I went to a small, Southern Baptist college in Mars Hill, North Carolina. It was definitely a culture shock. I considered myself a religion-wary, big city boy from Central Florida. Is that even an accurate statement for Orlando in 1993? There were still orange groves everywhere I walked and the East-West Expressway was just two lanes each way, with 25 cent tolls. Although, we had Blockbuster which was more than Mars Hill could boast. Mars Hill was a two-stoplight kind of town.
I didn’t hate it though, in retrospect I loved it. College is where I gained my passion for musical theater. I had the opportunity to stage manage a musical called “American Beauty.” It was a spoof on beauty pageants, but it made my sappy, young, gay heart melt.
There was a beautiful song by a stunning actress, formerly Ms. Illinois, called “Music.” The lyrics are about the immense power music has on us. It can take over any situation. Music can pull you out of a funk in an instant, and it can tear at your soul when you least expect it. The latter being the case for me most recently.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw several friends had posted a new music video from James Blunt called “Monsters.” Spoiler alert: It’s a tearjerker. Basically, it’s a goodbye song to his ailing father. I have listened to the first verse, but that’s about as far as I made it. Since my last article, my family experienced the 5-year mark of my dad’s passing. He died on New Year’s Eve 2014 after suffering from a long-term illness. His death was slow and my mom and I were by his side when he took his last breath.
I relate so much to the words James Blunt puts together: acknowledging the imperfections of himself and his father as the two men simply find a way to say goodbye. Hearing that one word, “goodbye,” took me right back to the moment I said goodbye to my dad. There was great sadness in that moment, losing the man who had taught me so much; but there was relief for the end of his pain and beauty in comforting him — protecting him from his fears and monsters.
I can’t say that a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Sadly too many do. I don’t say that in shame, but just the reality of life. With living in two cities, sitting on two boards, running two companies and trying to plan a wedding, it’s easy to lose track of the past. Luckily life has a way of jogging my memory of what is important.
In honor of my dad, I’m going to share a story that epitomizes my relationship with him. It was 1985 and my parents and I were heading home from a little league game when we passed my 10 year-old self’s favorite place in the world — Taco Bell. This was the year Taco Bell introduced the Pizzazz Pizza, so I said, “Ooo dad, I want a Pizzazz!” To which my dad exclaimed, “You want a piece of what?!?”
I feel like we laughed for ten minutes. That’s who my dad was, and that’s the moment I developed my sense of humor. He was the king of corny dad jokes. Every time my brother would say, “I’m thirsty,” my dad would follow with, “Hi thirsty. I’m Friday. How ‘bout we get together Saturday for a sundae?” As long as my dad could talk, right up to the end, he made cringe-worthy jokes that always had me laughing.
I may not think about him every day, but every day he lives on through me as I carry on his terribly funny sense of humor. It’s not just me either. It’s rubbed off on my roommate, my fiancé and certainly my brother’s kids. I’m sure if my Puggle, Amber Atkins, could talk she would carry on his legacy as well. Thank you James Blunt for the trip down memory lane, and thank you dad for the continuing laughter. I love you and I miss you.
In this issue of Watermark we continue our series of discrimination within the LGBTQ community, focusing on the treatment of our transgender and non-binary family. Our arts and entertainment features introduce you to Central Florida’s Genie in a bottle from “Aladdin” and Gulfport’s ReadOut. In Central Florida news we follow Juleigh Amanda Mayfield’s battle to have her birth certificate reflect her gender, and in Tampa Bay news the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber gets a make-over.
We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.