“It’s Liza with a ‘Z’ not Lisa with an ‘S’ ‘cause Lisa with an ‘S’ goes…”
I twirl around and point with both index fingers to the man next to me. He is in his mid-fifties, with thin graying hair that seems incongruous with his boyish grin. He weighs just over two hundred pounds, and hasn’t been drinking. I, however, am on my fifth drink, and at one hundred and fifteen pounds, drink number five has me feeling good. Drink number five has also made me chatty, which is how the whole song-and-dance routine began.
The man, having been given his cue, supplies the next lyrics of the song.
I let out a snorting, drunken laugh. Not just at the word itself, but the Liza Minnelli duet we’ve created, and the flamboyant hand motions I’ve devised to accompany our version of the tune. I’d told him of my admiration for Liza near the end of drink number four, and before you could say ‘black hair and big eyes’ we were launching into her signature song.
“Have you seen her TV special from the 70’s?”
“Seen it? I watched it when the program first aired. Do you know who did the choreography?”
I stare at him.
“Bob Fosse. Come on, Dad. I’m gay, not stupid.”
Two days before this, I’d stepped off a plane from London (via Chicago) to Oklahoma City, ending a hellish 48 hours of transatlantic travel and a two and a half year relationship with a British boyfriend.
Before this arrival, I’d not spent more than a handful of days at home in the five years. Being at college in a different state meant I didn’t come home often, and a move to London after graduation had further limited my visits. I’d missed two family Christmases in the past five years, and routinely forgot birthdays and important anniversaries (my parents celebrated twenty-five years of marriage while I’d been away. My brother gave them flowers and a framed photo – I gave them a phone call, six days after the actual date). I’m not sure anyone actually used the phrase “prodigal son”, but it wouldn’t have been completely off the mark. However, none of this seemed to matter, as I was instantly smothered in a big hug by my father.
I know countless gay men who, after coming out, lost relationships with their families, their fathers in particular. No contact, no phone calls, no visits. I also know gay men who kept their relationships with their fathers, but only on the surface. They stick to safe, neutral conversation topics when they speak. Nothing too personal, and certainly nothing too ‘gay’. My relationship with my father, after announcing I was gay at 18, didn’t follow either of these patterns. Conversely, it seemed only to strengthen with my coming out. My father’s response to having a gay son was to increase his displays of affection. As some gay men were pushed away, I was pulled in closer to my father.
While I was away at university, he would frequently write me e-mails “just to say he loved me”. He met boyfriends, gay friends and fag hags, never once showing signs of discomfort or anxiety. Anyone who was important to me, he said, was important to him. He even mustered up the courage to discuss the importance of safe gay sex (though, at 19, it was more of a review session for me than an introduction of unknown concepts). I began to start stories about him with the phrase “So you know how my Dad’s amazing, right? Well…”
I apologize if this all sounds like boasting. It’s not intended to. It’s just that, aside from Will Truman (of ‘Will & Grace’ fame), I don’t know any other gay men with supportive fathers. All of my gay friends have little to no contact with their dads. Sometimes I feel guilty describing my father to others, sheepishly admitting that yes, he still tells me he loves me after every phone conversation. Occasionally I feel slightly sad that my relationship with my dad seems to be the exception, rather than the rule, for gay offspring. Mostly, however, I feel lucky for being raised by a man who views being gay as I do – perfectly natural. I guess that’s my story when it all boils down. I got lucky in the father department.
With his knowledge of Liza’s show tunes and progressive social attitudes, you might expect my father to hail from some liberal outpost of the United States. Yet, my father has lived in Oklahoma his entire life, excepting a six-month stretch in Washington D.C. He considers himself religious, attending church weekly, if not more. From a glance, he seems to be an anomaly, a weird aberration. He should be conservative (he isn’t) – he shouldn’t be cultured (he is) – he should have a problem with me being gay (he doesn’t). My father, born and bred in the Sooner State, also enjoys musicals and the theater. He also loves watching football. He has a mild crush on Elizabeth Taylor circa ‘Butterfield 8’, but accepts my assertion that Michael York was a good-looking man in his heyday. The facts and contradictions continue; some interesting, some not. Perhaps most importantly though, he has a great relationship with his gay son – who still has yet to buy him an anniversary present.