I don't remember what we were talking about before I asked my dad: "What do you think about homosexuals?" He looked me right in the eye and said, "I think that every homosexual should all be put onto a ship, taken to the middle of the ocean, and then it should be used for target practice." I don't know what my affective response was. I don't know if my countenance fell, or if I looked down, or if I just said something like "oh..." (!) I think I did ask him why, though I don't remember what he said. Whatever it was, from my perspective it wasn't very good. The thing I do remember, and what has followed me to this day, is as of that day I was unable to say, "Dad, I'm homosexual..." or "Dad, I'm gay, and I'm not the person you are describing."
I was 15 at the time, and except for the money I earned shoveling snow or mowing lawns, I was entirely dependent upon my parents for nearly everything in my life. But it was the first time that I realized—and I probably wouldn't have used this language at the time—that I was an alien in my own home.
Actually my dad was a really down-to-earth working class/blue collar guy. He worked hard for his living and to provide his family with the home that he would build and the monetary stability we needed. Due to his nordic heritage he didn't express love easily. He only had a fourth grade education, but had earned several certificates from trade school. He was an electrician, plumber, and builder, as well as the architect of the house he built. He always pushed himself to learn more. And in his wish for his two sons to have a better life than he, he wanted us to think. I admired him, but I also feared him. And I even like to think that I take after him in some ways. He was a builder and an inventor, and I am a builder and inventor as well as well, but I use words and ideas instead of wood, metal, and glass.
From then on I wanted to tell him. I wanted him to know who I was, and I wanted him to understand that I was neither evil personified nor an exception to the rule. I also wanted him to know that homosexuals were not so bad that we had to be destroyed. But when I looked for the perfect time to tell him it never came.
I suppose one of the most dramatic "almost" coming out stories was right after my discharge from the U.S. Navy. In mid-1975 I was proud to be a new member of the U.S. Navy. I was guaranteed training as a Hospital Corpsman. But by late 1976 I was discharged for, what was likely to be considered by my family and friends, mysterious reasons. Although I received an "Under Honorable Conditions" discharge, so I had nearly all the rights and privileges of a person who had been discharged with an “Honorable” discharge, I went home in disgrace. Who wouldn't in a small town in the midwest? As a Marine my brother had served two tours in Vietnam. A Great Uncle had died in the “Great War” in Somme, France. I also had many uncles and cousins who had served their full enlistments. I went home to ‘lick my wounds,’ and stayed for about two months. But my failure was always apparent, at least to me.
One day I promised my parents that I'd tell them why I was discharged. After supper. I had a letter from my Commanding Officer that I was going to give to them, explaining the circumstances of my discharge. Some of my medical paperwork was quite clear: I had been diagnosed with "homosexuality," which for the military at the time was still a "personality disorder” and warranted discharge. (It was substantially before "Don't Ask/Don't Tell.") But they never saw any of that paperwork.
The evening came. For the most part we ate in silence. And then dad asked 'the question.' And instead of explaining to them what had happened (I hadn't even gotten to the point where I could call myself 'gay' yet--I was still praying for and hoping for a cure) I said something like, "I've decided that I can not tell you right now. It's best that you don't know." And they both accepted that. From that time on I looked for a time to tell my dad. Unfortunately that time that never came. I did eventually come out to my mother, on her birthday in 1977. But that is a substantially different story.
Although I eventually adopted a ritual of telling the people who I loved, or was close to, that I was homosexual I never told my dad. Over the years my perception changed from him being the strongest person I knew, to being a frail old man who by telling him could only hurt him terribly. He was, after all, born in the early part of the 20th century. In the end, I couldn't do it. I still shake my head as I think of it.
When I talked to the people to whom I was out, like my mother, sister, and even a nephew, everyone pointed out at the time that I had lived with the same man for over twenty years. ‘He's an intelligent guy. I'm sure he figured it out.’ My mother so much as told me that he knew. During the AIDS crisis Dad didn't want her getting to close to me for fear of her contracting AIDS. But the point is that "I" never told him.
I looked for the perfect time to tell my father that I was gay, but that time never came. And as a result, there is a part of me, the part of me left over from that time when I was 15 years old, that mourns that I could never tell him. And now as the ten year anniversary of his death is coming on the horizon I recognize it as a loss: It is a loss because I will never have had the opportunity to see what kind of relationship we may have had had I'd told him. I'll never know how he might have changed, or stayed the same. I took that freedom from him because of my own fear. But I know he loved me. And I even know that he respected me for the person I had become.
Daniel J. Johnson
© May 5, 2012
Reprinted, with edits, from: http://brodanielsmeanderings.blogspot.com/