Almost a year and a half ago, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) invited Cincinnati’s Hamilton County and Houston, Texas’ Harris County to participate in a pilot initiative to end LGBTQ youth homelessness. Lighthouse Youth Services and Strategies to End Homelessness accepted the invitation here in Cincy and created Safe and Supported, a program that has partnered with local and national organizations like GLSEN and the Human Rights Campaign to facilitate greater local collaboration, to improve the quality of inventions and to provide new resources to homeless youth. Currently spearheading the initiative is Lighthouse Youth Services Director Meredith Hicks. CityBeat caught up with Hicks to learn more about the organization, queer homelessness in Cincinnati and how far they have come since 2014.
CityBeat: What has Safe and Supported accomplished so far?
Meredith Hicks: A couple things I am really proud of. So, first, this is a pilot initiative. We didn’t know how the community was going to respond. One of the events we held with Cincinnati Public Schools had over 100 people attend to learn more, to contribute, to sign up for our subcommittees to participate. We had young people there, we had providers, we had educators. It really was this incredible group of community members coming together. That, to me — seeing the standing room only, seeing the parents, seeing the young people — really showed me we could do this as a community and there was the interest, there was the passion, there was the drive, and people recognized the incredible need of our LGBT youth — to be able to support them an have them not experience homelessness.
CB: I bet that was a great feeling. What other accomplishments are you proud of?
MH: After the planning phase, there’s really two that stick out to me. The first one is that one of our strategies was supporting foster youth. We were able to bring in the All Children - All Families training
to our communities. Lighthouse Foster Care and Adoption completed these 10 benchmarks of improving our practices with LGBT foster youth and LGBT foster families. We also went through three days of intensive staff training and invited community partners to attend. We even had allies across the river in Kentucky that came over because they were interested in improving their work with LGBT youth as well. And actually, Lighthouse just earned the seal of recognition from the Human Rights Campaign for completing the All Children - All Families program within our foster care.
This invitation from HUD was completely unfunded, so it didn’t come with any money to do this work or actually to implement our strategies, so we really are relying on the generosity of our community, individual donors and foundations to help us with the capacity and funds to do our strategies. We held a funders briefing and we are excited that we have committed funds to support and hire a full-time director to really take this collaboration to the next level. That is what it’s going to take because we are working across multiple systems. We’re looking at education, child welfare, homelessness, juvenile justice. All of these systems have things that they can do to support LGBT youth. The director is going to be really invested in all these areas.
CB: You mentioned staff training. What kind of curriculum is involved to properly train staff members?
MH: We have six different subcommittees that also involve different community members that are also participating with their organizations or volunteering. One of those subcommittees is the cultural competency committee. They are identifying different curriculum, different resources, a structure for how organizations can improve their cultural competency. We’re looking to be able to offer that to the community in the fall, but coming up with a standardized way of doing that and then being able to offer support to organizations, or systems, or churches or whatever that want to develop a higher level of competency service LGBT youth and families.
CB: How would you describe cultural competency and why is it important in this process?
MH: Cultural competency is developing the knowledge and the skills to be able to understand somebody’s lived experience and identities and be able to respond in a supportive way. Cultural competency is a learning process you never reach or say, “OK, I’m completely competent.” It’s about developing a way of listening, understanding, learning and then an appropriate way of responding, and that’s a skill.
CB: A homelessness initiative that caught a lot of national attention was Miley Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation, which is for homeless youth with an emphasis on queer youth. Can you weigh in on the foundation and celebrity-driven organizations?
MH: Yeah! So I think that any national attention, positive celebrity attention is a good thing. With Miley Cyrus, I think part of her mission is purchasing food and supplies for homeless shelters in California. I think that her actions demonstrate the need we have on a local level. Every year, Lighthouse serves over 500 youth in our street outreach team and in our homeless shelter, [ages] 18-24, that are facing homelessness. We know that up to 40 percent of them self-identify as LGBT. We have the same needs from folks that contribute food, that contribute hygiene products or socks and underwear, clothing. I hope that people look at [Cyrus’ Happy Hippie Foundation] and say, “What can I contribute in my community?” I want people to know that it’s just not just happening in New York or L.A. This is a problem in our community. It’s happening in Cincinnati, and we have committed community members that are dedicated to solving them.
CB: What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to accomplish or where do you hope to be in maybe five, 10 years with Safe and Supported?
MH: Our goal is to end youth homelessness in Cincinnati by the year 2020. I hope in five years we’ve been successful in ending youth homelessness. My vision is that this is a community collaboration between all these agencies. I hope it flourishes, we gain new partners and the structure develops and communication develops across sectors. We also have some great things coming down the pipe related to developing resource guides to help LGBT youth and providers. We’re still looking at what that format will look like — it could be a mobile application, a paper guide, a website — but one of our short-term goals is having the resources available for young people in a guide format.
Anyone who knows me is quick to call me out as a Kardashian fanatic. I grew up with them through religiously watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians. My specific fascination and adoration for Kim Kardashian West is ridiculous to most people, but I cannot help it! She is everything to me. Naturally, I jumped for joy Sunday night after she announced her second pregnancy. I could not wait to see what the rest of the world would say the next day – jokes about naming the baby South West, people on social media asking why anyone cares about Kim — you know, the usual. But I did not see much about baby No. 2 because not many cared — *heart breaks* — after another family member basically broke the Internet.
On the first day of Pride Month and a little over a year after Laverne Cox’s iconic Time cover, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, graced the cover of Vanity Fair Monday. The headline read “#CallMeCaitlyn” — pretty simple, right? Well, you would think so. Either people still do not understand hashtags, or they were too busy obsessing over her beauty and similarity to Jessica Lange — which is a whole other conversation. Nevertheless, with the headline/hashtag combination, she is asking people — on and off social media — to call her Caitlyn. Nothing else, only Caitlyn. It’s she — not he, not “she” — she. It’s not “his new name” or “his new identity” — it’s her. Caitlyn is her truth. It is who she has always been.
But what would an announcement from one of the most controversial public figures on 2015 be without exactly that — controversy. This week has already brought a multitude of headlines and opinions as people continue to react to Caitlyn’s photoshoot. By the end of the week, I am sure I could write a dissertation or short novel on everything. For your sake, I will just dissect the reoccurring reactions and controversies I have encountered on social media, and I will relate them to how you should treat Jenner. When speaking about Caitlyn:
Do NOT call her anything other than Caitlyn.
If you are speaking to an individual who is not up to par on Caitlyn’s public journey and you are trying to explain, say “Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner…” Remember that by the end of the conversation, the individual should understand that her name is Caitlyn.
Do NOT use the pronouns he, him and his when speaking about Caitlyn. She identifies as a transgender woman and prefers the pronouns she, her and hers.
If you mess up in the beginning, it is OK. While they yearn for people to use their preferred pronouns, most trans* individuals understand that it might take time to break an old habit. If you realize you accidentally used incorrect pronouns, either correct it immediately or make a point to use the correct pronouns next time. Trans* folks will see you are trying. The effort makes a difference.
Do NOT compare her beauty to the beauty of other women.
I have seen
countless memes and posts about her being prettier
than Kris Jenner and that Kris must be mad Caitlyn did not start her name with
the letter “K.” I understand how things like this might seem funny — especially
with how the media paints Kris’ reputation, lifestyle and alleged opinions —
but it’s not funny. In The
Jenner Interview with Diane Sawyer and Keeping
Up With the Kardashians: All About Bruce, Caitlyn has expressed her
continued love and respect for Kris during this time, acknowledging that
families of transgender individuals sometimes need time to process. Despite your
opinions about Kris, Caitlyn, the whole family or transgender people in
general, let the Vanity Fair cover be
a catalyst for us to stop pitting women against each other.
I will speak more about this later, but let’s remember that Caitlyn’s photoshoot displays more than just physical beauty. She is beautiful, but that cannot be the only thing we get out of this Vanity Fair issue. In a reaction post on her official Tumblr, actress and activist Laverne Cox said, “What I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”
Do NOT be disrespectful or transphobic.
Myriad negative headlines are about public figures and people on Twitter who refuse to acknowledge Caitlyn’s womanhood, journey and personal requests.
· Fox News and other media outlets mocked and misgendered her.
· Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee refuses to support not only Caitlyn, but the whole trans* community. The former Arkansas Governor said trans* folks and the idea of trans*-related legislation was a threat to society, especially for children in a bathroom setting. Oddly enough, he came out in support of Josh Duggar — who admitted to molesting four of his sisters and a babysitter — but he won’t support Caitlyn or trans* folks in the name of protecting children and family values.
· I am not going to pretend to know a multitude about sports. The only time I pay attention to the EPSY Awards is to see how athletes dress for a red carpet. Athletes and their communities are incredibly talented, but it is just not my thing. I do not know enough about the other qualified sports stars to have a legitimate opinion on whether or not Caitlyn should win the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, but I do know the backlash Jenner is receiving is disgusting. Tweet! Voice your opinion! Root for your favorite athlete! But do not try to delegitimize an individual’s hero status or level of courage if it is well earned. In regard to Jenner and the trans* community, it is transphobic and disrespectful. Comparing an inspirational transgender person to an inspirational soldier and an inspirational young girl who passed away too soon is like comparing apples, oranges and bananas. But all three are courageous and serve as inspirational figures to a handful of people — the athletes, not fruit. You can disagree without wishing ill will and voice your opinions without disregarding someone’s experience. Bravery and courage exist in all forms.
Now that we cleared that up, I am returning to society’s concept of beauty in relation to transgender folks. Wendy Williams is not a stranger to backlash and criticism, especially for her opinions about Caitlyn Jenner over the past year. On Tuesday, she spoke about the Vanity Fair cover and Caitlyn’s transition. She occasionally misgendered Caitlyn in the beginning, but corrected herself, which was progress. What stood out to me were Williams’ expectations and demands for Caitlyn’s life now that she is out to the public. Not only did she give Kris Jenner permission to eternally resent Caitlyn, but Wendy refused to accept Caitlyn’s womanhood and name if Caitlyn did not physically live up to cisnormative standards of beauty and society’s traditional female stereotypes. “A lot of men try to transition, and a lot of you [transgender women] … No bueno, no bueno, OK?” she said. Williams acknowledged Caitlyn’s beauty, but said, “I don’t want to see no man,” in the future and later said, “I just want the weave to stay in.”
Whether Williams was joking or not, the studio audience laughed because they understood and believed what she was talking about. Her show is successful because she is relatable and her loyal fan base can identify with her. Her opinions often reflect a generation or handful of people’s views. Her expectations for Caitlyn to always “pass” or undetectably embody a stereotypical woman all the time is problematic because it positions cisgender people as the standard for beauty. It should not be she’s beautiful for a transgender person. There should not be a different standard of beauty for trans folks. It’s look at her, she’s beautiful, but incorporating Laverne Cox’s point that her bravery, heart and spirit are even more beautiful.
And while Caitlyn Jenner has stunning features, she comes from so much privilege. Not all transgender individuals can afford cosmetic surgery, designer clothes and time away from work. Even less trans folks get paid to come out and share their story — like probably less than two percent, if that. This does not mean Caitlyn deserves less sympathy or respect because she has more privilege than others; she identified her privilege briefly in the Diane Sawyer interview — it just means she is a rare example of what being transgender looks like — again, an extremely rare example. LGBTQ+ people can still get fired for being queer in 32 states, trans* individuals do not always receive the same healthcare benefits and some financially and emotionally struggle for their necessities.
Caitlyn Jenner will save numerous lives from suicide and will encourage people of all ages to come out as transgender — she already has. Let us support her as she uses this new-found platform to make a difference, but remember every transgender experience is different. We must also realize that not all trans people live up to cisnormative standards and not all folks want to. As I reflect on everything I have read this week alongside my idea of beauty and longtime adoration for Kim Kardashian West that I mentioned before, I realize that beauty is subjective. Kim K. might be one of the most beautiful women in the world in my eyes, but she and others do not represent what it means to be beautiful. Like courage and bravery, beauty exists in countless forms. I also realize that every person’s experience is their own journey and story to tell. We need to start listening.
Caitlyn Jenner’s issue of Vanity Fair is available in stores now. Her new documentary series I Am Cait premieres Sunday, July 26 at 9 p.m. on E!
Are you confused about all of this queer terminology? That’s OK! Take some time to learn more at http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender.
Summerfair, NKY Pride 2015!, used book sales, the Fringe Festival, lots of concerts, craft beer parties and more.
Get weird with the CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL
The Cincinnati Fringe Festival — running through June 6 — is celebrating 13 years of theater, creativity and fun. A total of 40 shows (selected by 24 jurors) will be presented during the 12 days of the 2015 Fringe, split almost exactly between shows generated by local creators and productions from elsewhere in the U.S., plus four international acts representing South Africa, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom. Through June 6. cincyfringe.com. Read reviews here.
Hit the Square for MIDPOINT INDIE SUMMER
Fountain Square’s popular, free concert series kicks off this week — a true sign that summer is upon us. The first event in the MidPoint Indie Summer series (held Fridays through early September) is indicative of the strong roster of shows on the Square this year, showcasing a mix of quality touring headliners and some of local music’s finest. Headlining Indie Summer’s opening night is Surfer Blood, the superb, Florida-spawned Indie Pop Rock group that began drawing major attention with its 2010 debut album, Astro Coast. The band has since split with Warner Bros. Records and returned to its DIY roots with the just-released, hyper-melodic 1000 Palms, Surfer Blood’s finest work yet and, fittingly, a perfect melancholic summer album. Three superb local acts round out Friday’s bill: Harbour, Automagik and The Yugos. September’s MidPoint Music Festival sponsors the Indie Summer series, and there will be opportunities to purchase (or win) passes for the 2015 event each week. 7 p.m. Friday. Free. Fountain Square, Fifth and Vine streets, Downtown, myfountainsquare.com.
Show your pride at NKY PRIDE 2015!
Let your pride flag fly with this year’s Northern Kentucky Pride festival, which starts on Thursday and goes through Sunday. The fest will kick off with an ally training and fairness reception for participants to learn about specific LGBTQ issues in the community. Throughout the weekend, you can show your pride with scheduled activities from a pride bike ride with flamingos through MainStrasse’s Goebel Park to a pub crawl and live music headlined by acoustic duo Linda and Taryn. During Saturday’s official Pridefest, chill in the NKY Pride Beer Garden on Sixth Street with local brews, bring your pet to the PetZone (complete with photo booth), attend the pair of afternoon drag shows and, most importantly, help support social equality. Thursday-Sunday. Free. Search NKY Pride 2015! on Facebook for a full event schedule.
Grab a beer and a Filipino snack at CRAFTS AND CRAFTS at Krohn
Take a tropical vacation without leaving town by visiting Krohn Conservatory’s Crafts and Crafts event, bringing together their Butterflies of the Philippines exhibit, a handful of craft vendors and local craft beer. It’s a perfect evening to enjoy the colorful butterfly show while imbibing some adult beverages, including Filipino cocktails and food like roasted pork, chicharrón and fried peanuts. Must be 21. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday. $12; $15 door. Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, 513-421-4086.
Blend light and sound with OSCILLATORS at Harvest Art Gallery
Intermedio, an ongoing sound-light collaboration between multi-disciplinary designer Eric Blyth and composers/installation artists Sam Ferris-Morris and Justin West, will present a one-night-only exhibition Friday at Harvest Gallery. Together, the three create immersive environments, such as last year’s “Radiate” installation in ParProject’s MakersMobile traveling exhibition, by incorporating digitally processed sound and video to engage their audiences in temporary interactive experiences. 6-10 p.m. Friday. Free. 216 W. 15th St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/intermediodesign.
Get slightly melancholy with MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS at Bogart's
It’s oddly wonderful how sometimes two songwriters will interpret the same concept in diametrically opposed fashions. For example, consider Pharrell Williams and Marina Diamandis, both of whom have very powerful songs called “Happy.” Of course, Williams’ composition is the musical manifestation of exuberance and joy, a bouncy sing-along that almost dares you to remain passive while it jukes and swings. Diamandis’ “Happy,” the opening track on Froot, the third Marina and the Diamonds album, couldn’t be more different. A quietly moving, slightly melancholy reflection on the subject of finding the title emotion in making music, “Happy” — and much of Froot — hovers in the vicinity of Florence + the Machine and Aimee Mann, with wisps of Kate Bush’s ephemeral eccentricity and Annie Lennox’s arty populism creating an Electropop shimmer that could easily appeal to fans of Sara Bareilles or Lady Gaga. See Marina and the Diamonds 7 p.m. Friday at Bogart's. Get more information and purchase tickets here.
Get crafty at SUMMERFAIR
Here in the Queen City, the reopening of Coney Island — the pool, the rides, the food — means one thing: the start of summer. And the annual Summerfair clinches the deal. A Cincinnati tradition since 1967, Summerfair consistently ranks among the top 100 art shows nationally and features more than 300 artists from all around the United States in 12 categories, including painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking and mixed media. There will also be regional performers, including belly dancers, Celtic dancers, musicians and cloggers(!) on stages across the park, plus gourmet food. 2-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. $10 cash at the gate. Coney Island, 6201 Kellogg Ave., California, summerfair.org.
Take your dog to Washington Park for the FURRY FRIENDS FESTIVAL
If dogs are man’s best friend, shouldn’t they be able to have as much fun as we do during the weekend? Washington Park thinks so. Your furry friends are invited to spend a day in the park with other pups of all shapes and sizes, surrounded by tasty grub from Eli’s BBQ and Mazunte, as well as free, live music performed by Bluegrass artists Casey Campbell, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, The Tillers and more. Water will be available for the pups as well as locally brewed beer for the humans. 3-9 p.m. Free. 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, washingtonpark.org.
Buy some local wares at the OAKLEY FANCY FLEA MARKET
Oakley Fancy Flea is a low-key, curated market with high-end locally made wares in the heart of Oakley. Featuring vendors like Alien Pets, which makes knitted felt animals in all manner of shapes and sizes, Loveworn, upcycled clothing made from recycled T-shirts and even treats from Brown Bear Bakery, the Fancy Flea has almost doubled the space they’ll use for the market this year, meaning almost double the amount of stuff to peruse and double the fun. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Free. 3047 Madison Road, Oakley, theoffmarket.org.
Check out Stephen Sondheim's dark musical ASSASSINS
Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical about presidential assassins has become a classic since it was first staged in 1990. That was the same year that Falcon Theatre began producing shows in Greater Cincinnati. In 1998, Falcon’s staging of Assassins put the company on local theatergoers’ radar. You know the names: John Wilkes Booth, Squeaky Fromme, Lee Harvey Oswald and more — all disgruntled, unbalanced people whose twisted path to the American Dream involved shooting a president. In this fascinating show they converge, commiserate and conspire, each with music from his or her moment in American history. It’s a strange tour de force. Through June 13. $18-$20. 636 Monmouth St., Newport, 513-479-6783, falcontheater.net.
Catch BUTCH WALKER at Bogart's
No one can accuse Butch Walker of not living up to his potential. For the past three decades, Walker has blazed a unique trail as a member of renowned bands, a critically acclaimed solo artist, a highly regarded producer and a prolific songwriter whose compositions for some of the industry’s biggest names have hit the upper reaches of the charts.Walker’s last three albums — 2010’s I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, 2011’s The Spade and the just-released and patently excellent Afraid of Ghosts — all hit the top spot on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. As a producer, Walker has worked with an almost schizophrenic range of musical talent, from Pete Yorn, Sevendust and Weezer to Lindsay Lohan, Avril Lavigne, Pink and Taylor Swift. If the music industry is looking to coronate a new man for all seasons, surely the crown would fit comfortably on Butch Walker’s hit-crammed head. See Butch Walker with Jonathan Tyler and The Dove and the Wolf 7 p.m. Saturday at Bogart's. Get more information and purchase tickets here.
Celebrate King Records with a reading of CINCINNATI KING in the park
Washington Park hosts a free staged reading of Cincinnati King, a new play that shares the history of King Records, Cincinnati music and racial equality by Playhouse in the Park Associate Artist KJ Sanchez. The play, meant to ignite dialogue and preserve unique local history, will be read at 7 p.m. A special performance from King Records’ legendary drummer Philip Paul kicks off the evening with a performance and behind-the-scenes stories. 5 p.m. Sunday. Free. 1230 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, cincyplay.com.
Head to the Cincinnati Art Museum for a screening of AMERICA'S POP COLLECTOR
The Cincinnati Art Museum’s ongoing “Moving Pictures” series of film screenings presents the highly regarded and prescient America’s Pop Collector: Robert C. Scull - Contemporary Art at Auction. The verity-style documentary by John Scott and E. J. Vaughn chronicles the 1973 auction of work collected by Scull, a taxi-company tycoon, which netted more than $2.2 million and forever established the marketplace value of contemporary art. Today, when pieces by contemporary masters routinely bring in millions, the amount raised at the Scull auction may seem small, but it was a watershed moment at the time. 2 p.m. Sunday. Free. Cincinnati Art Museum Fath Auditorium, 953 Eden Park Drive, Mount Adams, cincinnatiartmuseum.org.
Stock up on summer reading material at the FRIENDS OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY USED BOOK SALE
The Friends of the Public Library Main Library Book Sale returns Saturday for its 43rd annual event (through June 5), offering more than 50,000 used books from every category imaginable, with most prices between $1 and $4. Feel free to casually browse or go on a book-buying spree — there will most likely be something for everybody, whether you’re looking for Alice or Zhivago. On Friday, June 5, indulge your bibliomania by filling up an entire Friends’ bag for only $10 (that’s not a typo). It’s time to hit the books. Begins 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Free. Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown, friends.cincinnatilibrary.org.
See more things To Do here.
I¹ve been celebrating Father's Day for well over 50 years now. In its earliest incarnations, I'm sure gifts and cards were bought on my behalf, but eventually it was time to take the reins and handle the responsibility myself.
For a long stretch, my go-to present for my father was the lastest Bill Cosby record, partly because he truly enjoyed Cosby's work, but mostly because I wanted to hear it, too. Some might look at that as a selfish act, but I prefer to look at it this way; it was something that we were able to bond over, and at least it wasn't an ugly tie he¹d pretend to like and never wear.
My relationship with my father has always been complicated. I'm sure he loved me, although it was many years before he actually voiced the sentiment. The problem was that my mother, who likely would have been the perfect bridge between us, died when I was not quite 4 years old. My father's grief and depression were all-consuming and because he was afraid his emotional state would degrade my own, he left me with my grandparents (my recently deceased mother's parents, which, considering their own overwhelming grief, was an interesting paradigm of its own) and moved 30 miles north, removing himself from everything that would remind him of her.
Thus began our 12-year routine. He would arrive on Saturday afternoon, pick me up, take me back up to his apartment for the night, then we'd hang out until Sunday evening, when he would return me to my grandparents. It never really mattered what we did, I just enjoyed being in his company. He had a sense of humor that ranged from cuttingly dry to wildly inappropriate, largely dependent on the amount of scotch in his system, but he was always good for a laugh. Until he wasn't, of course, but that's another story.
The defining characteristic of our relationship was its short term nature. He was my actual, hands-on father less than two days a week; sometimes our weekend consisted of going to his friends' parties and me hanging out with his friends' kids all night, then watching TV for a good part of Sunday while he nursed the next in a series of monolithic hangovers. But there were lots of movies and restaurants and plays and a couple of girlfriends and a couple of stepmothers and extended families.
Sundays in summer were mostly spent on golf courses as he tried to teach me the game. Sundays in winter were for watching football, sometimes skiing or ice skating. Fun is where you find it and we found it everywhere. My grandparents were of sturdy Methodist stock and involved me in church as much as possible, while my father was a card-carrying hedonist.
When I was 5 or 6, after we'd been doing the weekend trip for some time, my grandmother was concerned that I wasn't attending church on Sundays and asked Dad if he could find a church and start taking me. My father took a long drag on his unfiltered Camel, exhaled slowly and said, "Molly, if he can't find Jesus in five days with you, he's not going to find him in two days with me." That unassailable logic ended the church discussion.
I was maybe 12 or 13 before my father really talked about my mother to me. To this day, he finds it generally impossible. I've asked if I could tape him telling stories about her so that I'll have some concrete memories to draw on, as I don't remember a single thing about her, but it is beyond his capacity to bring it all out. Occasionally, he'll get expansive and let things go, but at this point I only see him twice a year so the information comes in fits and starts.
As long distance relationships go, my father and I had a pretty good one. And as it turned out, it was something of a blueprint for my relationship with my own son. Just before his second birthday, my troubled marriage finally crumbled and my wife informed me one night when she got home from work that she was moving and I was not. She moved into her new apartment with our son, and I moved back in with my grandparents for three weeks before I made the decision to move to Cincinnati to look for work. The relative stupidity of moving from Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment rate, to Ohio, which had the second highest unemployment rate, was not lost on me, but I didn't want to be impossibly far from my son. I wanted to be a presence in his life.
I found work within a couple of months and went home for my son's second birthday in April. I hadn't seen him since January, but I talked to him constantly, at least as much as you can communicate with a toddler on the phone. He was asleep at my grandparents' house when I rolled into town, and I wound up going out with friends that night, coming home at maybe 3 a.m.
When Josh woke up the next morning, my grandmother went to get him while I waited in the living room. She brought him downstairs and sat across the room with him on her lap. He rubbed his eyes and clung to her, looking at me like I was a stranger. She kept saying, "That's your daddy, that's your daddy," and he kept hiding his face in her neck.
I've never been shot in the chest, but I'm fairly certain I know how it feels.
After the longest four minutes of my life, his face slowly lit with recognition, his eyes brightened, he shouted, "Daddy!" and then climbed off my grandmother's lap and launched himself at me. I can still feel that endless, exuberant hug to this day.
The distance between us was 10 times greater than the 30 miles that separated my me and my father, so my trips were once a month, rather than once a week, but they were regular, and we both came to depend on them. I was determined to remain a father figure, not the once a month sugar daddy who shows up for an anything-goes weekend, and that was clearly the right strategy, given our excellent relationship both then and now.
We had a few bumpy patches along the way, including a stretch when he was 8 where he got a bit bored with the weekend trips; although my feelings were slightly bruised, I cut back to every other month for a couple of months until he realized how much he missed our regular time together. We maintained the monthly schedule until he was a teenager, when he started having an actual life with parties and school events and things he needed to work around. By then, I had my own issues; a full time design job, part time writing gigs and my first shot at being an honest-to-God full-time father with the arrival of my daughter, Isabelle.
Josh was absolutely ecstatic about his new sister (he actually snapped at his mother when she correctly but thoughtlessly used the term "half-sister"), and although their time together was fleeting, he was a doting big brother.
In 1998, Josh left to attend Reed College in Portland, Ore.; given his tenuous relationship with his mother, my favorite joke at the time was that he had gotten as far from her as he could without swimming. We talked by phone quite a lot those first few weeks and kept up a regular email exchange as well. It was one of those messages that forced me to question the state of our own relationship.
It was about two months into his first semester. Josh had emailed me with a rather non-descript account of his days — classes, roommates, school environment — but as I scrolled to the bottom of his message, there was this brief sign-off: "Oh, and there's this guy in one of my classes that I¹m interested in, and I think I might be bi."
It wasn't a complete surprise; Josh had two girlfriends in high school, but both were damaged in fairly significant ways (OK, one was batshit crazy), and I had wondered if maybe he was having trouble with his relationship radar. Turns out he was picking from the wrong gender pool, so it made sense.
The timing of his announcement was odd, though; a good friend had just died unexpectedly at the horrifyingly young age of 36, my boss had informed me that I was in danger of losing my position and my wife had mentioned casually that she wasn't sure if she wanted to be married anymore.
Josh's coming out was the best news I'd had all week.
My problem was with the way he chose to tell me. Not in a phone call where we could talk about what he was going through, and not in an email with an appropriately portentious subject line like, "I have something serious to discuss with you." His rather life-altering news was tacked onto a laundry list of activities like a pork barrel project attached to an unrelated bill.
I was a bit skinned that he had resorted to this kind of subterfuge to enlighten me about his sexuality. And then there was the issue of tentatively identifying himself as "bi." I was sure he had used that terminology in an effort to cushion any potential shock with a switch hitter gambit, giving him a fallback position in case I reacted badly. It reminded me of the episode of Friends when Phoebe lost her singing gig at the coffeeshop and wound up playing to kids at a local library. She started off trying to sing children's songs but she ran out of material quickly and started making up songs about life in general, and in typical Phoebe fashion, the songs were brutally honest, relatively inappropriate and, of course, exactly what kids should probably hear.
The one song that I remembered from that episode had some relevance in this situation: "Sometimes men love women. Sometimes men love men, And then there are bisexuals. Though some just say they're kidding themselves."
I didn't respond to Josh's email, partly because I was slightly hurt and partly because I was busy. The weekend after his message, he called and we talked about fairly innocuous subjects for an inordinate amount of time. I waited for him to broach the subject, because I felt as though he should, but he never brought it up.
He finally noted with a sigh that it was getting late and I knew he was ready to wrap up the call without addressing his news, so I decided it was up to me. Being my father's son, I chose the inappropriately direct method (my particular genetic curse is that I rarely require alcohol to be inappropriately direct and lack a distinct filter to avoid it).
"Oh, by the way," I said casually, "I understand you're sucking cock."
There was an extremely long pause and finally Josh said, "So you did get the message."
I gave him a loving earful about our close relationship and the trust and love and responsibility that came with that bond, and gently upbraided him for the rather cloaked method he had chosen to come out to me.
He stammered in complete agreement, saying, "I was afraid of how you would take it."
"Joshua, there are plenty of things in the world to be afraid of and I am not one of them," I said. "I may not agree with the things you do, but I will always love the boy doing them. In this case, this is who you are. It's not a choice you've made, it's a discovery. It's bloody hard to find love in this world, and you've taken a first step toward finding it for yourself. That's fantastic. My only advice to you is the same, straight or gay; be careful. Sex these days can kill you. Wherever you poke it, wrap it up.
"I just had to bury a friend," I continued. "If you make me bury a son, I swear to God I'll dig you up and kill you again."
He laughed a most relieved laugh and that was that. He was out. He pursued a couple of different relationships with guys at Reed which didn't pan out. After two and a half years, he returned to Michigan to enroll in the forensic psychology program at Michigan State, where he met Sean. They've been together for over 10 years now. We love him like a son-in-law because, even though they can't make it official, that is what he is to us.
These memories and God knows how many more come around each Father's Day, a good many including my grandfather, who was as much, if not more, of a father than my own father. I'll get a wonderfully skewed card from my sons and dinner and a card and something sweet from my wife and daughter. I'll send a funny card and a golf-related book to my dad and call him on Sunday, just before I get a call myself.
Life may be complicated sometimes, and God knows the complexities of family relationships can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the White Album cover, and yet there's a fairly basic — and rewarding and maddening and beautiful — simplicity in being a father and having a father.
Last night around 9:30 I was just minding my own business, watching some harmless comedy shows on demand when a commercial came on that piqued my interest via a typically dumb interaction between a dude talking to a babe in a bikini. I was waiting for some type of cliché to end the interaction between the two — something like a beer-commercial crotch shot or the woman doing something weird like licking an ice cube — when the story took a most-surprising turn: the dude in the scene was gay.
The woman sits down on a beach chair next to the guy, who
is squinting into his iPad-looking device like a dork. She starts
reading her Kindle like the sun is no big deal and he says: "That's a
Woman: "Yeah, it's the new Kindle Paperwhite."
Man: "I love to read at the beach, but..."
Woman: "This is perfect at the beach. And, with the built in light, I can read anywhere anytime."
Woman: "With your book?"
Man: Nope. "I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite." *Leans toward her.* "We should celebrate."
Woman: "My husband's bringing me a drink right now."
Man: "So is mine."
Husbands waive from the bar.
I watched it again this morning (the email I sent myself on the subject after having several beers and talking about sports all evening only says: “Gay kindle commercial. What does that commercial mean?”), and it’s actually pretty genius. Gay-rights groups have pointed out that this type of media is following steps taken by shows like Ellen and Modern Family, which depict gay couples as pretty much ordinary anymore.
Check it out here:
Naturally, some people on the Internet think it’s way icky.
And organizations like One Million Moms (a weird, conservative Christian group that should be named something more like “One Million Mean Moms.” Ha.) took exception to it. OMMMs wrote this: “We have Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite commercial that promotes gay marriage. Instead of Amazon remaining neutral in the culture war while showcasing how their product has no glare even at the beach, they chose to promote sin.”
People flagged the ad as inappropriate enough times on YouTube that it was briefly taken down for review, but it was posted back on the site later.