
But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got.
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

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