My Father’s Closet provides a rare, funny, and compassionate glimpse into the secret life of our otherwise ordinary Midwest family. This book will resonate with anyone who has fallen in love with the wrong person, grown up around secret love affairs, taken risks with a taboo lover, lived in the closet, or grew up in one.
When our lighting contractor called me out to the garage after a brief inspection he said, “I’m sorry lady, but your garage ceiling is sagging so badly I can’t install the new fixtures.” “You better move that stuff out of the attic before it falls in on you,” he harrumphed and walked off the job. The next Saturday I ascended the rickety stairs to haul down dusty boxes I’d stored away after my parents died. I pulled back the flaps of a box addressed to the Columbus Ohio house I’d grown up in, and reached in to find a small hat box full of faded letters my parents sent to each other in the first years of their forty-three year relationship. With my next reach into the box I discovered a black spiral-bound journal dated 1939, penned by my father when he was just nineteen.
That night as I sat reading in my usual overstuffed chair in my Ashland Oregon home, I could hear the resonant baritone voice of my father. I was happily following along as he described his innocent courtship of my mother at meetings of the North High School thespian society, and over a two-straw shake at the malt shop. They went dancing to the tunes of Guy Lombardo which he described as a “terrible band,” and then less than a week later he described a sexual scene with a man named Jim that stopped me cold. I wanted to warn my mother, so she could avoid the heartache of her celibate marriage, but of course, I had no such power. At that moment I could have tossed the whole thing in the trash, but I stubbornly read on in order to meet the real father I had never been allowed to know. The letters and the journal compelled me to pull out the last hinge pin on the door of our family closet.
This book bravely reveals family secrets with honest, revealing details—always shrouded in love, forgiveness, and hope. The author includes the reader on a difficult path as she discovers her father’s gay life, and finds his lover. The writing is heartfelt, sad, funny, and open. She weaves an incredibly complex secret into the fabric of lives we truly care about.
My Father’s Closet is a gift of love, filling the reader with a gorgeous blend of sadness and hope. Fear of being different has driven too many American families to pain and tragedy. I felt honored and moved to have gotten to know this family through beautifully crafted prose.
Making discoveries—sometimes unwanted ones—is the subject of McClintock’s memoir, My Father’s Closet. . . . The evidence the author accumulates over the years regarding her father’s true sexuality is intriguing. . . . To her credit, McClintock works not only to piece together her father’s story but also to imagine his struggle and anguish through it all.
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.
I have read Karen’s book four times. Each time I came away with new insights about a loving family with a secret that was uncovered a little at a time throughout Karen’s life. It reads like a mystery, but since it’s a memoir, the mystery is personal and emotional. Going back and forth in time allows us to get into the mind of the adult Karen, the minister and psychologist, as well as the younger Karen, the daughter of a closeted gay father. Something no one else has mentioned is that this book is also funny, quirky and descriptive — how Karen remembered all those details is beyond me!
Well-written, engaging, and suspenseful! McClintock has provided us a bold, imaginative, and ultimately truthful account. As a reader, it was a privilege to be invited on this very personal journey as she uncovered her family’s secret and ultimately found a path of healing. This book will be of interest primarily to readers exploring issues of sexual shame, family systems, and homosexuality, though the themes are universal: how to love unconditionally, how to overcome secrets and self-defeating patterns, how to come to terms with our own sexual selves, and how to maintain faith in God. Thank you, Dr. McClintock!