Wednesday, November 11, 2020

My Father's Wars

"Here's your mother ..." that's pretty much all my father would say upon hearing my voice on the phone. He never said, really, anything. No greeting. No question as to my well-being. No inquiry into my job. Nothing. He knew that I traveled all over the world, that I was prolific in my publications, that I was respected in my profession. I really wanted that to matter to him, it didn't. I wasn't one of those who whined about needing affirmation from a father, except, sometimes. I really did want to make him proud.

But the bar had moved so far away from his ability to feel proud of me, or even acknowledge me when he discovered that I was gay. We had no big explosion. We had no coming out scene. There was just this silent, quiet death of a living child. He didn't know what to say to me and he didn't seem to want to learn, so I became the call that was handed over to my mother.

Once, I made a comment to my mother about Dad's refusal to speak to me. It was made in a moment of weakness. I knew she would talk to him about it and I kicked myself for having been weak. I knew that any call that came would be one that he was forced to make. And he did call. The next day. I paused, stunned that he was on the phone, and I immediately felt sorry for him. I said, "Dad, you don't have to call me because mom told you to." I wasn't angry. I just wanted him to know that he didn't have to do what he was doing.

He became very angry at me.


Hung up the phone. 

That was my last call from my father.

Years later I would talk to him when he was hospitalized and my brother was away. My brother was very dutiful towards my father and they had a very good relationship. But on occasion, I was called upon to talk to doctors and get information that I would translate to my father. My father never questioned doctors, but I did. Those calls were brief but cordial and I was relieved that we had seemed to resolve something.

But then.

My father became very sick. He was hospitalized and not expected to live for a lot longer. Joe and I traveled to where he lived and visited him in the hospital. On my first visit, I had determined to thank my father for something that he had done for me, something that changed my life, something I am today still grateful for. I had never done so and now seemed to be the time.

I nodded to Joe silently asking him to leave for a few minutes. Then my father and I were alone together. I told him that I had something to say and he braced himself. I thanked him, and started to cry when I was done, I said, "I thought you should know." My dad said, "Well, you certainly found your place in the world." Soon after Joe came back in.

Then we all talked. When I was younger I had asked Dad a few questions about his time serving in WWII and he had very little to say. He didn't like speaking about the war and kept his time there pretty close to his chest. But now, he began to tell stories from the war. He was a remarkable storyteller, I never knew. I never knew. He talked and we all laughed and it felt, like for the first time in years, that I actually had a father.

My father's war wasn't one that he talked about. But that day, on his deathbed, he shared some of the funny moments and talked about some of the people he remembered. I got the sense that every day was Remembrance Day for my father.

But then there was the other war. The one he fought right to the very end. The war that he had with his understanding of masculinity and a son who didn't fit. From the start, didn't fit. The son who at 16 had fallen in love with another boy, and who didn't hide it. The son who in kissing his boyfriend killed his father's hope.

He won that war, in the end. 

For about 20 minutes.

And then I had to leave. I was never to see him again, but when I called, he spoke with me.

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