My Father's Closet

By Karen McClintock

Tag: closet

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.”


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.


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