In the fall of September of 1981, my sister and I were with my dad for the weekend at my grandparents’ house in Whitestone, New York. My parents’ separation was still new and raw. I was nine years old at the time and I remember the day, 32 years later, like it was yesterday. My dad asked me to go on a walk with him and in my gut; I knew something big was about to be discussed. The walk would change our lives, and relationship, forever. As the oldest child, I was daddy’s little girl and I adored my father. While we were on our walk on that warm fall day, my dad said, “I’m gay.”
Hearing the words come out of his mouth made it real. Even though my mother (not being one to hold her tongue) had already told me salacious details that a nine-year old should be spared. My father’s words that day shifted everything into overdrive. I returned from that weekend with contention, hurt, despair and a sense of mistrust—feelings that were fueled by my mother and society. The 80’s were the height of the AIDS epidemic. At the time it was considered the “gay disease.” There was tremendous societal backlash against those to come out as LGBT.
I spent many of my formative years trying to “keep my dad in the closet.” I refused to acknowledge who he was. I chose to live a lie, a life where my father was not gay. I never shared my secret with any of my childhood friends. I now realize that I began to compartmentalize my life—parts of my life that I did not want to intertwine. I dreaded the idea of my dad meeting my friends or, even worse, boys that I may have had a crush on.
My mother decided to move us to Vermont. We would spend time during the summer with our father, either at my grandparents’ house or, as we got older, on Fire Island. I remember returning home from my freshman year in college and still not being honest with friends as I never discussed the fact that yes, my dad was gay. Looking back I realize I missed out on having a healthy relationship with my father.
One of the turning points happened after I had my son Dylan. Watching my father hold my son made everything click. Something in me wanted to change the path I had chosen. I always loved my father, but I decided I wanted to love him for who he was, not who I wanted him to be. I wanted to really get to know and accept him. I decided I wanted my children to know and love him for who he is. I knew I had to change.
I live in Miami, Florida. Dylan is now 12 years old and my daughter is 4. Since that fall day in 1981, I have taken an incredible journey of social (self) awareness and acceptance of what is now my life. I’m thankful for the life lessons and tools that I’ve learned. I believe that our choices shape what becomes our destiny.
My children have experienced a healthy and loving relationship with their two Papas (Papa Ray & Papa Ted). They attended their wedding celebration this past fall. When my son Dylan was younger he would ask if Papa Ted was Papa Ray’s “sidekick.” Dylan has been raised not knowing anything but acceptance and love for his grandparents. My daughter, Alessandra Rae, named after my father, has a loving, playful, affectionate relationship with him.
We recently returned from a family vacation with our Papa’s joining us. Watching my daughter and father interact overwhelmed me with joy and peace. Joy because of the love they share, and peace because I know my children will grow up knowing that love comes in different shades, shapes and forms. The image of the “traditional” family is shifting to what is now a “modern family” made up of different races and same-sex unions. This awareness has helped me to find my own voice and want to help other children and parents in so-called “unconventional” families.