A few months ago I set about coming out to my angry, hyper-conservative, Rush Limbaugh loving father. Like so many other people facing the coming out process to conservative family members, I was scared shitless. Here’s how coming out was for me…
You could say I have father issues.
Things have been simply awful between he and I ever since he left me and my mother for some “pretty young thing” when I was still in high school. While he lived with us, he was mean and abusive and I can tell you we took a hell of a lot shit. A HELL of a lot of shit. When he left, I watched my mother disintegrate right before my eyes. Twenty something years later, she still hasn’t been able to put herself back together again. Who my mother was before was obliterated. Blotted out. It’s a mother fucking tragedy and I’m still pissed about it. Cause here’s the universal rule…
…you don’t EVER fuck with someone’s momma.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve been trying like hell to find forgiveness for the man I perceive to be responsible for it all. I’ve maintained a relationship with my father out of some warped sense of obligation. Never because I wanted to. “It’s my duty”, I’ve thought, “He’s my father. I love him.” I struggle with this shit. I don’t HAVE to love him. I don’t even WANT to love him most of the time. The rub is, despite myself, I do.
In spite of all my resentments, each time I see him, I go in hoping it will be different. This time, he’ll be kind. This time, he’ll apologize for wrecking everything down. For making everything hard. This time he’ll acknowledge he’s delighted in destroying everyone around him. Laughing and pointing at what he’s done. With him, I always knowingly walk back into the lion’s den with hope in my heart that things have changed and every time my ass gets torn to shreds. It’s madness. I’ve spent my entire life shapeshifting to please him. Reorganizing my molecules at lightening speed, finding the most acceptable version of myself, so that This Time I’ll get out unscathed.
But, somehow, I’m never acceptable. So, I smile through every new horrid event. I turn off. I go dead in the eyes when I witness him setting off the charges in new demolitions of the people in his life today. I watch him annihilate his newest wife, his siblings, even perfect strangers. I watch him wreck me. I invite it, even.
With no one else in my life do I tolerate such massive amounts of bullshit.
At my core, I am an artist, who used to paint big. And I don’t know what happened, but now I paint so small. I used to feel I’d give big to the world and I don’t know what happened, but now, I give so small. I used to think I’d die so big, filled up with infinite gratitude for my life well lived, and I don’t now what happened but I died so small. For you see, the last decade of my life has been spent self-destructing. I guess all this history finally caught up to me. Everything positive I believed about myself when into a vodka bottle. And everything sad, depressing, sick and angry came out of it.
Before I became small, back when I never questioned whether I would give big, do something of creative importance, back when I had courage and nothing could stop me, I fled to art school. There, I wrote in paint. Painting stories mostly about my father. Not that this is surprising. Every young art school bozo, who wasn’t painting images of Mickey Mouse with their own shit (really), was doing this same “radical” and “groundbreaking” familial work. Boo-hooing about their parents in paint, clay, metal, words, blood or shit. Mostly about, I imagined, how they didn’t get to borrow the Saab enough in high school. Me? I was pissing and moaning too, but my mom didn’t drive a Saab.
We traveled around in a cockroach infested utility van.
The last painting I ever did involved a kick ass rendering of Little Child Me. Small, in a great big world. Hefting an enormous boulder over my head. Teetering on rocky cliffs overlooking an angry, undulating ocean. It was disgustingly melodramatic, and assuredly stupid. Today, all that melodrama makes me shudder, but back then, I was proud of it. It meant something to me. A direct hit about my father and our relationship. For, that relationship was something to conquer. To surmount. To accomplish. A huge immovable mass, heavier than mountains, so futile to shove against. The weight of the Earth.
I decided to give this disgustingly, over-meaningful painting to my father for Christmas. I knew he’d be moved, and because it was so fucking literal, be able to understand all it represented.
Painstakingly, I wrapped it. Folding every crease into the cheery holiday paper with razor sharp military precision. The beauty of those crisp edges would’ve made a drill sergeant cry.
“What this will mean to my father!”, I elated. “How much he will love me, be proud of me, respect and even idolize me for my astounding abilities! Finally! I’ll break through! He would see the beauty I was finally able to squeeze from the dry, hard carbon bits of our relationship”, I thought. It would change everything. He’d see how well I had clamored over all the obstacles he had laid in our paths and pat me on the back for a job well done. On Christmas morning I brought it downstairs to set by the tree with the rest of the gifts.
My father’s fist smashed me right in the chest. The painting thumped to the floor. The blow or the surprise knocked the breath out of me.
“WHY DO YOU PAINT SO BIG!?”, he blasted into my face.
For an instant the world just quit. It was dead-still. Then, a roaring rage came racing up inside my ears. He stood there challenging me to have a reaction. His thick fist still gripped tight with his big fucking college ring. The one he had such a boner over for being the first of his clan to go to school. The one I wanted to now savagely gnaw off his fat fucking finger and shove up his ass…if only I weren’t paralyzed by the seething, red hot stinging humiliation and grief now burning behind my eyes. How could I fall for trying to make it okay with him AGAIN!?
“Don’t cry. Don’t let a single tear fall. Not over this son of a bitch”, I kept repeating to myself while those heavy, boiling tears rode the rims of my lids daring to leap. Clinching my teeth I willed their retreat back behind my eyes.
“He hadn’t even looked at it. He hadn’t even appreciated the wrapping”, I anguished.
This mother fucker.
I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen the painting since. I don’t know what happened to it. I assume it went into the trash. This was the last piece of art he ever got from me. And the last large piece I ever did. All of his requests since for me to, “do him a pretty naked woman to hang in the bathroom”, have been ignored.
A few years ago, I was resurrected when I met my girlfriend. When I was the biggest disaster, living the smallest life, trapped in a well of booze, she could see me down here in the dark. When no one should have loved me, she did. My light, I am convinced, was going out when she arrived.
It’s strange really. I was so accustomed to having important relationships be so incredibly difficult. Yet, whenever we were at a place in our relationship where I fully expected obstacles, the gates were wide open. It had an easiness about it that I had never seen or experienced before. I love her like I have never loved anyone else, and I am so grateful to have her in my life. She makes everything better.
I haven’t known how to tell my father about my girlfriend. A man whose social and political view points run tea party. A man whose television set blares Fox News all day every day. A man who has never had anything good to say about gay people. It has been such a frightening prospect, the idea of coming out to him, but I just couldn’t stand another fucking second of lying and shapeshifting covering up this part of my life…which is ALL of my life. So, I sent a letter:
I have something I’ve been wanting to share with you, but I’ve been afraid. I’ve been working on being honest and authentic in my life and I want to have that with you too.
I want to tell you that I’ve met someone who makes me very happy. Her name is Ingrid. She is awesome. I love her.”
I was fully ready to accept an explosion or that my letter might have gained me a sad freedom, and that like my painting, I might never see him again. He could discard me. He could be the one to finally let this fucked up relationship go.
He wrote a letter in return:
I have wondered about this for a long time. I am glad that you finally told me. I love you and always will. You are my daughter. I am also, as you must know, very proud of you. You are smart, caring and sensitive. I would like to think that others recognize those traits in me. Your gramma always said she expected “kindness and caring from me, as anyone can be a bully”.
I would like to meet your friend. I would like that very much.
Hun — The worst fate any of us could have would be to grow old by ourselves. Put aside your concerns and know that I will love you always.
Like that blow to the chest, I was stunned. Out of breath. Everything was quiet. And then it roared back to me. Instead of expecting him to change, what finally caused the shift was me. What finally moved the immovable mass, was my own authenticity.
Today, I give big again. Today, I live big again. Today, I mother fucking paint big again.