I was 24 when my father came out to me. It was Father’s Day, 1975. I’d long assumed he’d been unfaithful in his marriage to my mother, though with women. I’d decided to confront him that day. He answered a question I’d have never thought to ask. He’d been in the closet since 1941.
My father, Ralph Hall, was born in 1918 to conservative Missouri farmers and raised in the oilfields of Fellows in California’s Central Valley. As a school-age child, he knew he wasn’t like the others. He spent so much time at home reading that his teachers passed him two grades to be with readers of the same level. The older boys now in his class pantsed him during school hours and stoned him on his way home.
After a legal (at the time) entrapment arrest in Los Angeles in his early twenties for being gay, he moved back to the oilfields and attempted to enlist in the Navy. They turned him down after they discovered in his arrest records that he was gay. He then changed his name and enlisted in the Army, where he spent four years on active duty in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. Before shipping out, he met my mother at a USO dance on the San Francisco Peninsula. It was 1942, one year into his closeted life.
My parents married later that year during one of his furloughs. During the postwar Baby Boom, they raised four children. I was their second born.
My mother died just shy of their 64th wedding anniversary. Though my parents remained together until she died, she’d know he was gay since 1957 when she jimmied the lock on his box of secret photos. She also knew he led a double life. I sensed something was wrong from the time I was a little girl. My father always seemed to have one foot out the door.
Once my father came out to me, I joined him in his closet, riveted by migraine headaches, night terrors, and other physical symptoms of anxiety as I too guarded his secret.
I’m writing a memoir about my father’s life as witnessed through my own eyes and through the stories he told me and the letters and mementos he left behind. His is a story of shame, struggle, resilience, love, and honor. It is also my mother’s story. And it is mine.