Monday, April 18, 2011

Conversations with Dad

I'm sure I've said it before: my father is a bigot. When I was growing up I heard th N-word from him regularly, critical comments about women who aspired to positions of authority, the Hispanic work ethic (though this did change in later years), how the Chinese aren't to be trusted, and so on. He is a product of the south in the 40s and 50s and the lens he sees the world through is colored by a lifetime of prejudices spouted by his own parents and those around him. The man still uses the word "Yankee" when talking about people from the east coast--and it is not used with any admiration. He is fundamentalist in his religious viewpoints, and is very black and white about what's right and wrong (Real men shoot guns and ride horses. Real women can shoot guns and ride horses too, but they're required to look pretty while doing it--oh--and they certainly shouldn't out shoot a man).

I learned a long time ago that it is easier to steer around these topics when talking to him. So I prattle about the boys and Gary and gardening and school, but mostly listen to him prattle about his latest hunting trip, his newest batch of homemade wine, the horses he's breaking, and how much faster and smarter he is than everyone else (rather a lot of that last one).  As I've also said here before, I love the man, but I don't always like him.

Last night Dad called to chat and, true to form, we discussed our lives--his recent health problems and forced retirement (the son of his business parter took over the business and shortly afterwards informed my father that he needed Dad's desk--the money Dad's getting in return for this sudden 'arrangement' will never be enough to erase that memory), the boys, Gary, my mom and brother, and so forth. In passing, and without thinking, I mentioned that one of my (half) sisters is gay. I could have clapped my hand over my own mouth the second the words fell out of it--not because I'm ashamed of this or anything like that, but because I just didn't want to give him any fuel for one of his hate speeches. I braced myself.

"One of my closest friends in high school was gay," he said matter-of-factly.

I didn't quite know what to say to that, so the best I could do was a stunned, "Really?"

"Yeah. It wasn't a big deal. Everybody kind of knew it. To me he was just a guy who was my friend just like my other friends. He was a real good one too.  As far as moral issues go, I've got a brother who's been married seven times. I may not understand why he does what he does, but I love him anyway. (I believe the actual track record for this particular uncle is more like five times, but I suppose it would be easy to lose count) 

"So you're--okay with this, then?"

"I think I'm not their judge and jury. And you shouldn't be either."

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, I considered double-checking to be sure that it was indeed my dad on the other end. I even considered asking to speak to my stepmother  and telling her to check his pulse and take his temperature. But I'd rather live with the incongruity that--somehow, someway, buried deep inside that leathery old cowboy is the heart of a gay rights' activist.

Go Dad. Go.


Hal Johnson said...

Wow. Brought tears to my eyes AND made me chuckle. He reminds me a bit of my own dad, who could come across as a bigot as well, but like your dad, showed that growth can be a lifelong thing. My dad ever grew to like cats in his later years.

And yep, "Gran Torino" is one of my favorite movies.

Mary, this was a great post.

Scotty said...

Go, Dad, go, indeed. Who says that parents are always boring (or biased) sticks-in-the-mud that no longer have the capacity to surprise their children, eh?

I have to admit that as I started to read the post, I had a few 'choice' words in mind for your Dad but it seems that like Hal, I could sniffle and chuckle at the same time after reading on.

Buy him a beer (or a scotch or a bourbon) from me...


Bob said...

Hey Mary . . . got to your post via Hal.

Your dad sounds very much like mine, who died in 2006. I also steered clear of these topics but had to set some boundaries like saying the 'n' word in front of my children.

A black family moved in next door to him a few years before his death. He never said much about it and I didn't mention it.

After he died, I was at his house a few days cleaning out some things. I saw his next-door neighbor out in the yard. He came over and gave his condolences and I thanked him.

"I never got to know your dad well," he said. "But in the past year I felt like we were finally starting to bond."

He told me about some conversations they had. This was truly a gift from God. In his final days, seems my old man's tough exterior might have finally softened a bit.

You just never know.

Thanks for a great story.

Mary O. Paddock said...

Thank you all for stopping by. I really mean that.

Hal--thank you for linking to this and sharing it. I need to ask Dad if he's seen "Gran Torino". I don't think my dad will ever like cats. :)

Scotty--I'll do that. And I'm sure he'll appreciate it. :)

Bob--Thank you for stopping by and thank you also for sharing your story about your Dad. I think some of what we've seen in our fathers is the result of what they were told men were supposed to be.

PrinceofClydes said...

A nicely written character piece, mary.


Mary O. Paddock said...

Thank you Geoff. My dad is quite a character--makes writing about him easy.