Hi Dad! I’m Bisexual! How’s Your Day Going?
“Hey Dad,” I said nervously over the phone one Sunday afternoon. “I called to tell you something.” I was walking down the street in Brooklyn, en route to a Mexican feast with new friends. I had just moved to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and was working at the last remaining publishing company in the South Bronx (a great commute, I assure you), but had on this day migrated to the mysterious place called “Williamsburg” in order to meet up with some pals who had cool haircuts and prickly demeanors. That seemed to be “The Thing” among young people of a certain set in New York City. I was in my mid-twenties and decidedly unprickly, but I was working on it.
“Sure!” he said expectantly. I breathed a little sigh of relief. He already knew. Everything was going to be fine.
“Um,” I said. “Well. Um. I just called to say, you know, that maybe, like not right now, but maybe sometime in the future, or maybe not, I don’t know, but maybe, and it’s not like I’d be in love or something or get married or whatever, but one day I might want to date, um, a girl.”
Have you ever heard a silence so heavy it could crush a tractor trailer? I hadn’t, until that point. It was my first indication that my announcement had not, in fact, been expected.
The silence went on. My father had always been welcoming to my gay friends in high school; he was not a homophobic person; I’d never heard him call anybody a dyke or faggot; I’d never seen him be anything but kind to gay family members; I don’t think I’d ever even heard him make a gay joke. But in the face of that silence, all that information flew out the window. I reflected upon that fact that he had voted mainly Republican in national elections (this was pre-Obama, and also, he was fiercely proud of being registered Independent, and again, no homophobia on record, but I ignored that in the face of my panic); that he had raised me Catholic (even though he worked at a company that made birth control); that he was a fiscal conservative (maybe that extended to being conservative about gay stuff, and I just hadn’t realized it?)
I decided to backpedal.
“I mean, obviously I’m more into dudes!” I said, and I wasn’t lying. “I mean obviously I’m not going to bring a girl home. But if I ever did, you know, I would just want her to feel welcome. Like in our house? I mean it’s your house. You bought it. Home ownership is the American Dream so I really respect that? Um…how’s golf? Did you golf today?” Changing the subject seemed like a fine idea.
And then he spoke.
“I thought…” he said, and stopped.
Oh God, I thought. I’m definitely disowned.
“I thought you were calling for Father’s Day,” he said.
And then I realized it was that Sunday in June.
He made an excuse and got off the phone, and I called my mother in the midst of a fit of anxiety. She impressed upon me the idea that perhaps this had not been the greatest case of timing in the world, and that I should give him a little while to digest this information. I’ve never been good at giving anyone time to do anything, so I called him right back.
“Hiiiiii,” I said, like everything was normal, and then I immediately started crying.
It may sound silly to get so upset when I totally wasn’t even planning on for reals dating girls like really really reals, but I’d been carrying around this desire – this interest – since I was a kid, but then I learned in church that homosexuals had been given a burden by God (like the Cross) and that their burden to bear was to resist the urge to — I don’t know, be happy, ever? And even though I didn’t hear that crap at home, I heard it at church from a single man in a dress who was the living messenger of God in Hunterdon County, New Jersey (Diocese of Metuchen) so obviously it was right. In fact, when I was 13, I came home from church and sat my father down to tell him that he had to quit his job at the birth control company because he was killing babies (to his credit, he managed to contain his laughter, though his mouth twitched a little as he listened patiently).
Let’s just say that my leaving the Catholic Church had coincided with a few other realizations, as well.
And to some queer-identified folks, it may seem half-assed to come out as “bisexual” or whatever the hell I was (I mostly identify as hotnicesmartpersonsexual, as those are the types of people I seem to prefer, regardless of gender), because at least you’ve still got one foot in the straight world, and anyway, I’ve always dated guys mostly and conformed to pretty status quo notions of femininity, BUT. None of this nuance or common sense or whatever matters when you fear you’ve finally done the thing that will drive someone you love away forever. The fear that arises is not rational. It is primal.
So I cried. And I told him I didn’t even know why I had called him up, and I was probably just going through a phase, and we could really forget all about it if he wanted, and I definitely wanted to, so anyway, Happy Father’s Day! What were his plans? (Gulp, sob, gulp, on a street in Williamsburg, prickly young people walking by and staring at the soft, mushy girl in the sundress).
But in my fear, I’d forgotten something.
I’d forgotten that my father was the man into whose arms I ran when I got enormously embarrassed during my nursery school Christmas show.
I’d forgotten that my father was the man who’d seen my secret tattoo on the day he brought me up to college and dealt with it because he was so sad (and happy, in a way) to leave me at school.
I’d forgotten that my dad held my hand when I was recovering from a nervous breakdown at 21 that saw me confined to my bedroom by a plethora of monstrous fears and agoraphobia, and that he walked me down to the end of the driveway because that was as far as I felt comfortable going from the house where I’d returned when I dropped out of school, and that he encouraged me but did not push me when I said, “Enough. This is far enough for today.”
That was my father years before. And he hadn’t changed.
“Sara,” he said. “I love you no matter what. I just want you to be with someone who is good to you, no matter who it is.”
Have you ever felt relief so enormous it’s as if a giant tractor trailer were being lifted off your shoulders? It’s sort of like that, maybe, probably.
“I really love you a lot, Dad,” I said. I think I was still crying.
And that was that.
Happy Father’s Day to all the good dads of kids who don’t have their shit together, who call them up crying on a random city street, who make important announcements at inappropriate times, who fuck up, who act weird, who dress weird, who talk weird, who make weird choices, who go crazy, who don’t excel in the right ways or who excel in all the wrong ways, who zig when others zag, who take the road less traveled and then go off-road because even that road is too normal.
Happy Father’s Day to the dads who accept us for exactly who we are.
And now, years later, as I prepare to embark on a tour called This Tour Is So Gay, I know that even though he’s not entirely clear what a Kickstarter is or why anyone would give money to a stranger on the Internet, my dad supports me anyway.
Because he’s a good dad, and that’s what good dads do.