At age 16, I was living with my father right after he left my mom. My friends and I began having suspicions that my dad was gay. I can’t remember the exact order of these memories of my friends and I putting the clues together, but I know for certain that one particular interaction changed the course of both my life and my father’s for at least a decade. It’s a night I wish I could rewind and prevent. Our lives could have been different, most likely better.
In high school, I became friends with a guy named Devon. He was dating a girlfriend I’d known since middle school. He and I ended up close friends, like brother and sister. When I think back on everything that happened from the beginning to the end of our friendship, I wish we had never become close, for many reasons.
The most important of which was what his mean, careless action did to my father and I, for a substantial amount of time. Until I read my father’s journal, I was never 100 percent certain about that night and how it changed our lives, but with my father’s account in writing, my beliefs are solidified.
Devon was one of my first friends to pick up on clues and start saying my dad was gay. I didn’t see it yet, and my father wasn’t yet ready to deal with it. My father had been married to my mother for 20 years and had just ended the marriage. We had only been living away from her for a few short months before my friends started saying this stuff to me. Devon was the worst though. He approached it with zero sensitivity or compassion, and brought it up in an accusatory, judgmental and vicious way, taunting me and refusing to drop it.
I was a naïve kid and wasn’t ready to come to these conclusions about my father yet. In fact, after reading my dad’s account of it, he was nowhere near being ready to come to these conclusions for himself yet either. If Devon was really my friend and actually cared how I felt, he could have been a little kinder about his opinions. I know he was also a 16 year old boy at the time and didn’t have the life skills to address it better, but unfortunately the callous way he presented it sparked a chain reaction which caused great difficulty for my father and me. I’ll explain what happened…
Devon, his girlfriend and I had been out together and Devon had been needling and taunting me all night, saying my dad was gay and calling him a faggot. Needless to say, the name-calling and the fact he wouldn’t drop the subject when repeatedly asked was upsetting. They dropped me off in the parking lot of my apartment. My dad heard arguing and opened the door to find me on the doorstep teary eyed and upset. I had no choice but to explain myself, and this is how he and I had our first ever conversation about the possibility that he might be gay. This wasn’t the way this should have gone. He should have had time to come to terms with his sexuality on his own and to sit down with me when he was ready to talk about it. Also, we should have talked about it in a time of calm instead of chaos, not when my emotions were on high and I was crying over having been taunted.
If only my dad would have been out of town like he usually was, we could have avoided something upsetting that was sprung on us by an outsider who had no business butting into our family’s personal issues. Because of this night, open communications halted with my father and me for a decade, at a very important time for both of us. I was just growing up, and my father was just about to come to terms with who he really was. If this one night hadn’t occurred, I believe we most likely would have sat down in a calm and honest discussion at a later time, and it would have brought us closer instead of creating a stressful divide for a decade, which is unfortunately what resulted.
That moment was a life changer. Because I was in front of my dad’s face crying, I think his parental instinct to make his child’s pain stop colored his immediate reaction. I’m guessing his autopilot led him to say whatever he needed to say to calm me down. Unfortunately, it hit him so fast that he may have not realized what he was even saying. Here is my dad’s account of this:
“I was already asleep one night, when I woke up to a lot of noise outside. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but then I realized I was hearing you yelling and screaming at someone. By the time I got up, put on a robe, and got to the front door and opened it, you were right there. You were yelling at one of your friends. I don’t remember his name. It was the boy that moved in with you and your friend when you rented the house on Bryan Street. Anyway, when I got you to calm down and tell me what was wrong, you told me that all night long he had been teasing you and saying your dad was a faggot. When I asked you why he would say that, you replied that he said no (man) was as neat as I was, and wouldn’t keep his house as clean as I did, and so I was a faggot. You were really upset about it, but you can be assured, not nearly as upset as I was. I couldn’t believe it; someone had seen past my mask, they had seen into my soul. Of all people, a kid I didn’t even know or like.
I finally calmed you down. We talked for an hour or so, and you went to bed. I have tried to remember for years if I told you that night that I was not Gay. I don’t think I did because I tried so very hard all of your life not to lie to you, but honestly, I can’t remember. I think we talked about letting other people think what they wanted but not letting them get to you. It would not surprise me if you remember that I did in fact say I wasn’t Gay, because at that time, I never admitted it anyway.
After you went up to room, I went to bed, but could not go to sleep. I was up the rest of the night thinking of what had happened, and about my life. I came to the realization that I had to get some help. The next week, I found a doctor who had been very highly recommended, made an appointment, and started seeing him.
For the first time in my life, I told another human being all the things I had kept hidden all my life.”
So after that night, my father and I never spoke about it again. For 10 years, he lived an outwardly gay lifestyle but would not speak about it to me. I was afraid to bring it up. I thought he wasn’t comfortable with it, and I didn’t want to spring anything else on him. If the Devon occurrence hadn’t happened, I think my dad and I could have been in an open place for all those years. However, it also sounds like Devon’s accusation forced my dad to deal with what he was suppressing. I can’t help but have very strong feelings about this whole thing.
I wish I could say I didn’t stay friends with Devon after that, but I ended up becoming roommates with him. I think back to all this, and wonder why I stayed friends with him. I forgave his actions, not knowing they would cause a decade of issues down the line. I had been there for him through thick and thin for a couple of years. His parents dragged him off the Kansas where he was miserable. He called me all the time complaining about this life. I let him move back to Dallas and live with me rent free while he got on his feet, which I know he appreciated and paid me back for. In the end though, he ended up screwing me over financially and causing further problems with my dad, although nothing could break the love between my father and I. After a long uncomfortable amount of time where he became the “roommate from hell,” eating our food, not paying his bills, punching holes in walls and being generally disagreeable, I finally got him out and we never spoke again. That is, until I ran into him one time years later. I was home visiting Dallas for Christmas break and I was at a happy hour with a friend. It was kind of funny actually…
He had gained quite a bit of weight and looked pretty awful, considering he used to be an attractive guy. He was wearing slacks and a button up shirt, looking like he just came from an office job, so I guess that poor fool had to join the rat race. He approached me and I shut him down very calmly. He raised his voice at the bar and attempted to cause a scene because I made it clear I didn’t want to talk to him. He said, “So you’re going to be immature about it?” I had no desire to speak to a former friend who screwed me over for thousands of dollars (which my dad had to bail me out from). I said, “Immature is not paying your rent and bills and leaving your friends to foot your bills.” I calmly told him to get away from me. A few strangers at the bar overheard. A man bought me a round of drinks and high fived me while Devon skulked off and smirked, like the ridiculous puffy-faced dick that he was. That was another moment I wished I could have avoided, but it amused some strangers and got me some free drinks. I don’t like drama, but there is nothing I enjoy more than serving someone their own ass on a platter when they truly deserve it, especially if they hurt someone I love.
At the time of that encounter, my father and I were still in the 10 years of not communicating about it, so I didn’t really realize how long it would go on, or why my father wouldn’t speak to me about it. It wasn’t until after his death and reading the journal he left me that I truly understood that Devon had been the catalyst. I’m grateful that my dad left a journal to explain it to me. I’m sure Devon never once gave us a second thought or had any idea how his actions affected my family.