My current work, Out of the Ordinary, is a memoir that centers on my relationship with my gay dad and how it has impacted my life, and our family.
As an ally to the LGBT community, I hope my story connects with other families who have experienced this unique dynamic and brings understanding and healing to anyone who has struggled with feeling like they don't fit in. At the heart, mine is a story of a family and the challenges, triumphs, joys and judgments that are woven through the fabric of our lives as we stumble towards acceptance.
I lost my dad in 2013 and it is there my story begins . . .
Out of the Ordinary: A Daughter's Memoir of Acceptance
“I'll take his brains and heart,” I whispered to my sister when the funeral director presented us with the ashes of our father. One half was enshrined in a plain blue box, the other in a tube resembling a wine bottle gift holder, a photo of a golf club adorning the outside. My father had never golfed a day in his life. His interests were more suited to belting out show tunes or shopping for drapes.
Our share of Dad's ashes was really a bit less than half each, as a handful of him is forever trapped inside a golden rose his partner, Benny, chose from a catalog at the funeral home. He will keep this on his dresser alongside other mementos from their nine-year relationship. Since Dina and I would both be scattering Dad's remains, we chose between the two free temporary containers Saxx Funeral Home had lying around.
I picked the one Dad would hate the least.
Once I returned home, the box sat beside my TV where an elderly Frankie Valli sang “Can't Take My Eyes Off of You,” a song that flowed from the stereo in the dining room of my childhood. I'm pretty sure Dad performed that song in a talent show at Nippersink Resort in Wisconsin when I was twelve. Handsome and confident, he sang with gusto while Mom, Gram, my sister and I applauded from the audience. We were his biggest fans.
That was the summer of 1973, before I found out my father was gay.
No one actually told me this, my parents having been very careful to keep it a secret. Instead, I sort of figured it out by osmosis. Being gay wasn't widely called that yet; queer was the term I remember, or fairy or homo or fag. There were a few references on television shows like All in The Family, but even those were vague and steeped in shame or bigotry. Perhaps there was a dialogue about being gay in the early 1970s in New York or San Francisco, but in the Midwestern suburbs, no one talked about it. Especially not in front of the children.
My suspicion came a year after my parents' divorce when I noticed Dad wasn't dating. Instead, he had a constant companion in Terry, a cute young guy in his early twenties who joined us for Sunday visits, then moved in with Dad. That was the beginning of alternating between rejecting and longing for my father.
Tears flowed as it hit me that I would never speak to him again. Even though there had been many signs his health was failing, the reality of his body reduced to ash startled me. He couldn't really be gone. Yet there he was inside a boring blue box.
A decorating diva, my flamboyant father could barely stand to see a wall with more than twelve inches of blank space. The plain box just would not do until his next birthday when I planned to scatter him across the lagoon behind my house. There he would rest for eternity, floating beside the Victorian painted ladies he loved during his years living in San Francisco. Until then he needed something with a bit more flair.
Pouring myself a second glass of wine, I began pulling out magazines. Pictures of hearts and clocks got ripped out along with a tampon ad filled with butterflies. I tore out clichéd words of bereavement and inspiration. Threshold. Serenity. Wisdom. A love that can endure. The things I wanted for him and those he left behind for me. They all landed in a pile on my lap.
Gluing the words and images to the box, a large, colorful Feeling Good took center stage across the top. This was the thing he wanted most and what had eluded him for the last decade of his life; so many years focused on numbing his pain, real and imagined. Like a ransom note, I pieced together the words Remember your family all love you—a message to be deciphered in the afterlife since I'm not sure he really knew this while he was living, at least not all of us at the same time.
By now the tears and wine were really flowing. I drained the last of the bottle into my glass and sobbed as memories of my father softened with each stroke of the glue stick. My appreciation for him was reflected in the quotes chosen for the sides of the box, the things that he may not have directly taught me, yet I learned from him all the same—things about believing in yourself and doing what you love. In the last year of his life I had come to better appreciate the man that was my father, the person he was, not just the parent who had disappointed me deeply.
Flipping through the last magazine I found the letters RIP on one page in an elegant, curvy script; an exciting find. I cut them out and carefully glued them beside a purple heart for the wounds he suffered, especially those inflicted by me.
Check out You Are Loved... an email memoir, co-written with my partner, Mark.
My work in progress . . .
If the choice to live an authentic life came with a steep price, would you pay it? When lifelong friends Mark and Lisa reconnect after many years, they are both seeking something more in their ordinary lives. Cynical about marriage, yet devoted to his young daughter, Mark is seeking life purpose and direction, while single mom Lisa is embarking on a new career and looking for love. So begins a ten-year email conversation that delves into life’s biggest questions about true love, meaningful work, and connecting with God. Capturing the essence of what it means to risk everything and redefine your life, Mark and Lisa’s story takes you on a journey that explores the nature of love, truth and the choices that shape our lives.
Excerpt from Out of the Ordinary by Lisa Lucca All rights reserved