When I saw him in September we camped in his family’s cabin. My grandfather built it with his own two hands and gave it to his children; now his own two legs, the prosthetics he got after both were amputated below the knee from diabetes, are the legs of the cabin’s kitchen table.
My two younger sisters and I slept in the cabin’s only room on pillows and dusty weathered couches as Dad woke and stoked the fire. Mornings at the lake are chilly, even at the peak of heat in August when the summer has been baking the water to its depths and swimming is the best. I watched him add kindling and logs and sometimes dozed off. He spread another blanket over me. When I woke I saw a forlorn gaze in his eyes I’ve never seen. What was he thinking? Was he wondering how his oldest daughter evolved into this boy? This big-city dapper masculinity that is too faggy to fit in with him and his brothers and all my older boy cousins as they discuss elaborately the latest football game, the way they fixed their trailers and trucks, what they caught when out fishing, how to clean the geoduck, how to make a perfect sausage-and-egg breakfast for ten, how to put on a wedding, how to give away the bride.
Dad, are you wondering how I got here? How I went from that tree-climbing skinned-knee ragamuffin girl to this prettyboy? From that girl who worked through her teens in your sports card shop, flirting with the boys as my girlfriends came in to seek sanctuary from the juvenile delinquent park hangout across the street when their feelings were hurt, when someone dumped them (again), when they got caught smoking, when they were being sent tomorrow to rehab or summer camp or anorexia camp or gay camp or bible camp.
I never was your tomboy daughter, never got in fights with the boys in the neighborhood, never stood up to the bullies of my younger sisters. I was the artistic one, moody, on my own. Studying my peers as we metamorphosed into our adult bodies.
We used to go on drives sometimes. After dinner restless, this was when neither of us wanted to be home, neither could stomach my mother’s depression. We’d go on drives and this was when you first told me, “I want to open up a store, right there maybe,” pointing at the empty corner lot that used to be a restaurant bar, at the mall on the wharf. “But my dream space,” he whispered, leaning in, “is right by Foodland.”
That was back when we shared our dreams with each other.
It was on one of those drives, too, where he saw a little silver Saab for sale and said, “that’s the kind of car I want to buy you.” I was fourteen and wouldn’t have a license for nearly ten more years. I couldn’t see myself as a driver, just as I couldn’t see myself as a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a panic that plagued my teens.
Recently on a road trip I saw a blue 1970s GTO and remembered some photos from my mom’s college album. “Hard top, 1964,” my dad emailed back. “Midnight blue, the original muscle car. I got it up to 100 easy on the road out to the cabin. I called the car my “Goat.””
Once, I told a lover that I was considering taking T. She had a string of baby trans guys, she knew how to break us in over her knee. “You won’t turn into Cary Grant,” she warned me, and stopped at a photo of my father in the hallway. “You’ll turn into him. Look. Is that what you’re thinking you’ll be?”
I didn’t grow up in my father’s footsteps, but suddenly I’ve found myself standing in his shoes.
And now, fifteen years later, he moved his store right next to Foodland, the only grocery store downtown. A prime spot for retail. He has all but retired from the environmental engineering business upon which our family was built and now sorts sports cards, comics, coins from his father’s collection, from when the store opens at noon – so he can sleep in – to six pm, every day except Monday. “I’ve worked enough Mondays for a lifetime,” I’ve heard him say.
Now, fifteen years later, I don’t drive much; I take the subway and taxis but I still miss the stick shift in my hand and the dance of the pedals, just like you taught me. Now fifteen years later I can imagine myself as my father’s grown daughter, this “man” I’ve become, your son.
Three daughters and your wife, our mother, all in one house for nearly half of your life. Did you ever wish you had a son, Dad?
I wonder what he’s thinking, as this fire, his fire, warms our morning. He smiles at me with a look I’ve never seen.
“I sleep just like that,” he says. “With my arm over my eyes. You look just like me.”
27 thoughts on “My Father’s Son”
This made my chest hurt.
We are imperfect copies of imperfect people trying to fix the mess we've inherited and reveling in all the things we do different from our parents not realizing that even rebellion has been taught to us.
Parents are people. It's weird when you realize that. It must be strange when they realize that their children are people.
My father is the epitome of all that I consider masculine. He is a brilliant man, not smart or wise, but brilliant. Genius even. He has his own life and his own problems and the fleeting moments when I earned his respect are certainly the ones I am most proud of, whether I like it or not.
But I was raised by women. Every bit of me knows it. I don't think like him and I don't feel like him, which is good because he is cold and hard and confused by his emotions.
In my head, deep down, that is what being a man is too.
Heartwarming story, mister. Perfect for a winter's day. Makes me happy for you. Thanks. K
This brought a tear to my eye and has echoes of my own father who is no longer with us but is still with me every single day.
sin, this was amazing and beautiful and so special.. thank you.. I might tweet the url around if you don't mind.. I, too, know some butches who should read this.
thank you for this gift.
This is beautiful, absolutely a wonderful piece to read. You should be proud of yourself for writing it, seriously. I actually started to tear up! :)
oh! how lovely…
absolutely heartbreakingly gorgeous.
This is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever read.
As I tweeted you yesterday, I've got a post brewing on very close to this topic. I love the way you told this story, and it got me thinking, again, about the ways I model my masculinity under the influence of my father's example. Sounds like we both got lucky in having good male role models.
this is a beautiful and moving post, sinclair. the final line made the hair stand up on the backs of my thighs and shoulders. i’ll be sending this one to a butch i know who might find a little healing in your words. xoxo.
that is so very beautiful
Awww I want to hug your dad for saying that! "You look just like me" – what a compliment!
This brought a tear to my eye. It's so very beautiful and lovely. I really love your writing. And I can identify with this post myself. Thanks for sharing this with us, Sinclair. I mean it.
I don't think a blog post has ever made me cry before.
I'm a slightly effeminate yet masculine, urban, pretty-boy too. I had a very similar moment with my dad a few years ago. I'm the gay (as in, gay boy, yet female) version of him. He tells me now that he sees a mirror of himself in me, and it makes him happy. He's proud of the person, gay or straight, male or female, I've become. I don't think anything in the world can beat that feeling of acceptance.
Beautiful post. It reminded me of the time when my dad tried to teach me how to drive a standard transmission car, and I felt like I failed him that first day. Finally, when I got it right, eventually, it was actually one of my more accomplished moments.
Beautiful. That sent a shiver up my spin and raised the hair along the back of my neck.
Those simple moments of acceptance mean so much.
Thanks for sharing this inspirational story. I wasn't able to comment here from work, so early this morning I started to blog my "comment" and just now got it finished. I posted it over at my blog.
Such a lovely post Sinclair QRx (a daddy's girl)
What a beautiful, powerful piece of writing. Any chance you'll share it with your father?
[Not now, probably. But maybe someday. – ss]
WOW. Great writing, great story, an ending that gave me chills. Well done.
I almost cried at the end, too. My father wonders those same kinds of things, I'll bet. I wish he could look at me sometime and see some of himself.
I'd send him this, but it seems like it'd be a bit . . . . much.
My father ended up in the hospital this weekend – he had a stroke. I hadn’t seen him in a year, I’d been hating him for almost a decade, but seeing him there, so old and vulnerable in the hospital bed…
Your post really touched me, made me think of myself as a little girl wishing she was a boy because her father wanted a son, not the three girls he was given. So many emotions swirling inside me today – you’ve given me food for thought, and I have been hungry for it. Thank you.
Honestly sometimes I don't know why I log in, you tear me apart.
I've been crying for 10 minutes straight.
Yeah, it was that last line.
For me it's not my father but rather my mother. I hated her and rightfully so. I'm glad she's dead.
I look like my father, thank goodness. But everything else is a blend.
About 10 years ago, my mom and I and my dtr drove to Florida to visit a 90 year old great uncle. In his tiny 4 square room, concrete block house, I had to share a bed with my mom. I noticed then for the first time, that we slept exactly the same. It creeped me out, and also, made feel me oddly close to her, all at the same time. It's a hard to explain feeling. Hadn't thought about that in years, actually it's the kind of thing I've tried to forget, just as I've tried to deny any and all similarities between us.
I don't have the vocabulary for this feeling, only tears.
Writing from the heart, indeed, indeed.
Makes me think about my own daughter, how much I love her, how much her father loves her.
Hope you feel you can show it to him someday.