Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Yesterday would have been my father’s 90th birthday, today my parents 57th wedding anniversary, and tomorrow 17 years since he died. Three major life events in three consecutive days in January.
Quite the coincidence and convenient for us living to remember and celebrate the life of someone who
gave me life. Each year during this time I wear his King’s Point class ring that he devotedly wore until
his last day, and commemorate his memory by having a nice steak dinner, something he always enjoyed
and that I treated him to each year as an adult.
My father was not the ideal father; no parent ever is really. We have expectations for how they should be based on some grand ideals we see portrayed on television or comparing them to other parents, but parents never quite live up to that. Inherently they do love and care for their children, it’s instinctual, but for children it’s not always enough in some ways. My father was a workaholic, spending most of my childhood at Rosecrans Realty, selling houses all over San Diego. He was an alcoholic, which put much strain on my parents’ marriage and gave our home a sense of unpredictability and looming fear at what would be when dad would come home drunk. It wasn’t an easy childhood and I was thankful when my mother decided to get a divorce, something to this day she has pangs of regret about, but as I tell her, was the best thing she could have done for herself and her family.
For many years, I didn’t like my father. I never wanted to spend time with him yet he insisted on continuing to be our father, taking us out to dinners, spending holidays with us, going fishing, etc. Some of these events led to him getting drunk and leaving his sons to feel ashamed or in a dangerous situation when they were far away and he was the driver of the car. All of these things experienced as a child stay with you and you carry them around into adulthood. The anger, disappointment and shame I felt toward my dad was inside me until my early twenties. As I came into adulthood and came to know who I was, I realized it was time to make sense of my past, my feelings toward both my parents. When I compared my upbringing with other people’s, I concluded that I did not have the terrible childhood I imagined, that there were others out there who had it bad. My father, despite his flaws, always provided for his family, we always had a roof over our heads, clothing and food. It was thanks to him that he opened my eyes to the world and instill in me the sense of adventure when he took me to Europe for three weeks when I was 14. So, when I was 23 or 24, I forgave him and my mother for our less than perfect upbringing, and I thanked them for all they had done for me. This may sound trite, but it helped me make peace with the past and move on in life, as well as learn to love my father and have a relationship with him. Not many children can do that, hanging on to anger and disappointment and manifesting it into their own lives. I was lucky to be able to let it go.
My father and I never saw eye to eye on many issues: me being gay, politics, race, etc. He was not an easy person to deal with, but I had the courage to confront his opinions and hold my own in our continued debates in the times we had together. He had his rigid, conservative opinions, but he was open to seeing other ideas. He loved people and was always cordial and friendly with everyone. He could talk to anyone and did. He didn’t like that I was gay, and never acknowledged that part of me. Being gay is just one aspect of who I am, and he chose to look past that and focus on the other aspects of me that he could take pride in. That said, he never disrespected any of my gay friends and always enjoyed meeting them and talking with them at great length. Parents never like to envision their children as sexual beings so they aren’t comfortable always addressing the issue of their children’s sexuality. When their child is gay, it makes it more uncomfortable for them to deal with. That doesn’t mean I hid from him who I was, we just found other things to talk about.
I woke up this morning wanting to write about my father as I looked at his class ring on my finger. It’s a little tight, it’s bulky, but I wear it for these three days to remember the person who was partially responsible for me being here. My last words to my father, on his 73rd birthday in the hospital were, “Dad, you’re a pain in the ass but I love you very much.” He looked at me and with his vivid blue eyes and told me he loved me very much too, and I knew that he truly meant it. That was enough for me. In the end, despite all the shortcomings and dashed expectations, I was loved by my father, and that’s all that we need to know. There was nothing more to say, feel or do. I left the hospital, got on my plane the following day back to New York, at peace with my dad. Early the next day, as I was going to work, he had a heart attack and died. I was sad of course that my father was no longer, but at peace knowing that I was loved by him, and that’s all that mattered.
Happy Birthday Bernie Toomey, wherever you may be.
Posted by Tom T at 9:39 AM