I remember the exact moment that the picture was taken. Joe and I had been visiting my father in the hospital and just before we were leaving, I asked if I could have a picture taken with him. He agreed and that set about the monumental task of moving things around, in a tight space, so that I could get myself and my wheelchair into position. So, while that happens, let me give you some back story.
My father, when he died, was 93 years old. Joe and I have been together for 48 years. That means when we got together in 1969, a few days before the Stonewall riots, my father was 45 years old. They were different times. In our corner of the world the preferred slur used about gay men was ‘fucking gear boxes,’ and, though it may not seem it from reading the words, they were always spoken with implied violence.
It was a time of hiding. The idea and concept of ‘coming out’ was foreign. But there Joe and I were, barely 17 years old and living, hiding, in plain sight. We denied any accusations regarding our relationship. Good friends and buddies we were. Our first year together we both decided not to go home for Christmas, to break away early, to establish ourselves both as independent and as a couple. It was a rough holiday with a lot of people very angry at us. We had a lovely dinner.
So, in my home, there was simply silence about Joe, about our relationship. The silence was absolute. I couldn’t live with so much silence and with so much of my life being hidden away, so I went home less and less often. Other things played into that but I need not go into that here.
I told my parents when Joe and I got married a couple years back and the response was that they thought we already had been married. I said that I wouldn’t have gotten married without their knowledge. The silence had finally and forever, been broken.
When Joe and I visited my father in the hospital Dad treated Joe with respect and ensured that he was always included in the conversation. It may have been the first time that I saw Dad fully comfortable with Joe and it felt good. Then, I asked for the picture.
I’m finally beside the bed and I lean over. I place my hand on the bed for support and was surprised to the point of shock that my father took my hand. He doesn’t do that. Joe, never good with electronics, was struggling to take a photo. After a few desperate tries I could see his growing frustration. My hand was holding my father’s hand the whole time and he made no effort to pull away while Joe fiddled with the phone. I then said, “Joe you’d better take the picture quickly or people with think we’re on a date here.”
My father cracked up. He laughed loudly and Joe snapped the picture.
I will remember that photo because it’s of my father holding my hand and laughing at a gay joke.
Many people have commented on how happy my father looks in the picture. I think he was happy. Not just because of the joke, but because, for all his earlier misgivings, he knew that I was loved and cared for and he need not worry about me and my future.
That was his gift to me and mine to him.