In college I would proudly declare how I had a gay father who “came out” when I was a toddler (my parents divorced when I was 2). I would explain how I was a normal, straight, educated young woman who lived part time with my father throughout my life, and that his lifestyle had absolutely no affect on me whatsoever. I even traveled around to gay bars with my dad to see his friends I’d grown up around. I’d even bring my own friends, some of which had never been to a gay bar and probably wouldn’t have gone without me. Once it was apparent that homosexuality was becoming more acceptable in society, it gave me a new sense of worth. It wiped out all of those public condemnations I heard directed toward gay people, which I immediately took offense to because of the relationship with my father. Now that I look back, I can see that I was hiding a lot of emotional damage under a false image of being “enlightened.”
I never told anyone about all of the counseling I had as a child. Or the heartache and confusion I endured, from my parents’ divorce and my father’s choices. These feeling of mine were not due to what “others” had to say about my father. I heard my mother bad mouth my father when I was growing up, and it wasn’t always just about him being gay. When my father would bring boyfriends around to family holidays or get-togethers, my Catholic grandparents never said anything negative (in front of me anyway). Neither did his brothers. I was taught in my Catholic elementary school that marriage is for a man and a woman to raise children. My teachers knew of my father, but never mentioned it, or treated me any differently. So, looking at any kind of outside criticism of my dad’s lifestyle, the criticism was very minimal.
Even though I primarily lived with my mother, I had a closer relationship with my father. He had an amazing personality, and always gave me lots of attention when I was with him (which was every other weekend as a kid, and 3 different times where I lived with him full time for 6 months or more). He had several boyfriends when I was a child and I always thought quite highly of them. They were well accomplished men, who were always respectful towards me. I never quite understood my father’s relationships until I was about 8 years old. Before then, I saw them like good friends who slept in bed together, but I was confused when they’d embrace or kiss (which really wasn’t frequent). I understood that men and women did these things, but it was done because they had a natural drive to procreate.
I started asking my mother questions at a young age that she couldn’t answer, such as, “Why does daddy have a boyfriend like you, mommy?” Or, “What do I call daddy’s new friend?” My mother told me when I was older that she had no idea how to answer these questions, so I spoke to a counselor about it. I was angry at my father as a young child for leaving us and I would always take it out on my mother. My parents divorce was not something I ever “got used to”. It was very damaging and hurtful to live through even though it occurred when I was only a preschooler. I knew my parents disliked each other, but I remember thinking as a child, “Well, they should have thought about that before they got married”. Having parents who lived apart was not easy, but trying to understand my dad’s lifestyle as I got older was just as difficult.
There were several times in my life that my father was single. I lived with him for awhile when he was single for about 6 months, and I have to say, that was probably one of the happiest times in my father’s life. During this time, we traveled together, he stopped going out so much, he worked out at the gym, ate healthy and seemed at peace. I found out later (in my 20s) that this is when he found out he was HIV+. My father was definitely in better spirits while single, but it appeared that he kept getting pulled back into the gay lifestyle, like an addiction.
Once I was a teenager, my dad started to become more open to me about his life. As a child, I saw a lot of the superficial aspects of his relationships. I’m not speaking for all gay men, but I will say that my father, as well as many of his friends knew how to portray a very modest version of what their lifestyle was. On the outside was the appearance of two men who “loved” each other. They went to family events together, lived together and acted like a “couple” (yes, imitated a real heterosexual couple, by taking on male/female roles-my father was the feminine role in all his relationships). My dad started to explain to me how they were so tolerant and loving that they allowed their “boyfriend” to have other “boyfriends”. They also explained how it was alright to “try new things”, including drugs, as long as you knew where it came from. The image I once had of my father started to tarnish, but I still loved him so much that I wanted to make sense of it all. I started to look at the adults around me. My mother had many boyfriends and never remarried, and I had other family that divorced. For some reason, those events didn’t bother me as much as what my father was doing. Instead of staying away, which was my first instinct, I decided to embrace it.
During my late teens my father began revealing much of the hidden aspects of his lifestyle to me. I lived with him again when I was a senior in high school and when I’d get up to go to school in the morning, he and his boyfriend would just be getting home from partying all night. My dad worked 2nd shift, so he’d sleep for awhile when he arrived home from work. I never understood why he chose to do all this. He had a great job, a boyfriend, a nice house and a daughter who really loved him. Why did he need to be doing any kind of drugs? Why did he need to go out drinking all night? Why did they need to go pick up other men? One morning I was shocked to come across teen that was my age, smoking on our couch. He joked that he was picked up by my father and his boyfriend. He was going to clean the house to cover the bar tab from the night before. At this point I was growing tired of all of the nonsense and I decided to move out on my own with a man I ended up marrying. Poor decision, but I was desperate.
While I was in college, my dad appeared to be going downhill physically and emotionally. Every time I was visiting him, someone was coming over to pick “something” up (drugs). My dad appeared sickly thin, and his face became emaciated. He didn’t call me much, but one time burned in my memory was when he asked me to go pick him up from a party on the lake, about an hour away. When I arrived, I realized it was this huge resort out in the middle of nowhere. My father showed me the flier for it, which advertised a huge party for gay men. This was the first time I had ever seen or heard of these parties, I can summarize them as “incredibly deplorable sex parties”. A friend of my father, who spoke to me poolside while I waited for my dad to gather his things, explained some of it casually. At this time I knew my dad had HIV, yet he still knowingly participated in these things. Yes, they are all adults and can make choices, but many of these men, who knowingly have HIV and other STDs, put others at risk. There are also married straight men, who I was told, come to these. So, it doesn’t just affect the gay community, it affects much of society.
My father became very ill when I was in my early 20s and was hospitalized. At this time I realized my dad had another man living with him (as well as his boyfriend he had for 5 years). It was obvious that my dad’s boyfriend was with this man, and they moved on, since my dad was now so sick. I went to visit him frequently, and after a couple of weeks, he recovered enough to go home. He started driving to Chicago to get new HIV medications, which made him even sicker. He was too tired from the medications to work anymore, and had to retire. He was only in his early 50s, yet he had the body of a 90 year old man. I felt so helpless, yet could do nothing. He wanted to continue living with his boyfriend (and his boyfriend). I moved to Arizona the next year.
After a few months of living in AZ my father came out to visit me. He took a shower at my home and the tub was filthy after. It appeared as though he had not showered in awhile. He was so unaware of what was going on around him I was surprised he made it on the flight to get to me. I let him rest; he was used to staying up all night and sleeping all day. We went out to eat a few times. It was so sad. This was no longer my dad. He was dead already. His lifestyle had destroyed him and created a living hell on Earth for him. He never complained, but you could tell he was suffering, and had been for some time. When he’d call his boyfriend each night, they were having a party at his house. I felt bad for him. I even offered my home to him, but he couldn’t stay.
I went back for Christmas to visit. We watched TV together for awhile and ate some Chinese take out. He gave me the biggest hug when I left. That was the last time that I saw him alive. That March I received the phone call while I was teaching from his boyfriend that my father had passed away. He passed out, high on meth, in his hot tub and drowned. He was 52 years old. I was in my first full year teaching and had to fly to Michigan to plan my father’s funeral basically by myself.
Even after his death, I still supported homosexuality for a few years. Once I came back to the Catholic Church God opened my eyes to see it all for what it truly is. I could now honestly look back on my childhood experience with the gay lifestyle and say how damaging it is for everyone; the gay man, his family, his friends, his society. I’m sure there are gay men who don’t participate in the things my dad had, but I have met more celibate men who struggle with same sex attraction. I still love and honor my dad, or I wouldn’t be praying for him.
I pray for him every night because I know he was severely depressed and lost. I remember him telling me that he didn’t believe in gay marriage, because it’s a Sacrament in the Church. Toward the end, I really think he understood the mistakes that he made. I believe he was no longer participating in that life of destruction, but was living with the depression from the realization of what he had done. My father’s choices portray an example of where this lifestyle leads; addiction, depression, and self destruction.
My childhood of dysfunction has lead me to become an adult seeking orthodoxy. I know the effects of choosing the path away from what God intended. After my annulment from my first dysfunctional marriage, I received more counseling, married and came back to the Catholic faith. My husband converted and now we have 6 beautiful children. It’s been 10 years since my father passed away.