Loose Cannon: Reconnecting with Dad

By : Jim Walker
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Many of us go through it every Christmas. Despite all the gains the LGBT community has made, especially in the last five years, many of us still face the pain and isolation from our families during the holidays. The reasons behind our estrangement from family are many, but the feeling is the same. As the calendar flips to 2013, I’ll celebrate the end of my isolation from my dad. Earlier this month, I saw him for the first time in more than 22 years.

Dad was a drinker long before I was born. My brother, 10 years older than I, was into drugs. The two of them often physically fought, bringing my mother to tears.

Dad was verbally abusive to us. He used to tell me repeatedly how worthless I was, and how I’d never amount to anything. I think Mom feared he might get physical at some point. Many nights, we went to bed dressed just in case we’d have to leave in the middle of the night.

After 20 years of marriage, Mom finally gave up on him ever getting sober. They divorced when I was 10. He continued to drink during his second marriage and accrued multiple DUIs. The second wife was an alcoholic, too. I can remember the two of them fighting and knocking over the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. After running over and critically injuring a motorcyclist, Dad went into an alcohol treatment program, followed by AA for years.

I came out to my Dad in 1990. I was 20 at the time. He said he “accepted” me, but didn’t want to hear about my “sex partners” or friends.

I decided that I was not going to edit my life for him and that if he didn’t like it, he could “go to hell” – my exact words.

The last time I saw my grandfather was in 2002. I had “come out” to him as well in 1990, but he had long since decided to let his personal judgment about that go, and to focus on trying to “know” his adult grandson before it was too late.

Grandpa died last summer. He was 97. The obit mentioned family, friends – virtually every detail of his life – but my name was left out.

I assumed my dad, my dad’s wife, or my grandpa’s window was responsible for the omission. But my brother explained my grandpa’s widow had been in a home suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. My Dad’s third wife had died just a few months before my grandpa – and she had died after a long, painful and debilitating battle with diabetes.

My anger transformed into a feeling of sadness and compassion for my dad. So I found my dad on Facebook and sent a note saying I’d like to talk to him. Within a week, I worked up the courage to dial his number and speak the first words in more than two decades. Eight months of weekly phone conversations lead to my visit in early December.

When I saw him, I realized both of us are different people than we were two decades ago. Dad actually apologizes for things and thinks of other people before himself. I’m not all consumed with having to be right about everything.

One night after dinner I stood in the kitchen, watching him do dishes. I was astounded. I never once saw him offer to help Mom. When we went to dinner out the next night, his new wife drove. My Dad of 20 years ago would never think of letting a woman drive if he was in the car.

His new wife is wonderful. She, like my mom, is a retired teacher. She has traveled all over the world and experienced things I can only imagine. She, like me, and like Dad, is a severe liberal. We had many great discussions together. I think I talked more with her than with my dad. I’m very happy that at age 76, my Dad so quickly found someone who is kind, adventurous and open-minded.

I got to see my brother, John, as well during my trip. We went to dinner with my brother and his wife. It would be the first time my Dad, my brother, and I had been together since 1989. My Dad didn’t say much. He seemed to just take it all in as conversation flowed around the table – vacations, kids, pets and who we are today. I think Dad was, as I certainly was, amazed at the moment and that things were finally on the right track again between all of us.

The time with Dad went by quickly – much too quickly. I promised to return for another visit within the next year.

Driving back to the airport in Sacramento, I called Dad to thank him for his hospitality. The last and most profound thing he said to me was “I hope you can come visit again soon, and bring your partner with you.”

In many ways, I had been waiting 20 years to hear those words – an indicator that he fully accepts who I am and who I love.

I said “I love you both.” And while he couldn’t get the words out to say “I love you, too,” what he said just before that told me all I needed.

Long ago, God gave me the grace to free myself from the bondage of our painful past, and to forgive this man. Now, God has given us the chance to finally know each other as father and son.

Jim Walker blogs at Loose Cannon.

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