Every year my father takes only one of seven personal days he earns annually from the hospital where he has worked for 30 years. He spends it around Christmas time, taking the whole day off to sit on the couch alone and watch It’s a Wonderful Life and cry. My father is a counselor. My father is not afraid to feel. He is the kind of man who buys flowers for my mother without an anniversary. He visits his parents every weekend. He sits in the third row pew every Sunday and nods and weeps and asks for forgiveness. He attended every volleyball game I ever played and cheered.
If you’ve been awake at all, you know that gay marriage is hanging in political limbo, a ticket agenda, a hot seat issue, a debate slam-dunk, a swing vote shoe-in.
But once, in a family counseling session, my father looked at me and uncharacteristically said, “If I could rip the homosexuality out of your body, I would.” Then the therapist asked how this made me feel, and I, without crying, answered, “Trapped.” Since then, my father has decided to love me despite, but we never talk about it, we never mention lesbianism. This year, I have to wonder what my father is thinking. If you’ve been awake at all, you know that gay marriage is hanging in political limbo, a ticket agenda, a hot seat issue, a debate slam-dunk, a swing vote shoe-in. Suddenly, homosexuality is the hot potato of pundits and policy makers, it’s a game. Tonight, I picked up the phone to ask my father about movies, hoping the topic of marriage would just come up, hoping it would just slip out of us, a man and his woman child on the line, but instead he insisted on coming over and bringing me $50 “for whatever.” I let him, and we sat looking at each other. We debated about The Passion and Mel Gibson, about the Jews and who killed Jesus. And I remembered how when I was younger every year he would take me hiking, until one year we just sat down and decided we didn’t want to walk anymore, and that was that. There is a picture of him and my mother on their honeymoon and a funny story that I never get quite right, about how the photographer made him climb into a tree, hang upside down and kiss my mother. He has cerebral palsy, but in this picture you can’t tell. If you were me, would you just come right out and say it to him? Would you say, “Papa, what do you think about me marrying a woman?” or, “Daddy, I met a woman and I really love her. We want to elope, but our government wants to make that impossible. Isn’t that terrible, Daddy? Doesn’t that just break your heart?” or, “Bear, I don’t want to move to Canada. I want to live here, in this land, near the silos and your teary eyes and your God. But what will I do with an amendment on my head, Daddy, what will I do with a Constitution which I believed made us all indivisible, tracking me in the snow?” Would you just sit him down and watch him crumble or, worse, watch the sadness and rage take him like a tremor? Watch all of his meekness shake out of him? Force his lovely twisted hand into a fist? He wouldn’t yell. He wouldn’t spit. He just wouldn’t understand how this has happened to him. Even in high school, when the teachers consoled me after my parents took me home early from school one day, I believed in my father’s righteousness. They had found a letter I had written to Emily and the word lesbian and the words happy and finally and the word relief, and I know my father got on his knees that day and asked God to take it away from me, pleaded that I might be healed. Even though we both knew that my affliction had been removed from the DSM-III in 1980, but that didn’t change how he saw patients every day on his unit: crack addicts who were prostitutes, who were lesbians, who were severely mentally ill. So he got on his knees and prayed. It isn’t simple, but in his church, and in his Bible, and in his heart he can’t hold me. And I wouldn’t dare make him. But I wonder what he thinks of the front page of The Indianapolis Star today, “Bush: Gay Marriage Ban Needed.” I wonder how this makes him feel? Relieved? Justified? Terrified? Confused? Does he think about me as a citizen of the United States? Does he see me as a citizen at all? Does he think, “My gay daughter”? Does he see my face superimposed on the front page? Does he put it together in his prayers? I wouldn’t make him. I wouldn’t press it into his ears. I wouldn’t put it on a banner and carry it around, I love him too much.