My Dad is perfection, even without him. I miss him every day. I miss him when I look at the size and shape of my hands, which are his. My dark and concentrated eyebrows, which he had. My brisk, determined walk, because that’s the way he strode. When I’m kind and caring and humble because he was. When I clasp my hands behind my head, because that’s how he sat. But, when I think about being gay, maybe he doesn’t miss me, and did I miss something about him?
Father’s Day coincides with Gay Pride Month. Would I be celebrating both with or without my dad? Father's Days have been difficult for the last 42 years, not just because that Sunday in June reminds me of him and the Sunday in January when I suddenly lost him, and all else that was lost and reflected upon. Since his death, there was no pleased father to see his son become senior class president, like he did. No proud father to watch his son go to Capitol Hill, vicariously, since he wanted to work in law. No gratified father to observe his son work for the United Nations and climate change, because he cared about the world around him.
But that world might not be what was conventional to him when he was alive. No father to see his son marry, because I wasn’t allowed, but I can now, so would he come? No father to visit his grandkids, and though there’s none at the moment, would he love them if they came? No father to take pride in his son’s sexuality, because, well, that might not have been acceptable, so would he have pride for me?
I take pride in thinking of my father as a Saint. Everyone who knew him tells me he was. Dad was a proud Catholic. A lector, an usher, a Eucharistic Minister. My dad was devoted to his faith and his family. He never knew his father who died six months before he was born, so there were no Father’s Day celebrations for him. His adored brother, killed in World War II, my dad was left with six sisters and his mother. He took care of his mom for 37 years, through a stint in the Army, and almost losing his own life to pneumonia that cost him a chance to get that law degree. My dad settled as an accountant, and he finally married, and at age 38 became a father, his most precious prizes were his three children. He shone as a father for the 12 years I knew him. He was our protector. His deity immortal.
And that divinity consumes all of my thoughts about him and overwhelms my heart. But does this reverence cloud my view of his view of me being gay? I am older now than my father was when he died, and I’m left with the confusion that if he grew older, and watched me mature, would he just shake his head at my being gay, tolerate it but not talk about it, or would he not talk to me at all? After all, he was fervent in his belief in Catholicism, older when he married my mom and perhaps set in his ways, and presumably, had no gay friends or acquaintances. Would I have imaginably been the first gay person he knew intimately? And it would be the son who bears his name. Would that be a stain on his name? Would he be disappointed and would this disenchantment shadow everything else that I’ve become? Would he be celebrating Father’s Day without me?
The thought that these perceptions would be true is almost too much to comprehend and antithetical to all I’ve allowed myself to believe. My heart says that he left us early because he felt he could help us more from Heaven. That I have enjoyed a remarkably vivid and lucky life because he’s been there, silently, every step of the way. That in two serious health battles and a violent car accident, I survived because he protected me, as always. And, most importantly, late in my life like him, he put someone in my life. And ironically, that someone is 16 years younger, like his wife was, and whose birthday is three days before the anniversary of his death. Joy to overcome grief in a bitter January. I chose to believe what my heart has always told me, despite the unsettling questions from my mind. It’s time for a reckoning.
So, my heart will be full of pride this month and on this Father’s Day, content in the unbridled and uninterrupted adoration I have for him, and for the appreciation and the gift of knowing his hands, his eyebrows, his walk and his love. I choose to believe that that love and pride would have bounded from his heart regardless of who I am and who I love. After all, it was my Dad who taught me how to love, and that love is what I miss most of all without him. The author Nicole Krauss once said, “Perhaps that is what it means to be a father – to teach your child to live without you.”
John Casey is head of PR for a worldwide digital consultancy, and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City. As a contributing columnist his articles have appeared in New York Daily News, Pittsburgh Magazine, Advocate, Ladders and IndieWire.