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Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving inevitably leads to trips down memory lane. Random memories of family and friends that you thought you’d forgotten pop up out of nowhere. This year I found myself thinking about my father, and about a young woman from India whom I met way back in the 1980s. Two somewhat unrelated memories whose only connection is Thanksgiving, and maybe fathers.

In the summer of 1987 I was introduced to a young woman whose father had brought her to America to fulfill an arranged marriage. The problem was that her father didn’t know she was a lesbian. I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t remember her name. It was 25 years ago. My friends and I spent the summer respectfully trying to help and support her throughout her coming out process. It was emotionally exhausting for all of us. I can’t imagine what she was going through.

As Thanksgiving approached, I asked how her family would be celebrating. She said “We don’t believe in thanksgiving.” I tried to explain that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. I pointed out that Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude for what you have. It’s about family, friends, etc. Still, she insisted that her family did not believe in Thanksgiving. I reluctantly submitted to her opinion and we continued along with other conversations. It never occurred to me that, in my insistence that she understand my point of view, I might be behaving just as stubborn as her father, and incidentally, my father.

My father and I had a rocky relationship. I spent most of my life distancing myself from his chauvinistic attitudes. (Notice I didn’t say misogynistic.) Dad wasn’t a bad person. He just had the misfortune of living precariously between two eras. He grew up in the 1950s, when men were kings of their castles. By the time I came along things had changed drastically. Racial equality, women’s rights, and gay liberation turned his world upside down. It was difficult, but he made an effort to change with the times. Dad’s limited education and preconceptions about the world often led to awkward interactions. He couldn’t understand why people didn’t always see things from his point of view. Sound familiar?

As I get older I catch myself doing and saying things that remind me of my father, especially around the holidays. Carving the turkey always returns me to my dad’s last Thanksgiving. His health was such that he couldn’t securely grasp and control a large knife, so the honor of carving the bird was passed to me. This was a very big moment for both me and my dad. He watched silently as I showed off my skills. I was proud. He was proud. Even my stepmother was proud. It was a very surreal moment. It took a lot for him to concede the duties traditionally held by the head of household. It was a ridiculously small gesture by today’s standards, but it wasn’t about the knife or my carving skills. It was a small example of the many changes that had occurred in my father over the course of his life.

                       *                                     *                                     *

I’m not sure what made me think of that young woman. I understand she moved back to India with her family the following winter. I never did find out how she resolved her coming out issue, but I hope she followed her heart. I hope she stayed true to herself.

I’d like to think I’ve achieved some personal growth since the last time I saw her, but I still see a bit of my dad in myself. But that’s okay. He did the best he could with what he had. He was human. He made mistakes.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all just accept that we’re only human, and give each other a little wiggle room, and a chance to make and learn from our mistakes, the world might be a better place.

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Out Of The Closet, Into The Fire!
I wanted to write something brilliant and inspiring for National Coming Out Day, something that would give future generations hope and pride. Then, like most of my “inspiring ideas”, I put it off until the last minute. So here I am at 12:15 AM with a head full of thoughts and nothing on paper … er, document file.
My earliest conversation about homosexuality was a curt one. I was maybe six years old. The idea of marrying a person of the opposite sex was alien to me. I knew that’s what people were supposed to do, but It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t think girls were yucky, or had cooties. It’s just that I knew I didn’t want to spend my life with a girl. So, one day, I casually asked my grandmother if two boys could get married. Well… I will never forget the look in her face. You would have thought I had grown another head. “NO!” she snapped. “It’s illegal.” And just like that, the conversation was over. But I held onto that thought. I filed it away for later use. The acrimony in her answer would become the foundation upon which my closet was built.
As I grew older, I discovered that people did not approve of gays. Many, like the men in my family were downright malicious. My grandfather made racial epithets part of his everyday vernacular and saved a few choice words for gay men. He said the word “faggot” with such vile hatred I used to cringe. My father might not have been as aggressive, but he was his father’s son. — Perhaps being on the receiving end of that hostility helped me to empathize with others.
By the time I was ten years old I was discovering sex. My best friend found discarded Playboy magazines and was eager to share with the gang. We gathered round, gawking and giggling. Everything is giggles with boys that age. — I tried so hard to be interested. I wanted so much to find something about those images appealing. I really did. I wasn’t put off. Women’s bodies don’t repulse me. I just wasn’t interested.
It was about this time that I happened upon a Playgirl magazine. It probably belonged to my stepsister. I took a look. This was the moment. This was the game changer. Suddenly, I knew. – And I was filled with a combination of relief, exhilaration, and dread. The fact that I had finally experienced sexual excitement was such a relief, but that relief was short lived. All of a sudden panic struck. No! This couldn’t possibly be happening! Why me?? Yes. The $64,000 question, “Why me?” I was so distressed by the thought that God felt it necessary to pile such a huge burden on my shoulders. It wasn’t enough that my parents divorced and I don’t know my mother, now God was against me too? My feeling of despair was made worse because I had no one to turn to. — A young person of color goes home to a family of people just like him or her. LGBT youth are most often alone in a family of heterosexuals. They lack representation in their own family, their own home.
I made it my mission to learn all I could about homosexuality. I was already spending lots of time in the library, so I started there. The resources were slim. I searched every dictionary, encyclopedia, and medical book I could find. I uncovered little more than clinical definitions and misguided assumptions, but I never stopped looking. —  To this day, I soak up every bit of LGBT history and culture I can find.
As puberty took hold, I learned to reinforce my closet door. Attitudes towards gays at school were negative at best. Kids can be so cruel. Anti-gay epithets could be heard from students and teachers alike. I was on constant guard. But I also kept an eye open for clues that there might be others just like me. I sought out allies, but was convinced I was the only gay person in my town. — Silly me.
By my fifteenth summer I was swimming at the nearest YMCA, conveniently located a mere ten miles away. After a swim I’d go to a nearby book and magazine shop to pick up something to read on the long trolley ride home. One day, while perusing the periodicals, the words “gay pride” caught my attention. Oh. My. God. Could it be? The clean cut moustachioed man on the cover smiled down at me. I was nervous. How was I going to ask the cashier to sell me this magazine? I looked for something else to buy. There was no way I’d have the nerve to buy this one gay themed magazine alone. Maybe if I asked for a bunch of titles the clerk wouldn’t notice the gay one. — Does that ever work?–  I continued scanning the rack, but my eyes kept returning to the smiling man. In a panic, I mispronounce the name of the magazine. I had to point it out to the clerk. I was nervous and somewhat embarrassed, but I managed to buy a cooking and a gossip magazine to go with that wonderful window into gay life, The Advocate. The minute I got home, I stashed the magazine where every teenage boy thinks no one will look. Say it with me… “under the mattress.”
My first job was at a local convenience store. I was friends with a few of my coworkers and got together with them after work on Saturday nights. It was nothing elaborate. We piled into a friend’s beat up old car and went to a movie, a diner or bowling. Sometimes we would just drive around, carrying on like teenagers do.  It was on one of those nights that everything changed.
My friends dropped me off at home so I could change out of my work clothes. My parents were quietly seated in the living room.  I said hello, and proceeded upstairs to get cleaned up. I was shocked by what greeted me. My bedroom was in shambles. More importantly, the mattress had been tossed aside. They knew! I was convinced my father was going to throw me out of the house. I was crushed.
I gathered all the courage I could and without looking at my folks, calmly left the house. My friends were waiting in the car for me. I must have looked pretty bad because one of my friends asked what was wrong. I told them I might need a place to stay for a while. When asked why, I skirted the issue. Eventually, the truth came out. Surprisingly, my small group of friends was supportive. We talked for more than an hour. The car never made it out of the parking spot. After encouragement from my friends, I reluctantly returned home to face my fate.
My parents were more upset that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to open up to them than they were about the magazines. My dad was disappointed, but not surprised that his son was gay. “Straight boys “ he said. “don’t usually hang around with girls.” The fact that there were boys in my group didn’t matter to him. There were more than three girls in the group, so I was gay. – Sounds logical to me.
My parent’s told me the reason they searched my room was because they suspected drug use. For the record, I was not using any kind of illegal substance. I didn’t even smoke. I was under the misconception that gay folks didn’t do drugs. Yes. I was that naive.
After graduating high school, I met my first love. We weren’t really a good match, first loves rarely are. He helped me through the death of my grandfather, but his habit of sending love notes outed me to my grandmother. She opened a birthday card that was addressed to me and didn’t like the romantic nature of the enclosed message. My grandmother took it as a personal affront, like in some bizarre act of rebellion I decided to be gay. She demanded that I find a nice girl and change my ways or she would disown me.
Up until that moment, my grandmother and I had always been close. She took care of me for the three years between my father’s divorce and his marriage to my stepmother. I learned a lot about my Italian heritage through her. I learned how to cook from her. So it was especially painful to hear her say that my being gay made her “sick to her stomach”.
A friend of mine told me to have patience. He said that I had the advantage of time on my side. I was a few years between the moment I discovered I was gay to the time I accepted it as a fact of life. I was going to have to give my family the same about of time to get used to it. He was right. My parents came around within a few months of that awful Saturday night. My grandmother took a little longer, but she did manage to adjust to the idea in her own way. She preferred no to discuss it.
As I learned, while gawking over pictures of scantily clad women, I can’t be anything other than who or what I am. There’s no amount of praying that will change it. Once I accepted that simple fact, I was much happier.

New York AIDS March (1985)

By the end of the 1980s, I was living on my own. I was fortunate enough to have made friends with some truly remarkable people, most of whom are no longer with us. Those men took me under their wing and became my secondary family. Their struggles helped pave the way for my self acceptance in a way that I hope my generation might have done for the next. I know they would be extremely disappointed with me If I didn’t live life in my own truth, on my own terms. So I strive to make them proud.

In the words of *Polonius, “This above all – to thine own self be true,”  It wasn’t always easy, but it did get better.
*(Hamlet act 1, scene 3) William Shakespeare


#NCOD #LGBT #NationalComingOutDay
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Out Of The Closet, Into The Fire!

I wanted to write something brilliant and inspiring for National Coming Out Day, something that would give future generations hope and pride. Then, like most of my “inspiring ideas”, I put it off until the last minute. So here I am at 12:15 AM with a head full of thoughts and nothing on paper … er, document file.

My earliest conversation about homosexuality was a curt one. I was maybe six years old. The idea of marrying a person of the opposite sex was alien to me. I knew that’s what people were supposed to do, but It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t think girls were yucky, or had cooties. It’s just that I knew I didn’t want to spend my life with a girl. So, one day, I casually asked my grandmother if two boys could get married. Well… I will never forget the look in her face. You would have thought I had grown another head. “NO!” she snapped. “It’s illegal.” And just like that, the conversation was over. But I held onto that thought. I filed it away for later use. The acrimony in her answer would become the foundation upon which my closet was built.

As I grew older, I discovered that people did not approve of gays. Many, like the men in my family were downright malicious. My grandfather made racial epithets part of his everyday vernacular and saved a few choice words for gay men. He said the word “faggot” with such vile hatred I used to cringe. My father might not have been as aggressive, but he was his father’s son. — Perhaps being on the receiving end of that hostility helped me to empathize with others.

By the time I was ten years old I was discovering sex. My best friend found discarded Playboy magazines and was eager to share with the gang. We gathered round, gawking and giggling. Everything is giggles with boys that age. — I tried so hard to be interested. I wanted so much to find something about those images appealing. I really did. I wasn’t put off. Women’s bodies don’t repulse me. I just wasn’t interested.

It was about this time that I happened upon a Playgirl magazine. It probably belonged to my stepsister. I took a look. This was the moment. This was the game changer. Suddenly, I knew. – And I was filled with a combination of relief, exhilaration, and dread. The fact that I had finally experienced sexual excitement was such a relief, but that relief was short lived. All of a sudden panic struck. No! This couldn’t possibly be happening! Why me?? Yes. The $64,000 question, “Why me?” I was so distressed by the thought that God felt it necessary to pile such a huge burden on my shoulders. It wasn’t enough that my parents divorced and I don’t know my mother, now God was against me too? My feeling of despair was made worse because I had no one to turn to. — A young person of color goes home to a family of people just like him or her. LGBT youth are most often alone in a family of heterosexuals. They lack representation in their own family, their own home.

I made it my mission to learn all I could about homosexuality. I was already spending lots of time in the library, so I started there. The resources were slim. I searched every dictionary, encyclopedia, and medical book I could find. I uncovered little more than clinical definitions and misguided assumptions, but I never stopped looking. —  To this day, I soak up every bit of LGBT history and culture I can find.

As puberty took hold, I learned to reinforce my closet door. Attitudes towards gays at school were negative at best. Kids can be so cruel. Anti-gay epithets could be heard from students and teachers alike. I was on constant guard. But I also kept an eye open for clues that there might be others just like me. I sought out allies, but was convinced I was the only gay person in my town. — Silly me.

By my fifteenth summer I was swimming at the nearest YMCA, conveniently located a mere ten miles away. After a swim I’d go to a nearby book and magazine shop to pick up something to read on the long trolley ride home. One day, while perusing the periodicals, the words “gay pride” caught my attention. Oh. My. God. Could it be? The clean cut moustachioed man on the cover smiled down at me. I was nervous. How was I going to ask the cashier to sell me this magazine? I looked for something else to buy. There was no way I’d have the nerve to buy this one gay themed magazine alone. Maybe if I asked for a bunch of titles the clerk wouldn’t notice the gay one. — Does that ever work?–  I continued scanning the rack, but my eyes kept returning to the smiling man. In a panic, I mispronounce the name of the magazine. I had to point it out to the clerk. I was nervous and somewhat embarrassed, but I managed to buy a cooking and a gossip magazine to go with that wonderful window into gay life, The Advocate. The minute I got home, I stashed the magazine where every teenage boy thinks no one will look. Say it with me… “under the mattress.”

My first job was at a local convenience store. I was friends with a few of my coworkers and got together with them after work on Saturday nights. It was nothing elaborate. We piled into a friend’s beat up old car and went to a movie, a diner or bowling. Sometimes we would just drive around, carrying on like teenagers do.  It was on one of those nights that everything changed.

My friends dropped me off at home so I could change out of my work clothes. My parents were quietly seated in the living room.  I said hello, and proceeded upstairs to get cleaned up. I was shocked by what greeted me. My bedroom was in shambles. More importantly, the mattress had been tossed aside. They knew! I was convinced my father was going to throw me out of the house. I was crushed.

I gathered all the courage I could and without looking at my folks, calmly left the house. My friends were waiting in the car for me. I must have looked pretty bad because one of my friends asked what was wrong. I told them I might need a place to stay for a while. When asked why, I skirted the issue. Eventually, the truth came out. Surprisingly, my small group of friends was supportive. We talked for more than an hour. The car never made it out of the parking spot. After encouragement from my friends, I reluctantly returned home to face my fate.

My parents were more upset that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to open up to them than they were about the magazines. My dad was disappointed, but not surprised that his son was gay. “Straight boys “ he said. “don’t usually hang around with girls.” The fact that there were boys in my group didn’t matter to him. There were more than three girls in the group, so I was gay. – Sounds logical to me.

My parent’s told me the reason they searched my room was because they suspected drug use. For the record, I was not using any kind of illegal substance. I didn’t even smoke. I was under the misconception that gay folks didn’t do drugs. Yes. I was that naive.

After graduating high school, I met my first love. We weren’t really a good match, first loves rarely are. He helped me through the death of my grandfather, but his habit of sending love notes outed me to my grandmother. She opened a birthday card that was addressed to me and didn’t like the romantic nature of the enclosed message. My grandmother took it as a personal affront, like in some bizarre act of rebellion I decided to be gay. She demanded that I find a nice girl and change my ways or she would disown me.

Up until that moment, my grandmother and I had always been close. She took care of me for the three years between my father’s divorce and his marriage to my stepmother. I learned a lot about my Italian heritage through her. I learned how to cook from her. So it was especially painful to hear her say that my being gay made her “sick to her stomach”.

A friend of mine told me to have patience. He said that I had the advantage of time on my side. I was a few years between the moment I discovered I was gay to the time I accepted it as a fact of life. I was going to have to give my family the same about of time to get used to it. He was right. My parents came around within a few months of that awful Saturday night. My grandmother took a little longer, but she did manage to adjust to the idea in her own way. She preferred no to discuss it.

As I learned, while gawking over pictures of scantily clad women, I can’t be anything other than who or what I am. There’s no amount of praying that will change it. Once I accepted that simple fact, I was much happier.

New York AIDS March (1985)

New York AIDS March (1985)

By the end of the 1980s, I was living on my own. I was fortunate enough to have made friends with some truly remarkable people, most of whom are no longer with us. Those men took me under their wing and became my secondary family. Their struggles helped pave the way for my self acceptance in a way that I hope my generation might have done for the next. I know they would be extremely disappointed with me If I didn’t live life in my own truth, on my own terms. So I strive to make them proud.

In the words of *Polonius, “This above all – to thine own self be true,”  It wasn’t always easy, but it did get better.

*(Hamlet act 1, scene 3) William Shakespeare

#NCOD #LGBT #NationalComingOutDay

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Dad wasn’t perfect, but…

My Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

This August will mark the nine year anniversary of my Father’s passing. He was 62 years old.

My Dad struggled to make a comfortable home for us. Along the way, teaching me never to be afraid or ashamed of the work you needed to do in order to put a roof over your head, or food on the table.

In the 1970s, the economy was much like it is today. Dad was often out of work. On weekends you’d find my Father at flea markets, selling items he found at the curb on trash nights. He knew the Bulk Trash Pick-Up days of all the local municipalities. These were the days when you could put large items out on the curb for trash collection. You’d be surprised what people are willing to throw away. My Father was able to support his family like this for almost two years. Though he hasn’t picked trash since the 1970s, he continued to buy and sell flea market items to supplement his income until the end of his life.

By the way - There is nothing wrong with picking through trash in order to support your family. The alternative is to resort to crime, or lose your home.

I’m proud of my Father for that. I credit him for my work ethic.

In August 2003, my Father had a heart attack. It was his third. His Doctors moved him from the smaller Delaware County area hospital to a larger Philadelphia area University Hospital in the hopes that access to more resources would help him recover more quickly.

Though cutting edge, the care wasn’t as personable as his local hospital. My Dad was not happy. Against my Stepmother’s wishes, he petitioned his healthcare team to relocate him. Though my Stepmother tried to keep my Father where he was, the Doctors relented. By the end of the week, my Dad was relocated to his local hospital.

I talked to my Dad on the phone that Saturday afternoon. He was concerned that I might be mad at him for choosing to return to the smaller hospital. I told him I wasn’t angry with him. I believed that he would receive better care at the larger University Hospital, but he is entitled to have his wishes met.

"You’re my Father", I said. "I Love you."

"I love you too", he replied, and hung up the phone.

I didn’t give it much thought. But when the phone rang at 11:00pm, I knew. For some reason I just knew what I was about to hear. It was my Stepmother. My Father had just died.

After hanging up the phone, I got dressed and left my apartment. I didn’t want to be alone. The obvious place for me to go was a local watering hole that had been an important part of my life for almost two decades. I didn’t go there to socialize, or get drunk. I just wanted to be surrounded by people.

Through several interactions with people who knew my Dad was in the hospital, I processed this new information.

One acquaintance, who knew my Dad from the flea market circuit, recited several stories told to him by my Father. Apparently, my Dad held me in high regard. He bragged to everyone he knew about every accomplishment in my life, no matter how small. The stories contained such details that I knew he wasn’t just telling me what I needed to hear.

My Dad was proud of me. I had never heard him say it. Just like, until that day, I had never heard my Father say I Love You. It was the first time I remember hearing my Father say I Love You to me. I was 38 years old, and I had never heard those words.

I spent the next few weeks in a fog. On one hand, I was sad. On the other hand, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You”. How was I supposed to process this?

I believe my Dad knew he was going to die. I believe he wanted to die close to home. I also believe his last words to me were intentional.

Whether true or not, my Father’s last words to me were, “I Love You.” Nothing can ever change that. And I will hold onto that for the rest of my life.

After all, my Dad wasn’t perfect, but neither am I.

Cheap Shot?

There are many reasons why I’m not a fan of New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie. For one thing, he walks in step with the republican belief that entitlements are evil. Unless of course, your weekly salary could buy a house, then you’re “entitled” to a lower tax rate than those making minimum wage.

So, when twitter was over capacity today, I couldn’t resist taking a cheap shot using a screen capture of twitter’s “Over Capacity” page.

The image below was created using GIMP 2.6 http://www.gimp.org/

It was a cheap shot to pick on Cristie’s weight. My father was obese. My stepmother was over weight. I am about 15 lbs heavier than I should be. So why did I do it? Because I’m tired of republicans talking out of both sides of their mouth. Republicans talk of “smaller government” then preach about restricting a woman’s reproductive rights and limiting marriage equality, among other things.

Most of all, I was tired of always taking the high road. If our politicians can’t take the high road, why should I? It’s lonely up there. ;p

I do NOT own the rights to the twitter logo or image. If asked, I will remove the image promptly.

For twitter trademark info, click here -> https://support.twitter.com/articles/77641-guidelines-for-use-of-the-twitter-trademark