Through My Father’s Eyes

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I was a nonverbal child until I was around three years old. My grandmother kept sounding an alarm, even suggesting I might be “retarded.” My father pushed back, in no uncertain terms.

Laura Hall examining her father's finds, 1956

Laura Hall examining her father’s finds, 1956

“Laurie is fine,” he said.

I loved that about him. He always knew I was fine.

“When I carried you around the garden, your eyes would get really big,” he said. “You seemed to be in awe of everything. You noticed every new flower bud, the single pine needle that had just fallen to the ground, the clouds floating overhead.”

I was also in awe of my father. He’d find perfect sand dollars on the beach and show us the silly little sand crabs scurrying down holes in the wet sand. I’d lean in close to see every treasure.

He sang opera in the house at the top of his lungs, particularly near stairwells where it especially reverberated. We attended operas in San Francisco and musicals on the Peninsula. I fell asleep in the balcony of Stanford University’s Theatre listening to soprano Eileen Farrell sing her solo arias.

When Dad got home from work in the evenings, he bathed the four of us little kids while my mother got dinner on the table. He cut our hair into the latest styles and bought me bell-bottoms long before other girls were wearing them.

Mom said her friends were jealous. They told her he wasn’t like their husbands. I thought he was different, too, that he was more fun, interesting, and creative than the other dads.

In 1975, when I was 24, he came out to me. “Honey, I’m gay. I’ve always been gay,” he said after I asked if he’d ever cheated on Mom. He’d answered a question I’d never have thought to ask.

At first, the fact that he was gay didn’t register with me. It didn’t register for a long time, especially because he stayed married to my mother. He stayed with her forever. She stayed with him until she died in 2006, even though she’d found out that he was gay in 1957 after the four of us kids were already born.

Over time, I began to see the world through the eyes of my father as a gay man. The bigotry and the hatred. The unjust policies at the State and Federal levels. The terror that made him believe that life in the closet was at least a life. He’d be safe from bullying, arrests, and maybe even a lifetime in jail.

In the end, though, it wasn’t enough to make up for a life led inauthentically. Still, he’d been a good father and a loving husband of sorts in his star-crossed marriage of 64 years. My mother never stopped loving him.

Right before he died, my father came to accept all of himself. This hard won self-love was his greatest gift of all to me, his no longer silent child, the one he never stopped believing was fine exactly as she was, too.

——-

Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.

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