I just got off the phone with my dad half an hour ago (after-writing edit — well, like an hour and a half ago now). Or, more like, he got off the phone, I just ranted into dead air for a while, as he had hung up on me mid-sentence. It sort of solves a problem Jodi and I have with the wedding, but not the one I was expecting, and not in any way that I’m at all satisfied about.
There’s a lot of family stuff I’ve not yet divulged on this blog. Some of my closest friends already know it all, but I could count them on a hand. The biggest piece of backstory I haven’t yet written about is the fact that my mother had left my father during my first summer back from university, after trying to dope him up on antidepressants (double the normal dose in fact — I consider it an attempted murder, but nothing’s ever come from it). It’s a long, crappy story unto itself, but only tangentially relevant to this one. He’s since remarried, so this tangent only serves to explain that fact and one other yet to come.
Dad phoned me tonight, not the other way around, let’s make this clear. I had called him on Father’s Day and missed him; and I had called him yesterday to inform him about the engagement but I missed him then too. I was rather worried about talking to my father for a few reasons — one of which I mentioned elsewhere, being that he was raised Catholic and, though lapsed since I was probably about 14 or 15, he’s still extraordinarily set in his ways. I mean, a person is bound to be well and truly indoctrinated into at least some of the family’s religious beliefs when the priest comes around every month and admonishes the family sternly if the person’s mother is not pregnant. My father is the fourth youngest in his family, with a total of 13 brothers or sisters (this is approximate, from my swiss-cheese memory — I can’t call him and verify now, unfortunately), and every one of them was brought up to believe homosexuality is a perversity on par with child molestation. On top of that, my father’s education is minimal — he’d dropped out of high school and gotten a job at Canadian Tire to support the new family he and my mom had started, at 18 no less. He’s never moved from his home area of northern New Brunswick, being brought up in Beresford and living presently, and as long as I can remember, in Bathurst, while working at the Brunswick Mines (which is about 45 minutes away, and the largest workforce in the area).
He is Acadian French, and all the English he knows is broken and intermediate at best, which also leads to making any kind of conversation with him torturous at best. Jodi says I have a completely different speaking style when conversing with him. Not surprising, as I tend to speak with nearly the same verbosity and choice of language in real life as I do in prose, so I have to scale back the flowery words significantly. His hearing loss from years working underground doesn’t much help either — I frequently have to repeat myself. I have developed a very clipped manner of speaking with my father, and it tends to include a lot of repetition, so I’m sure anyone hearing it would be hard pressed to follow the conversation.
Oh, and my sister Jennifer, whom I love to death, is gay. Yeah, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? So that pretty much sets the stage for the phone call tonight.
I had spoken with her recently. Her girlfriend had a falling-out with her parents not too long ago, so she was now living with Jennifer — and over the past six months or so, since my sister came out to Dad, things had gotten extraordinarily chilly between them. I had encouraged both of them on both sides, innumerable times, to try to thaw the ice and come to grips with who one another were — my father, a stubborn old goat with backward beliefs imprinted upon him over far too many years to possibly counteract, and my sister a stubborn young goat who happens to be something that my dad’s beliefs were adamantly against. And they tried. My father by crying to me that he was upset that Jen wouldn’t speak to him, and my sister telling me how upset she was that every time she did speak to him, he told her how wrong it was for her to have “changed”.
Same old story everyone’s heard. Magically, by coming out to Dad, Jen’s “become” something else. On a very recent phone call that involved my sister attempting to reconnect with Dad, he launched into a verbal tirade of attacks, starting with “so I hear you and Opal are engaged” (despite this being an overstatement of their position, that they were “promised” to one another, as they weren’t going to even attempt to have anything like what us straight folks have the privilege of having), and ending with “don’t expect me to come to any wedding of yours.” My sister naturally countered with “if you’re going to be like that, I don’t want you anywhere near any wedding of mine anyway” and hung up on him. Maybe a bit rash, but I can see where she’s coming from. She told me about this call earlier this evening, and when I invited her (and Opal) to the wedding, she asked for a seat on the bride’s side. Mark and Sara arrived to visit with Jodi and I right about then, so I promised to get back to her as soon as possible.
Shortly after they left, though, my father called to return both my earlier calls, and naturally her asking for a spot on the bride’s side weighed pretty heavily on my mind. He congratulated me on the engagement, and I thanked him. I asked when he was planning on visiting (as Nicole, my step-mother, had mentioned on one of those previous missed calls) — he has two weeks of vacation booked for the first two weeks of August, and wouldn’t mind visiting for a few days. My grandmother on my mother’s side lives around here, so I suggested he should visit her as well. He asked whether he should bring Nicole, and I said that I don’t have a problem with it, but that he should probably ask my grandmother first.
At this point, after these pleasantries were traded, I said that before I could have him down, I needed us to clear a whole lot of things up; that I had heard about the fight he and Jennifer had had, and I wasn’t terribly pleased with it. “I love Jennifer to death. I would take a bullet for her. But I hate what she has become.” This refrain would be repeated innumerable times during the conversation, and all it served to do was ratchet up the tension.
I explained to him, in short easy-to-digest words and as un-complex of sentence structure as I could manage — which Jodi suggested may have sounded slightly condescending, but knowing my father’s English skills, hopefully came off as just exactly clear enough that there was no mistaking what I meant — that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jennifer, and that she did not “become” anything so much as realize what she was and what made her happy. The fact that she was happy for the first time in her life since coming out (and she had been miserable all her life; he was there, he knew this!) should be more than enough to make him happy, because it made me ecstatic.
“I’ve listened to you, Jasey” — a term of endearment I’ve heard before, which in Dad’s French accent, sounds exactly like J. C. — “now will you listen to me?”
“I am your father. I am Jennifer’s father. I would take a bullet for her. I love her so much. I remember your mom — I remember how she left, and I fought for your sister when your mom tried to take her –”
“I remember Mom too, and I’ll never forgive her for that.”
“– but I fought for her in courts, and I won, and Jen didn’t have to go with her mom, so I don’t understand why she doesn’t respect my feelings.”
His feelings. I explained that his feelings don’t enter into this situation — you can’t make the sky green because your feelings are hurt when it’s blue, so it’s equally unlikely his feelings would change what Jennifer is. “But I don’t understand, she’s not happy, she can’t be happy. I don’t understand why she’s become what she’s become. Do you understand? Can’t you respect my feelings?” Losing my patience, I again explain that she hasn’t become anything, and that she is merely being honest with him for the first time in their tortured relationship.
He still doesn’t get it. He feigns a middle ground — “I have been wrong many times, I could be wrong. But in my heart, I am right.”
“In his heart, Hitler was right while he was killing the Jews. That doesn’t change that he was wrong.”
I can’t believe I just broke Godwin’s Law. In a serious, probably pivotal, conversation with my father, no less.
“But I could be wrong… but in my heart I am right. Don’t you love me? Don’t you understand my feelings?”
“Of course I love you, Dad, if I didn’t love you I’d tell you to fuck off and wouldn’t bother trying to convince you this is stupid. You’re being stubborn, Dad. You were raised Catholic, you are from an older time, that believes stupid things.”
“Bein!” (A colloquial “bien”, meaning “well!” Mild expletive.) “I’m from an older time. I don’t believe in this; God knows I can’t do things that are against my morals.”
“Well. That’s another thing. I’m an atheist.”
“Hein?” (Sounds a lot like Bein, only this one means “what?”)
“I don’t believe in God, or Jesus, and there will be no priest, or chapel, or religious anything at my wedding.”
“I know, Jasey. And that’s okay.”
I suspect he is saying this as though it will make me feel better about the fact that he’s all but disowned my beloved sister. He continues with an obvious non-sequiteur, but it sounds like a retarded religious conflation right off the bat.
“Nicole’s father was a pedophile — and Nicole’s stepmother asks why I don’t come around to visit. I can’t visit because that’s against my morals. All this time that I’ve not gone to visit, was because he’s a pedophile and that’s wrong. So you see –”
“What the hell does pedophilia have to do with being gay? Pedophiles are wrong, you’re absolutely right, but being gay is nothing like being a pedophile!!” I was starting to lose my cool — up until this point, I had been in control of my emotions, and not only managed to stay calm, but also keep up the “special Dad mode of speech”. Both were starting to slip. Jodi said later she could tell I was emotional but that anyone else might not have known.
“But I’m from an older time! You have to understand my feelings, she don’t understand my feelings. If you loved me –”
“Your feelings don’t enter into this, like I said, Dad — wait, did you just suggest I don’t love you?”
“Well I don’t know if you do, maybe not, you don’t understand my feelings.”
Definitely lost my cool now.
“You can’t say that. I love you, I’ve always loved you, but your feelings matter to me less than Jennifer’s feelings.”
“Jasey, you’re going too far!”
Undaunted, I continue: “– She is happy, she is not broken or wrong, she’s normal, and YOU’RE wrong. I want you to know something, Dad. I want you to know that Jennifer is invited to my wedding. And Opal, too. And if you’re going to be like this, if you’re not going to try to make up with her –”
“If you’re not going to make any kind of effort to accept that she is who she is and that she’s happy, then I don’t want you at the wedding making her and Opal uncomfortable, because of how you are to them, they have every right to be scared. They have every right to be afraid of you because of the way you treated Jennifer. You have no right to treat her the way just because your feelings –”
I don’t know where in that sentence he had hung up on me. Sometime after “uncomfortable”, and sometime before “you have no right”, pretty sure.
I was rattled. I talked with Jodi about it for a few moments, trying to gauge exactly how rattled I was, then poured myself a drink to steady my nerves (fully conscious that I definitely ought not do this too often). Then I called my sister. I told her about a good deal of the previous call. I didn’t go blow-by-blow like I did here, but most of this is a memory reconstruction, and I’m not sure if this is the order it all happened in, or if the exact words herein were used, but I know I hit the major points of argumentation — and it was far too fresh to reconstruct properly after he hung up on me.
Naturally, talking to her helped considerably. She gave me more of her side of the story, including most of what I’ve already covered in the prelude to my conversation with Dad. She tells me that my sticking up for her means a lot to her, and that she’s always looked up to me. Also, that I’m pretty well the only family she’s got now that everyone’s peeling themselves away from us.
Me too, I guess.
I’ve invited her to come down and stay with us until she and Opal can get settled and into jobs and an apartment, as they’re barely scraping by in NB presently. She kind of punted on the question. She did, however, say she’d move hell and earth to get here for my wedding. I don’t doubt it one bit.
This has been one hell of a day. This has been one hell of a week. The only consolation about the whole thing is that I don’t have to worry about my father trying to poke his nose into the wedding, and I don’t have to worry about seating accommodations to allow both my sister and Opal, and Dad and Nicole, to coexist at the wedding.
Still, though, this whole thing sucks.