My Father's Closet

By Karen McClintock

When Trauma Wounds: Pathways to Healing and Hope

A year ago I decided to take a break from seeing clients in my psychology practice in order to work on a national grant I had been awarded. I leased my office to someone else, turned in my key, and went home to celebrate at a Happy New Year’s party. Before the week was out I got a call from a good friend who had edited several of my previous books.

“We’ve got a project that’s just right for you,” she said. I had been asked about it and said “no thanks” to the idea a year earlier because I was busy promoting my memoir, My Father’s Closet.

“You’ll have till May to finish it,” she told me.
“It’s a good thing I quit my day job,” I laughed.

It has been an honor to write When Trauma Wounds. The book challenged me to condense seventeen years of my work as a therapist into touch-the-heart stories and practical skills for the healing of trauma. Along the way I realized, yet again, that none of us get through life unscathed. And, that through love and compassion devastating experiences can be transformed into hope.

Look for the book at


Christmas card making with my father

I spent my childhood Decembers in the dark, dank, basement of our Ohio family home. I was watching my father make intricately designed silk-screen print Christmas cards. Year’s before he married my mother, his journal (1939) began with a Christmas card list. He’d only dated my mother Alice once, but her name was at the top of his list that year, foreshadowing their marriage.

Spending December in a concrete block basement sounds gloomy, right?

It wasn’t. My father welcomed my older sister and me to stand near him and watch him work with a little fine carving tool to cut green print stencils. Out of nothing came carolers, tree-lined lanes, a reindeer prancing.

He let us into his secretive world during the month of December. Once the stencils were adhered to the silk screen we could carry each freshly inked card from the workbench to a card table and lay them out to dry. Many times this ritual was repeated with several colored overlays.

He kept up this ritual for twenty years, until the year my sister’s baby was dying and the whole family fell into chaos. (Read the chapter on Stephanie in My Father’s Closet) I was already grown and out of the house that year.

Right about now, the second week of December, I yearn to be back in the basement with my father. Here’s a bit more from the chapter called, “Our New Basement” from the memoir:

“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the basement came out of its doldrums and entered the cheerful spirit of the holidays–and so did my father’s alter ego. Dad posted an invisible welcome sign outside the basement door. We were hired on as elves to work at the McClintock family Christmas card factory.

In the month before Christmas, we got a whole year closer to Dad. He called us “his girls.” We got to be alone with the crazed genius mixing his concoctions in the basement. We were his co-creators, left to smell the ink and his cologne and see him smile–big broad smiles that were so fleeting at other times. As winter days darkened, the basement and my father came alive with light and joy. The old dingy place was transformed, and so were we.”


Summertime Lessons

On my book tour with my new memoir, My Father’s Closet, a familiar looking man introduced himself to me.  Beneath his sixty-year-old face was a friend from hot summer days when we were fifteen.  We chatted briefly about escapades in the neighborhood, camping in our backyards, sneaking out of the house to throw a dozen rolls of toilet paper over trees in our friend’s yards.  He referred to us as, “the gang.” We were half dozen teens in a privileged suburban Columbus Ohio neighborhood who lived in split level homes, had mixed breed poodles, and dreamed of college success.

When dad and mom went to dance club I was given a very short hetero-normative list of people who could be in the house with me, Denise and Tina.  But summertime heat and surging hormones lead teenagers to test consequences.  In my chapter called, “An Accident Waiting to Happen,” (excerpt below) I tell the story of a summer evening when the knock on the back door startled my girlfriends and we gleefully let the boys in.

It wasn’t as thrilling as it was unsettling.  Having a gay father provided me with little information about traditionally masculinized boys.  Their energy scared me, and even though their know-it-all attitudes repulsed me, the saying is true that the exotic is erotic.  High schoolers who dated a good deal found summers hot with love.  I dressed in my imaginary lab coat, pulled out a pen and my yellow-lined note pad, and observed their horniness from a safer distance like a researcher studies rats.   Father had warned me about the dangerousness of many things, including boys.  Boys were definitely an accident waiting to happen. 

Dad’s early warning siren was “That’s an accident waiting to happen.” “That” might have been a pile of pick-up sticks we’d left in the middle of the living room floor as we rushed to the kitchen for a cookie or a phone call. The accident waiting to happen could also have been a pair of shoes left on the six stairs up to the bedrooms and bathrooms. When my sister Marsha and I were too tired to go up those stairs, we left things on them for our next trip, which annoyed him to no end.

After school, the stairs became cluttered with algebra and geography books, snotty crumpled tissues, and homework assignment pages. Since he wasn’t home from work, we thought we could hoist them up later. Even Mom was known to thwart Dad’s rule during the day. After shopping, she’d plop down toilet paper rolls, boxes of Kotex, Prell shampoo, and Ajax cleanser within the trip zone. Promptly at five o’clock, since Dad was more punctual than the city bus system and would dependably be home by five thirty, she’d holler, “Clear the stairs! Your dad’s on his way home!”

Most artistic endeavors were accidents waiting to happen. Play-Doh could be eaten, leading to an upset tummy. Finger paints could spread beyond the edges of the paper and need mopping up. Crayons were really hazardous when left too long in a sunny window. A melting crayon stained wood, tablecloth, and carpet…glitter was definitely an accident waiting to happen. According to Dad, glitter sprinkled accidently onto Anso Nylon carpet shot straight down toward the floor and cut the fine silky threads of the pile, leaving damage visible to the naked eye only years down the road, but it nevertheless assaulted the carpet’s integrity.

Roughhousing—now there’s an accident waiting to happen, especially if your father collects fine art glass. Dad was extremely proud of his small collection of sculptures from the Blenko Glass Company. Near plentiful natural gas in the little town of Milton, West Virginia, the shop was only a stone’s throw away from the town of Ironton, Ohio, where Mother spent her childhood. On trips to visit some remaining relatives, they stopped by the factory and watched as molten forms emerged from brick furnaces to be shaped into fine vases.

Dad liked large pieces in mostly oranges and greens that served no purpose other than to look beautiful. During the home makeover, he painted the back wall of a white bookcase olive green as a display backdrop for some of the glass. The taller pieces sat on the mantel above the fireplace. He often paused as he walked by and rearranged them ever so slightly. “There, there,” he told a tall orange glass sculpture as it reached toward the ceiling, “you look marvelous.” Everyone in the family was strictly forbidden to touch the Blenko; the once-a-month maid was instructed never to dust them.

Decorative pillows in flight? Definitely an accident waiting to happen, and eventually one did. Mom and Dad were out to dance club one summer night when my best neighborhood friend, Denise, came over. The Wightman twins, Pat and Mike, were out prowling around the neighborhood, and they decided to drop by. I was not supposed to have any unauthorized guests in the house—especially boys. But they were good Catholic boys, and we were fifteen year-olds just flirting and laughing, and not even raiding the liquor cabinet.

“Let’s have a pillow fight,” someone yelled, and before I knew it, the flinging had begun in earnest.

“Hey, everyone, no roughhousing,” I yelled in my father’s voice.

“Aw, come on, don’t be a party pooper,” they retorted. I stationed myself at the hearth like a soccer goalie in hopes of protecting the Blenko, which of course drew attention to my position. Mike took aim and heaved a pillow over my head, too high to reach, but placed just right to bounce off the wall and clip the top fluted edge of the orange, swan-like vessel. My world came crashing down as I watched the tallest and most beloved glass sculpture somersaulting in slow motion just beyond my reach toward the new beige carpet. With barely a bounce, the top fourth of the piece snapped off, leaving shards in the carpet and too many pieces to glue back together. The waiting was over. The boys had no idea about the magnitude of this accident, but they knew the party was over, so they took off for home. I walked Denise to the backyard fence, and she patted my arm in sympathy as she said goodbye.

Waiting up for Mom and Dad to return, I admitted to myself that Dad had been right about horseplay and boys.

It was just one summertime lesson.  I didn’t get in very much trouble in the end.  As sad as dad felt seeing his expensive glass in shards, he forgave me and that was an even larger lesson in grace. I wish parents and teens a summer of learning and love, where accidents that happen are minimal and all can be easily forgiven. 

P.S Please remember that this excerpt is copy write material by Ohio State University Press and by the author.  To purchase the book, click here.


Independence Day 2017- Pride and Tears

July Fourth 2017 – Pride and Tears

Dad in uniform - Copy

Independence Day was hands down our favorite family holiday. On our post-war block in Upper Arlington, a suburb in Columbus Ohio, even the most reclusive neighbors spilled out onto the streets for weeks surrounding the holiday. As the big day approached, people kept busy building floats on flatbeds parked along the street. Kids didn’t sleep the night before, windows open, listening to late night hammering along with occasional cuss words their father’s never said when the kids were around. My sister and I could hear our parents laughing while they finished sticking tissue paper into barbed wire forms, decorated our bicycles, and anchored our American flag to the house just to the left of the front door. We heard neighbors practicing their parts on the Tuba, Trombone, or French horn for the next day’s marching band.

In the late fifties, we kids weren’t motivated by overwhelming patriotism. The great wars were over, and prosperity promised a future not previously imagined. We believed in America as we believed in God—it was culturally brewed. Our parent’s souls and our nation’s souls were inseparable. This was a time before America lost its way and political discourse and civility disintegrated. We said the pledge of allegiance every day till school let out in June and then we waved our little wooden-handled flags along the parade route on Independence Day.

This is how I describe our parade day in my memoir, My Father’s Closet: (It’s on sale now at 20% off with free shipping – just type CLOSET into the code.)

“My beanstalk father hoisted me up on his shoulders, and we strained our necks looking down the street. For three miles down Tremont Avenue, the sidewalks bustled with kids and their parents wearing red, white, and blue and waving little American flags. Little kids spilled out of their folding chairs into the street. Older kids rode the route to show off their crepe paper and glittered bicycles. We were all looking for the clown truck, a huge semi with open double doors in the back. All along the route a dozen clowns would soon emerge with fistfuls of helium balloons to distribute—one to every kid on the route. I started bouncing eagerly when we saw the distant truck, and dad grabbed my ankle more tightly,

“Whoa there par-dner,” he said, Texas style, “Settle down or you’ll buck off this horse.”

My sister Marsha laughed and began hopping up and down. I grabbed his forehead and leaned over his head until I saw them.

“The clowns are coming!” I shouted. Balloons galore.

After the clowns passed by, everyone on the whole street settled down because in the distance we could see three guys coming toward us. They were young, barely in their teens, wearing soiled and torn Revolutionary War uniforms. The guy on the left had a bandage around his head, caked brown with dirt and blood. He played a steady solemn beat on a leather drum. The middle soldier waved a flag with thirteen stars in a circle frayed and pockmarked by bullet holes. The one on the right played, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” on his tarnished Piccolo. My father wiped his eyes with one sleeve, and beginning to cry in earnest. He hoisted me over his head and handed me to mother so he could pull out his handkerchief. Every year the parade started in this way, and every year he cried.”*

My father had a complicated relationship with America and the war. He was a proud veteran but felt guilty that he didn’t serve overseas in combat due to a vision problem. He found his sexual identity becoming clear while working and serving with fellow soldiers in New York City, and his difference weighed him down. He served in a military that would have given him a dishonorable discharge, or sent him to a psychiatric treatment center, if they had even suspected that he was gay.

Just a few months after Pearl Harbor he wrote in his journal, “God, can’t you come up with something better than this?” referring to war and its devastation. By the early seventies, he went to the hometown parade wearing a pair of leather Birkenstock sandals with large peace symbols on them. As a child I never understood dad’s tears on the happiest day in our family holiday traditions. Today, writing this down, I feel empathy for his mixed-up feelings about the nation. I feel proud that our nation has so often stood for freedom, safe harbor, and justice for the oppressed in the world. And I feel ashamed that we so quickly shun and oppress those whom we fear. This week we closed our borders, engaged in military actions that killed civilians and sent even more refugees fleeing for their lives without bearing responsibility for these actions. Like batterers, national leaders place all blame on their victims while asserting their right to privilege and power.

As I sit by the route of my home town parade here in Ashland Oregon this year, I will experience my father at my side. I too will be overcome by gratitude for this nation’s vision and ideals and feel sadly powerless to turn us back toward them. Susan Johnson writes, “I never met an emotion that didn’t make sense.” This year that emotion is expressed by tears.

Portions of this blog are copy write protected excerpts from My Father’s Closet


Finding a gay Father’s Day card

In June, during my freshman year at Ohio University, 1972, I left stacks of unfinished term papers on my desk and grabbed a sweater for a walk uptown.

Since I wouldn’t get home to Columbus to see my father before Father’s Day, I walked to my local card shop to pick out a card to mail. I glanced over brown covers with footballs and baseballs on them, skipped glossy photos of men in suits and ties. I irrationally opened a card with a golf theme, even though my father didn’t play golf. No traditional card “fit” my father. I was looking for a card for a water color artist, home decorator, or designer of exquisite floral arrangements.

Apparently, Hallmark made thematic cards for everyone else’s father. My father, who worked in the registrar’s office at Ohio State University, had recently changed his everyday name from Charles to Mac. His friends were changing, too. The back porch that once vibrated with the male banter of neighborhood men drinking highballs and talking about their work in insurance, marketing, and small businesses had faded away, and these friends were replaced by a small handful of men who laughed easily, expressed emotions fluently, and were fully out with each other and the people around them. My father stumbled toward the gay community, all the while maintaining his marriage to my mom. Stuck between what she’d call “a rock and a hard place,” she welcomed the new crowd over for drinks and food with curiosity and tentative affection.

Five years earlier I had picked out a generic card to fit my presumably straight dad, the dad who carefully disguised his gay identity to protect the family from total collapse. But his life had changed, and mine had, too. With a high school diploma in hand, I left my parents to make the best of a bad situation and took off for a liberal education. Father bought a pair of peace symbol Birkenstock sandals and joined an emerging group of gay men on the campus at O.S.U. Then love changed him even more. By the mid-seventies my father had fallen in love with an economics professor, a man named Walther, who moved into his virtual closet with him. While I cannot say exactly when or where they met, I know that he fell into a deep love for an adventurous intellect known on campus as “a confirmed bachelor.” I wonder what cards they sent to each other and then quickly destroyed so that none of us would find the evidence.

Until quite recently, no one made Father’s Day cards with rainbows on them. Nor cards with RuPaul jokes in them. Nor cards with two fathers lounging in the living room—not even in cartoons. Recalling my card picking dilemma, I must admit that I don’t recall what I picked that year. A blank card would have raised more anxiety. I’d have to either pretend again, as the whole family had been doing for years, or make up something too honest. “Dear Dad, Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Or perhaps, “Thanks for staying with the family—I know the pain and sacrifices you made.” Sticking with the adage that the less said the better, I may have simply said, “Love always.”

My father’s been dead for many years now, but like everyone’s parents, he remains an active psychological player in my adult life. I not only had a hidden gay dad beneath the exterior straight dad throughout my growing up years, I also had his second true love hanging out in my emotional field. It took me many years to find all the clues that led me out of My Father’s Closet. I never got to send a card to Walther, the professor he loved. I never met him. He died in a sudden tragic accident, and grief led my father to his own premature death. I lost two men, who in our modern age might have been my two proud and happy fathers. I would have sent two cards.

In a little while, I’m going down to the card shop to see how far the card makers have come with diversity. Maybe I’ll pick out a card for Walther. What does the post office do with cards without real addresses? I’ll address it % God, Heaven. I’ll even spring for the stamp. My ideal card will have the silhouette of two men leaning into each other from the back of the house at a Broadway musical. Inside it I will write, “Happy Father’s Day Walther. Thanks for making my father very, very, happy! I hope the two of you are enjoying freedom in your next life. When every chatty detail in my head quiets down, I can hear my father’s laughter as he shares eternity with you. Love always, Karen”

More of the author’s story can be found in her newly released memoir, My Father’s Closet, Ohio State University Trillium Press, 2017 and at

(Research by The Williams Institute found as many as six million American children and adults have an LGBT parent.) 2016-06-14_1589


Privacy and Secrecy: A Memoir Writer’s Dilemma

My Father’s Closet will soon be out in the public domain and I awaken at first sunlight. Whether from fear or excitement, the adrenaline in my body feels the same. It’s not easy to break the family “don’t ask, don’t tell” taboo and “out” my father. I continually push aside shame, and adjust sacrosanct family privacy boundaries. My passion to reach others with similar family secrets overrides old messages.

Last week, I got an email from a colleague inviting me to be part of a “private” meeting with half dozen people. How is that private? I think about private stuff as what I might watch on the internet – be it a shopping spree at PlanetShoes, or my temptation to respond to an unexpected email from someone I dated in high school. My inside kid grew up with a big sexual secret in our household, so even as a grown-up, I struggle with the difference between privacy and secrecy. I lived awkwardly with this question while writing, My Father’s Closet. What privacy do I owe my gay father as I tell his story? Was his journal private? (I’ve made my writing friends swear to destroy my journals immediately upon my death.) Do I have the right to tell my father’s secrets? Thirty years after his death, can I use his writings as if they were now in the public domain?

In the LGBTQ world, the question of privacy vs. secrecy surrounds the coming out process. When celebrities “come out” as LGBTQ, they open their lives to journalists, but does their public role take away their right to privacy? I heard an interview with Cate Blanchett when the film Carol was released. In the film, she plays a woman who is married to a man, while pursuing a compelling lesbian relationship. The reporter asked her to talk about personal sexual experiences that led to her convincing portrayal. Was that a fair subject? She deftly described the craft of character development, thereby protecting her own privacy.

When research into my father’s world at Ohio State University led me to his long-term partner whom I’d never met, the dilemma emerged again. When does my right to claim my own story supersede an ethic of privacy protection? Lawsuits aside, when can anyone “out” someone else, as I do by describing my father’s intensely emotional relationship with Walther? Was their love for each other private or secret?

When co-author Kibbie Ruth and I were writing the book, Healthy Disclosure, she defined the difference between privacy and secrecy in the following way. Privacy, she said, involves thoughts and feelings you choose not to share, because you cherish them for yourself.  You don’t have great shame about them, just a sense that no one else needs to know them. Private thoughts and memories are fodder for self-definition. You likely have private sexual fantasies, old memories that embarrass you, and other things you’ve never told anyone, and never will. You might say to your priest or your therapist, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but….” But there are private things you don’t even tell your therapist. Privacy involves personal material and you have the choice to share it or not. It’s about one person, you, and so long as it doesn’t hurt you or others to do so, you may keep it private.

Secrets are different. Secrets are kept due to the overwhelming shame or embarrassment that surrounds them. Revealing them would bring up internal shame or cultural stigma and could damage relationships. For example, if coming out as LGBTQ to family means facing rejection and being ostracized by those you love, losing your job, or losing cultural status, then you have private material that you are compelled to keep secret. Your private awareness about gender or orientation may be protected by intentional secret-keeping. Some secrets are kept to protect others. My family clearly felt it was necessary to keep my father’s homosexuality hidden. Their protection hurt us all and conversely helped us all.

If you decide to reveal a secret, you have several steps to take. A resource I recommend is The Secret Life of Families by Evan Imber-Black. In this how-to book, she lays out the pros and cons of opening family secrets. When I became clearer about the extent of my family’s secret-keeping and made decisions about whether to make private material public, I repeatedly consulted this book. So if you are keeping a secret you’d like to reveal consult someone dear to you, visit a therapist, and pick up Evan’s book. When you decide to disclose a secret, you can pretty much plan on anxiety and early awakenings before feeling relieved and free.




New Endorsements for My Father’s Closet

I’m thrilled!   Advance reviewer’s comments about My Father’s Closet build my hopes for the April release.  Memoir author Candace Walsh (Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family and Identity) fully condensed the heart and soul of the book when she wrote,

“In My Father’s Closet, Karen McClintock reports from the heart of America, the heart of the twentieth century, and the heart of a daughter who struggled to understand and draw close to a kind and loving father who kept her at a poignant distance in order to protect necessary illusions.  This fascinating and eloquent memoir reveals the price our society extracted from its gay people (and their families) who refused to marginalize themselves simply because the absolute truth of their hearts did not fit the accepted mold.”

After a multicultural event here in my hometown of Ashland Oregon, I asked Bill Rauch (Artistic Director at Oregon Shakespeare Festival) for twenty minutes of his time.  We set an appointment soon thereafter and I went in on a rainy fall day to speak with him about the book.  Bill loves history and the theater and shares his life and love in a two gay parent family, so I knew my themes would resonate with him.  He sat comfortably across from me in a warm and curious manner, but behind his desk I could see a long counter-top stacked high with plays and books he likely had to read A.S.A.P.  I was so sure he couldn’t take time for this memoir that when he said, “I want to read your book,” or a variation of that theme three times,  I decided to believe him.  A short while later he wrote to me saying…

“My Father’s Closet is a gift of love, filling the reader with a gorgeous blend of sadness and hope.  I couldn’t put it down, frankly, and read it all within 24 hours.”  And more personally he noted, “I felt honored and moved to have gotten to know your family through your beautifully crafted prose.”  He also wrote a more formal blurb for the book, highlighting the damage that puritanical culture has inflicted on loving families by forcing people into the closet.  Bill gets this book!

The final advance reader is Alison Bechdel, who is also the daughter of a gay father.  In 2006 she wrote Fun Home, a pictographic novel which was developed into the Tony Award winning Broadway musical by the same name.  She is also author of Are You My Mother (2012) and a MacArthur Fellow.  She wisely noted:

“From the outside, the McClintocks looked about as wholesome and Midwestern as it gets.  But on the inside, a bewildering emotional vacuum was taking a complicated toll.  Karen McClintock reconstructs the details of her father’s double life with novelistic flair, keen psychological insight, and graceful compassion.”

My exuberant thanks to these fine reviewers for their endorsements.


The Shame-Blame Game

As a published author and expert on shame, the presidential election left me reeling. After witnessing a shame-slinging campaign, my candidate lost, so I am tempted to throw shame around too. I have labels in my head when I think of our newly elected president, but I also know that throwing shame just gets some of it back on me.

Many democrats, shocked by the outcome, are categorizing Trump voters as stupid, white, right-wing Christians, bigots, misogynists, racists, etc.  Any labels we choose, simply deny the personhood of others.  We can easily become like kids on a playground playing that old game of cooties, we tap each other and pass the shame around.  If we stay in shame the divides will deepen.

I feel plenty of shame that my candidate lost. I am ashamed that I didn’t phone bank, and that I call myself a Christian (though my progressive thinking is so obviously superior!). I feel ashamed that I didn’t speak out more in the face of Trump’s objectification of women, and vilification of immigrants. When I visited my family in Georgia a month ago, I remained silent—avoiding conflict in order to foster connection. This shame is so uncomfortable it debilitates me rather than call me to opposite action.

Psychologically, shame and blame are at opposite ends of one emotional spectrum. When we don’t want to feel ashamed about our actions or feelings, we flip over the emotion and attack others with blame. I repeatedly observed this pattern with both presidential candidates. Rather than own up to their feelings of inadequacy or shame, they launched into blame. Donald Trump did this during the campaign. He turned against the women who said that he had sexually assaulted them, lashed out at the media,  frequently looking for other people to blame. Hillary Clinton did this after the election. She placed blame on the F.B.I. director for his unnecessary press release about additional emails.

To heal the nation, we have to get a handle on shame and disguised opposite, blame.  Social media pundits have recently taken some responsibility for the election. The editor of a major newspaper empire recently said he’d gotten this election wrong, and he admitted it.  This is the humility that defeats shame and blame, the attitude in which people can work together, and can listen to different perspectives.

The capacity for self-reflection and shame recognition is essential to psychological health.  Without it, psychologists say, we foster psychopathology.  A psychopath (note a label here) is a person who lacks empathy.  A person with a narcissistic structure to their personality will deny their repressed shame under a mask of grandiosity.  On any side of the political aisle, disowned shame is nothing but trouble. We can just wait and see how the shame/blame game leaves us all in danger, or we can name it, refuse to participate in it, and call our leader to act with humility and self-reflection from here on out. 2016-06-14_1589


What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You – Living with undisclosed LGBTQ parents

alice-croppedMy mother was pear shaped, as I came to know at age fifteen. I read this in a contraband copy of Seventeen magazine. I recall a school night, after Ed Sullivan’s show ended, when her weight was a liability.  Her wide hips rocked a little to get her body moving.  She let out an “oomph” to get off the couch and crossed the room in order to shut off the television news. I wonder if NBC was airing a clip about the bloody Tet Offensive, a scene showing race riots in Alabama, or a story about a local kidnapped child? She decided that the content was for adults only.

Returning to the couch, she saw my tightened eyebrows and pursed lips.  Shrugging her shoulders, she looked down at me and said, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” She had a greater impulse to protect me than to please me. She was skeptical about television, and a strong believer in “book learnin’,” as she said in her Southern Ohio slang. She highly valued formal education.

My mother knew a lot, too. Monday through Friday she worked behind the reference desk at the public library. It was her job to know everything—she successfully found quotations, journal articles, and archives to satisfy professors as well as ordinary patrons. She cataloged books, records, and newspapers with incredible speed. If there’d been an alphabetizing contest, she’d have won it. No topic stumped my mother, except one.

“Where’s Dad?” I asked, maybe an hour or so before she turned off the set. Her answer lay dormant until Ed Sullivan’s really, really big show was over. So long that I didn’t even catch that my question matched her earlier statement, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” She said, “Oh, he’ll be home soon, don’t worry about it.”

By the time I hit my senior year, my father’s relationship with Walther (pronounced with a silent “h”) was in full swing. He went out more often with gay men on campus, and to lectures at the art museum. He went to a place called, “The Last Man’s Club,” which despite my best research could not be traced. It may have been a name they invented to cover for his evenings with Walther. Either way, I was kept in a perpetual state of “not knowing.” Mother didn’t want me to learn where he was going or with whom.

This was her protective mechanism. Her “let’s not know that,” strategy held our family together. It kept my father from losing his job, helped them look good side-by-side at church, and kept her from being blamed by her friends for not sexually satisfying her husband. Repression ensured their survival in the community. And in the emotional field within our home it kept us loving, kept laughter flowing, kept “the roof over our heads,” as Dad often said.

After reading a post about my memoir, my older sister’s friend Barbara wrote on Facebook, “It would be nice if we could all learn the truth about our families.”

My sister Marsha and I learned math, science, history, art, and literature in high school. She went on to a nursing school to learn anatomy, phlebotomy, and all about dangerous pathogens. I went to college to study theater and religion then on to seminary to learn as much as I could know about God (the really big unknown!). What my sister and I never knew, and were not privileged to know, was that once my father learned his identity truth, while he still slept beside mother every night, he emotionally packed up his bags and moved in with Walther.

The family creed, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” just isn’t true, but I will leave the painful part of this subject for a future blog. Today I celebrate the amazing pluck that my parents needed to stay together in allegiance to a marriage promise they made in their early twenties.

Mother’s truth suppression strategy honored Dad until his very last breath. But after the funeral, Mother knew—as we sorted through and closed out his life—there was as story waiting to be told. That story, My Father’s Closet, will be published next spring.


We Stop Hate One Gay Marriage at a Time

Pride paradeOne week and one day after a gunman unleashed his fear-based fury at Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, I spent the morning with two gay men and their families at their wedding rehearsal. The first funerals for victims took place in churches that morning. In our sanctuary, morning light streamed through the street side “Christ window” and fell across darkly hued pews. The altar was draped in white and blue, and the tiered candelabra stood as sentinels for our evening celebration. The groom’s family members (sister, brother, cousin, son) had come together from the far reaches of the country to stand with them, even though they had been together for eighteen years. That evening the grooms would promise each other the love that they’d already embodied and become legally married.

The pianist was rehearsing, as two salt and pepper matching Scotty dogs (the ring bearers) sniffed casually under the front pews. The soloists stepped up to sing, “Prayer,” a song made popular by Dion and Grobin. The lyrics took us back to a time when this sanctuary space overflowed with grieving friends at a funeral for two women in our quiet college town who were shot to death in August of 1996, by a man who said that knowing they were lesbians made it easier to kill them.

The pianist may have seen me tearing up. My gay father never had the chance to marry the man he loved, but while he stayed in the closet he likely found freedom and safety at more than one night club. She stopped playing for a moment, looked over at me and asked, “We don’t need to sing the whole thing do we?”

“Oh, absolutely,” I said. “We need to cry it out now or we’ll never get through the service this evening.”

I went to the back of the sanctuary where we kept boxes of tissues stacked on a table for funerals, and passed them out. I sat down with the wedding party, friends, and family in the “audience” as the soloists began the song again. We let them sing to us and we sobbed.

“Let this be our prayer…guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.”

I sat there like a blubbering fool, and I knew that participants that evening would also be awash in tears. I left the tissues available in the pews.

Everything was beautiful that night, a night which stood in direct opposition to any shooter’s hatred, which proclaimed safe sanctuary, where love triumphed. As we grieved Orlando, we were also awestruck that the long struggle for marriage equality was about to culminate with joined hands and gold rings.

As I looked out at over two hundred people in the room I knew many of them had fought for LGBTQ marriage rites. “Without you,” I said at the groom’s request, “we wouldn’t be standing here today—we thank you!” We sang hymns, we spoke about their love, we laughed, we prayed, and we blessed them.

I got a call from the grooms few weeks later, “We’re on our honeymoon,” they said, “but we want to tell you that everyone said it was the best wedding they’d ever attended.” Many weeks’ later people kept on saying that, because they had witnessed love at its sacred best.

We needed this service after Orlando. We needed to say “yes” to gay partners and lovers. We needed to see them kiss and to cheer, needed to pray for their safety, for their family, needed to say thanks for everyone who took this issue all the way to the supreme court. Our simple ceremony became a protest against violence—a proclamation that love wins one moment and one marriage at a time.


« Older posts

© 2023 My Father's Closet

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑