Dad did not come into this world easily. His mother was 14 years old when she gave birth to her first child - a premature, underweight baby boy born in a throw=away place called Deal, PA. Dad was born a “Blue Baby”, a newborn whose blood is not oxygenated enough. I don’t think we know how much Dad actually weighed at birth, or even how long he was . . . but his first bed was a sewing machine drawer. Against all those odds, Dad survived and grew. But then, so did his obstacles.
He’s had more than a few scrapes in his life. He once cut the end off of a finger with a power saw. He once didn’t duck fast enough while running through a low doorway and tore the top of his head open. He's had surgical eye implants. He had two back-to-back surgeries – one quintuple bypass, the other on his intestines that had spent years turning gangrene. Not to mention, Dad’s been a bit of a smoker for more than the better part of his life. You see, he wasn’t supposed to live long enough to meet his first grandchild, let alone see the birth of his first great-grandchild 27 years after that The point is, Dad has defied the odds his entire life and is here today to celebrate his 78th birthday.
Admittedly, 78 is still not THAT old, but despite everything, Dad has outlived his father, who died at the age of 57, and has more than doubled the life span of his mother, who died at the age of 34. He’s outlived both sets of grandparents and all 8 great-grandparents. In Dad's family history, he is now the 5th oldest person in his lineage.
From Dad, I have learned many things - mostly by example. He showed me early on what it is to sacrifice for your loved ones; what it is to be dedicated and committed to either an action or a belief; what it is to give of yourself and your time to a cause you hold dear; what it means to do things that need to be done despite whether or not you know how to approach it; what it means to be quietly principled; and yes, even what it is to be the life of the party when you want to be.
When I "came out" to my Dad in 1997, I didn't know what to expect from him. However, after I was finished speaking, his response was simply, "Well, I had NO idea". When I pressed him on it, he said, "well I guess I thought about it at some point, but it never really seemed to matter. It's your life; live it however you want." And then the next morning, he woke me from bed and told me he needed help working on the deck. If my very blue-collar, unworldly Dad had any trouble with having a gay son, he never let me know it. From my perspective, Dad accepted me for the man I had become - a man espousing those same principles I listed above.
Today, Dad is not where he wants to be, and certainly not where we selfishly want him to be either. But there he is, living every day in his own, private world. Now and then, there's a connection. I experienced my first real connection with Dad in a few years during my most recent trip home. For his birthday, I gave him a globe that lights up with different colors. When he received it, he cried, which is the only emotion my Dad can express anymore. It was a happy-cry; we've been able to learn the difference. And as I leaned in to kiss him, he looked at me and I could tell he wanted to say something to me. It was the first time I had experienced that with him in the years he's been living in his mental prison. He wanted to tell me something, and I can only imagine what it was. And that has to be good enough now.
But I know what it was. My dad and I have a long history of unspoken words between us, knowing what the other means without really having to say it. Two weeks after my coming out conversation, I was back visiting my parents. My siblings and I were sitting around the picnic table on the newly finished deck and my dad came and sat by me. There wasn't much room so he pushed into me. When I turned to look at him, he smiled at me. That's when I knew Dad and I were "good". And thus is my history with him.
Across the many miles, I send him love on his birthday today.