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Coming Out to My Dad in a Fake Bavarian Village

How I Told My Wanna-Be Priest, Catholic, Republican Dad About My Girlfriend

In her new memoir, The Clancys of Queens, Tara Clancy explores her upbringing in a converted boat shed in working-class Queens, a geriatric commune of feisty Brooklyn-born Italians, and a sprawling Hamptons estate she visited every other weekend.

Telling Dad, it turned out, would be a lot harder than I expected.

At the same time that I had moved to Manhattan, my dad had gotten a new accounting job that required him moving to Atlanta, Georgia. When I turned nineteen and started dating Birdie, he was forty-nine and officially a white-collar guy living in the suburbs--albeit one who still carried two guns at all times and kept a picture of the Pope hung around the rearview mirror of his truck.

Despite his being a former cop, wannabe priest, staunch Catholic, Republican, when I called to tell him I was gay, I expected it to be fine, because, after all these years, he was still very good friends with several of the gay regulars from Gregory's. I guessed wrong. The second that sentence came out of my mouth--"Dad, I have a girlfriend"--he flipped out and insisted I fly to Atlanta to talk in person, "Now!" Click.

Three days later we got into his truck and drove, his only words being, "We're going to a hotel." Two hours passed in total silence, he and I practically motionless, the Pope swinging left and right.

Another hour, and we were on a one-lane road in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. "Hotel, my ass!" I started to think. But just as I was imagining how he'd shoot me--or, worse, throw me into some "pray-the-gay-away" Jesus camp--a billboard appeared.

A woman not unlike the St. Pauli girl, with blond braids and huge, ahem, beer steins, smiled down at us. Next to her, in giant German Gothic lettering, it said: WELCOME TO HELEN, GEORGIA! A RE-CREATED ALPINE VILLAGE.

Somehow we had passed through an invisible transdimensional portal. Having been the lone car on a deeply wooded, curvy road, we were suddenly in a long line of minivans rolling through this Disneyland-bad, fake Bavarian town. Whole families wearing matching green hats adorned with feathers crammed the sidewalks. Three elderly guys wearing lederhosen played glockenspiels outside a place called Charlemagne's Kingdom. And there were windmills. Lots and lots of windmills.

This was it! As in, this was the place my dad chose to have the conversation of a lifetime with me.

We pulled into our parking space at the Heidi Motel--no shit--and headed right to the bar. For the first ten minutes we sat, stone-faced, drinking Johnnie Walker out of our complimentary beer steins like idiots. Then, in one fell swoop, he set out to discover if, how, and why I was gay, in a room that had not one but two cuckoo clocks.

First he blamed me. "You're confused, and you need therapy," he said.

"I need therapy?" I reply. "I need therapy?? There is an oompah band outside, Dad!"

He didn't laugh. And we spent the next six hours drinking Scotch and rehashing every argument, disagreement, and previously unexamined minuscule moment of contention we'd had in my nineteen years of life. From the time Tommy O'Reilly knocked me blind to when I stuck pencil erasers into my ears and he took me to the doctor thinking I was going deaf, from the time he told me not to play in the grass in my Easter dress, so I climbed the tree instead, from how he used to hide all my presents at the O'Reillys', since we didn't have any closets in the boat shed, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, there would be 360 degrees of toys all around me on our pullout sofa bed, to the countless, mind-numbing hours he spent watching me try on sneakers, from my notorious asphalt head dive, all the way to how furious he was at me for getting into so much trouble in high school and for drifting away from him.

Then, if for only a few seconds, he went from blaming me to blaming himself. "I shouldn't have bought you those G.I. Joes when you were a kid! Or the Hot Wheels."

And then he got quiet and said to himself as much as to me, "What did I know about bringing up a girl? I just did what I could," and, a second time, even softer, "I just did what I could."

And then he hugged me--for as long as a pick-up-the-guns/three S's/red-light-running/mustache-and-aviator-glasses kind of guy does. And I hugged him back--for as long as a G.I. Joe-collecting/high-tops-wearing/head-down-on-asphalt-diving/Tom Waits-listening kind of lesbian does. And with that, we broke for dinner, across the street at Heidelberg's Schnitzelhaus.

We made small talk. It was still a bit tense, but Heidelberg's Schnitzelhaus is a hard place to stay angry (in addition to the lederhosen-clad waiters and the oompah band soundtrack, the place was strung from end to end with garlands of triangular German flags uniquely interspersed with hanging plastic Bavarian pretzels). Dad confessed that he had asked his new coworkers where to spend the weekend with his visiting teenage daughter. Of course, he'd neglected to mention the nature of the visit and was as shocked as I was when we had arrived in Helen.

Then, somewhere in between the sauerbraten and the strudel, my dad surrendered. He looked up, raised his glass, and said, "Ah, screw it. At least now we have two things in common--whiskey and women!"

Reprinted from THE CLANCYS OF QUEENS: A MEMOIR (c) 2016 by Tara Clancy. Published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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