Saturday, March 21, 2015

Palm Springs: Me, My Dad and a Gay Wedding

We are in Palm Springs this weekend to celebrate the wedding of Chris and Jason, two dear friends. It will be the first gay wedding we have attended (other than our own), and we are looking forward to it. Meantime, however, we are enjoying simply being here.

This is Mark's first time. I was here over 30 years ago on a golfing trip with my dad and step-mother. Most of my memories of that trip involve the ridiculous places where I managed to hit a golf ball, including right in the middle of a swimming pool of a house bordering the fairway and into the clutches of one of those jaggedy things that grow out from a palm tree. I couldn't retrieve either ball - the first for obvious reasons, the second because it was about 20 feet up the trunk of the palm tree.

I have another memory, however: of me sitting on the edge of a bed in my parents' hotel room, sobbing. I can't remember what triggered this breakdown, but I know it was the closest I ever came to coming out to my dad. I was working for his company at the time and was, I suppose, feeling adrift and lonely. I had no friends, did no socializing. Some might put it this way: I really didn't "have a life."

I think Dad suspected that I might be gay. There had certainly been indications. Such as the time that I was working for him in the early summer of 1977. We were driving to lunch in New Concord, Ohio. The news was on the radio, describing Anita Bryant's efforts to repeal Miami's non-discrimination ordinance and her crusade against gay people. I distinctly remember turning to my dad and saying, "Why don't they leave those people alone? They have a right to live their lives like everybody else." I think my dad was so surprised by my comments that he simply nodded. I don't recall him actually saying anything, and the subject was never discussed again.

Dad in high school, holding his nephew

Back to the hotel room in Palm Springs. My dad tried to comfort me and shared a story from his youth that he had never told me before and never mentioned again. Given the context in which he shared it, I was given an insight into my dad. A secret one. One that could not be talked about, but only talked around. 

Dad told of an evening in his youth when he was coming home from the little village of Alma, Illinois to his parents' farm a half-mile or so out of town. As he crossed the railroad tracks, he was confronted by some "toughs" from the village. They apparently surrounded him, taunting him and perhaps smacking him around a little. My dad intimated that they were making fun of him, accusing him. The context of the story indicated that they may have been calling him things like "sissy" and "queer." My dad didn't go into that; it had been "put out there," however.

His point in telling the story was that those guys were still back in Alma or its environs and had not done anything with their lives. (He used a more graphic term.) He, however, had moved on with his life and left that behind. I could do the same. 

It was a curious episode, never again discussed. But it was a turning point of sorts in my life - one of those instances when I flirted with chucking the pretense and coming out, but ultimately decided not to.

So it is interesting that I am here now, 34 years later, an out gay man, attending a gay wedding with my husband ...

We arrived late morning yesterday and had several hours to kill before we could check into our room, so we decided to take in Palm Springs' most popular tourist attraction: a tram that climbs up to Mount San Jacinto and offers stunning views of the valley.

I'm pretty sure one would only this truck in an area with a relatively high gay population. Interestingly, Mark had asked me as we were packing whether he should wear a crew-neck T-shirt under his open-necked dress shirt at the wedding. I had replied with a definitive "no."

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