**If you missed my version of the day my dad revealed he was gay, click HERE to read it. This is my brother Mark’s perspective on that very same day. Mark is two years younger than I and is an attorney in New Orleans.**
On a bright sunny Sunday morning, my father announced that he and my mother would be getting divorced.
On Sundays in our household, one could always count on two things: the mail would not be delivered, and we’d have “Sunday breakfast.” There would always be eggs; mostly sunny-side up, but scrambled was not out of the ordinary. There would always be bacon; mostly of the pig variety until we became more health conscious in the late ’80s and switched to turkey bacon. There would always be homemade biscuits with jam/jelly, or my personal favorite, butter and honey. However, it was not unusual for mom to make blueberry muffins, complete with a startling blue color created by adding the blueberry juice into the batter. There would always be seasonal fruit. In the summer we’d have cantaloupe or honeydew melon with the rinds cut off. But most of the time we’d each have a half of a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar and topped with a maraschino cherry. My mom would cut and separate the individual triangles of fruit from the interior skin so that we could easily scoop out a piece at a time with a spoon. We’d always have milk and orange juice, and my dad would have coffee. I always had to remember to drink my glass of milk entirely before I got to the grapefruit. If you eat the grapefruit first, the milk will taste spoiled. Although my mom would occasionally mix it up by making pancakes in the shapes of the first letter of our names, the Sunday breakfast itself was a given. It was something I could count on.
On that strange morning after we’d had Sunday breakfast, my brother and I went upstairs to brush our teeth and recommence the inevitable Nintendo gaming. My sister likely returned to her room and closed the door so she wouldn’t have to listen to my brother and me. However, it’s just as likely that she stayed downstairs to help with the dishes. At the time I thought she would do things like that so whenever my mom would call us out for not pitching-in enough at home, she would always have to add “except for you Erin, you’re always a big help.”
The house had an intercom system so my mom could talk to us in our rooms without leaving the kitchen. My brother and I got the call to come downstairs. I don’t remember who actually asked us to come down, but I imagine it was my father given that my mother could hardly speak a word that morning. My dad had revealed to her that he was gay around two weeks prior to that Sunday morning; a fact I did not learn until much later. How she made that breakfast knowing what was about to happen, I’ll never know.
When he called us down, he said we were going to have a “family meeting.” We never had “family meetings.” Of course, we’d sit together and talk over a meal or something, but we never had to call it anything. When he said “family meeting” I guessed we were all going to be assigned chores to do, like pulling weeds and washing cars. We took our spots on the couches in the den where my dad was already seated looking at a legal pad. I’m fairly sure he was looking at page two when I sat down. He always uses the legal pads for work when he needs to organize his thoughts. He wouldn’t have needed a legal pad to tell me to pull weeds, and he certainly would not have needed two pages. This was so out-of-the-ordinary, I stopped my mind from guessing. My mom’s eyes were red.
My dad cleared his throat with a short gruff bellow. I remember him trying to compose himself and having immense difficulty doing so. I’d like to tell you that I remember the words he spoke next. I wish I could quote him exactly so the words would be famous and familiar in my own mind. You know when you hear someone utter the famous phrase: “a date that will live in infamy,” you already know the date of the event, the identity of the speaker, and what happened there. When it comes to that Sunday morning, I can’t remember the date, the identity of the speaker was shattered, and I don’t remember much about what happened.
I think I came-to when he said, “if you all have any questions, please feel free to ask me…anything you have on your mind…your mother and I are here for you…nothing will ever change the fact that we love you and will always love you. Do you have any questions?” I don’t know if anyone asked anything. I just know I didn’t. “If you guys want to go play or go to your rooms or ride bikes or something, that’s fine.” My sister popped up with tears in her eyes and ran upstairs to her bedroom. I went to my room to lie on my bed. I remember thinking, “I know I’m supposed to be crying right now.” I tried to force it, but with no result.
It’s easy to cry when you understand the full import of a tragedy. I had heard the words, but I had not (or perhaps would not or could not) visualize the end result. I heard him say that he would be moving out, but I didn’t know at the time how weird it would be to visit him at his warehouse district apartment with all the street noise, the different smell, the different furniture and décor. I heard him say that he would continue to attend my basketball games, but I didn’t know at the time how uncomfortable it would feel to have a teammate ask me just before tip-off “is that your dad’s boyfriend?” I heard him say that he and my mother would remain friends, but I didn’t know that resentment between them would still bubble up through the surface many years after that day. I heard him say that he was gay, but I didn’t know he would appear on TV to proclaim it. I heard him say that things might be difficult for a while, but I didn’t know I’d be shoving some derelict kids who cornered and harassed my brother because they “heard your dad is a faggot.” Had I known, I’m certain I’d have cried. A lot.
A long time has passed. I’m no longer a 13-year old adolescent. I’m a 32-year old father and husband. I have known my gay father and lived as a son of divorced parents for far longer than I lived in a “normal” family environment. The experiences that I had in the years following that strange Sunday don’t make me feel like crying today. Looking back at them, all I see is the same overcoming of hardship that we have all had to face in some form or another in our own lives. If you have not yet experienced something that the majority of society would consider difficult, then it is likely that three things are true: (1) you probably haven’t earned much respect, (2) you probably have a lot of self-doubt and (3) you are probably a teenager.
I’ve experienced several additional and entirely different hardships since my dad came out and my parents got divorced. Each of them made me feel sad, stressed and very depressed. And each time I knew that things would gradually get easier. When (not if) things take a tragic turn in the future, things will get easier. That is something I can count on, just like Sunday breakfast.