“Why don’t you just call him?”
“I don’t even know his number.”
“Well you can get that easily enough, I’m sure your mom has it. Just ask her.”
“Excuse me if I don’t rush into that conversation.”
“Donald, you’re just asking her for a phone number, not asking her to come to Pride.”
“She’ll manage to fit in enough disapproval for the year anyway, and Christmas is just round the corner, don’t make me go through it twice this year!”
At this stage, I was not above whining; sometimes it’s the only way to win against Tim’s unstoppable logic. He just fixed me with a stern Timmy-glare.
“It’s October. Besides she’s going to have to get used to the idea of me sooner or later.”
“I appreciate your optimism, sweetheart, but she hasn’t gotten used to the idea of Muslims yet, and there’s a hell of a lot more of them.”
The trouble with being married to a politician is that trying to derail an argument is nearly impossible, and like the pro he is, Timothy saw right through me.
“That’s no reason why your father should suffer. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.”
I sighed. I could see where this was going and I really didn’t like it. “What would I say?”
“It doesn’t matter what you say. Just ask him how he is. What matters is having contact, letting him know you’re still alive. It must be hard for him not having had any word from you for so long.”
He wasn’t trying to be manipulative, or guilt me, the truth is, it really was that black and white for him. Family’s important to Tim and his own row with his dad cut deep. I really didn’t know how to explain to him that while my dad wasn’t exactly a bad father, he just wasn’t the kind of guy you have a meaningful father-son relationship with. We never engaged in spirited debates after dinner, or went on fishing trips together. He never taught me how to ride a bike or camp in the woods or… well anything that made up Tim’s wistful childhood reminiscences. I sighed again.
“Timmy, if he wanted contact all he had to do was make an effort. He hasn’t bothered in the past ten years, so I think it’s safe to say he’s ok with it.”
“I know, but these things are hard for fathers. Besides, does he know your phone number? Does he even know where you live?”
I watched him settle into bed, trying to concentrate on forming an argument that he wouldn’t pick to pieces in under a minute, and not on the way his biceps bunched so deliciously. I’d almost think he was doing it on purpose, except he didn’t need to resort to underhanded motives to win a battle of logic.
“…I just can’t go through that disapproval twice in one go. I’m going to have to phone my mom first, and I just… I can’t.” Getting in beside him, I let him wrap his gorgeous arms around me and guide my head onto his shoulder.
“Honey, who says he’ll be disapproving? He and your mom aren’t the same person, they don’t agree on everything. They wouldn’t have split up twenty years ago if they did.”
The thing was, Timmy might be a wiz kid at debating, but he didn’t know deadbeat dads like I did. It’s one thing getting your hopes up when you’re a kid, but in your thirties, it’s just plain stupid.
“Timmy, the only thing they disagree on is whether or not it’s acceptable to have a wife and a girlfriend, and whether or not he should pay alimony.”
“Look, I’m not saying I know your dad better than you, or that I know it’ll be ok. I just think you’re letting fear stop you having a relationship with him, and I think that’s sad. For both of you. Just think about it?”
“I’ll think about it. On one condition”
As Timmy rolled on top of me, sucking my tongue into his mouth, I told myself no way, before putting the whole thing out of my mind for the rest of the night.
Unfortunately, the next day was quiet, full of lots of computer work, and my mind kept coming back to the conversation. Even Kenny somehow conjured up unusual levels of quiet, I assumed he was hung over, or looking at porn, but couldn’t be bothered to check. I just figured it was typical, the one day I wouldn’t mind some chat.
Timothy had made good points. The last time I spoke to my dad had been twelve years ago. I had just been kicked out of the army, my mom had refused to let me stay with her and I didn’t expect better treatment from my dad, so I hadn’t asked to stay with him. After all, since they split up when I was fifteen I hadn’t so much as received a birthday card from him (My mom had told me one year not to take it personally, she had always signed cards for both of them anyway. It didn’t make me feel any better, somehow). Don’t get me wrong, he visited sometimes, but rarely when he said he would, and then he’d take us out for an hour, give each of us some money and go on his way.
Anyway, the last time we spoke I’d just moved to Albany and had been hired as an apprentice by a private investigator, the only trouble was, the job demanded a car and I hadn’t got enough money to buy one. I’d told my employer I had my own transport, because I knew I wouldn’t get the job otherwise, so I called my dad and he’d given me money to buy myself something second hand. We hadn’t spoken since.
Timothy had been horrified to learn about it, of course. I don’t even know why I told him about it. Except I do, he’d asked and I wouldn’t lie to him.
I’d never told my dad I was gay, or why I left the army. I didn’t even know his opinion on most things, maybe Timothy was right and I was letting fear control me. I wasn’t ashamed of who I was, and if my dad didn’t like it, then I’d done without him for this long.
So lunchtime came around and a two-hour gap between clients meant I wound up taking my lunch and my phone into the car. I figured a text should do the job and thankfully she responded without the usual fire and brimstone spiel, but with a request to call her soon, she probably thinks it comes over better on the phone.
The first ring brought butterflies to life in my stomach and I wished I hadn’t scarfed my lunch while I waited for my mom to get back to me. I was about to chicken out and hang up when he picked up.
“Hi, it’s Donald.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Your son, Donald."
“Oh Donald, hi. Sorry, I didn’t recognize your voice.”
“Yeah, well I guess it’s been a while.”
“Yeah… You in trouble for money?”
“No, Dad, I’m not in trouble, I just thought I’d call you. Once every ten or twelve years seems like the right thing to do huh?”
“Right. You get my number off your mother?”
“How’s she doing these days?”
“Ah you know, the usual. We don’t really talk that much. She seems ok.”
“What you up to these days then? You go back in the army?”
“No, set up my own business. I’m a private investigator, actually.”
“And you needed to ask your mother for my number?” He laughed.
I found myself chuckling along with him. “Well, you know what they say, time is money. I just thought I’d ask how you’ve been.”
“Still working at the garage here, same as when I last saw you. What are you driving these days?”
“Er a Toyota… the one I got after I came out. Of the army.”
“Still keeping it running huh? That’s my boy.”
My dad had worked as a mechanic since high school and his voice was full of pride at the idea that I could fix up an old car. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that I’d never fixed a car in my life and mine was practically held together with Scotch tape.
“So uh, where you living these days?”
“New York, Albany.”
“That’s far.” I didn’t ask what difference it made to him, since he barely visited when we lived half an hour away.
“You married? Kids?"
I wasn’t expecting to have to come out so soon in the conversation. The thought flashed across my brain that I was ridiculously old to be coming out at all. It was in Timmy’s voice and I nearly laughed.
“Yeah I’m married, as much as I can be, anyway. I’m gay, Dad.”
For at least ten seconds the silence was the only sign that he hadn’t hung up on me.
“This is a prank right? Godammit, I’m a busy guy.”
“No, Dad, it’s not a prank. Google me, you can check.”
There was rustling on the other end of the line, followed by prolonged tapping and muttered swearwords – whether they were directed at me or the computer I wasn’t sure.
“Well I’m damned… But you had girlfriends.”
He sounded genuinely lost, I almost felt sorry for the guy.
“Yeah Dad, in high school!”
“You weren’t gay in high school?”
My mom had actually said something similar when I came out to her, but this time there was no scorn, just honest confusion. I didn’t know whether to roll my eyes, laugh or try and slap him through the phone. I settled on a shrug and an answer he could probably understand.
“I guess I was trying to fit in.”
“You’re not calling me as part of some steps- program are you? ‘Cause I was an absent father?”
Oh now I was pissed off.
“No Dad, I’m not in therapy! I don’t have a problem with being gay, I have a wonderful boyfriend and I’m happy with my life! I called to see if you were still alive! You ok with that?!”
I was braced for a quick fight and a quicker end to the conversation. What I didn’t expect was laughter.
“Your mother know?”
“Yeah she knows.”
My confusion was met with more laughter.
“Bet she didn’t like that huh?”
I snorted. I wasn’t sure if he was ok with it or just happy I was pissing off my mom, but it was better than a fight.
“Lets just say, it didn’t go down too well.”
“Jeez Don, I never would have pegged you as gay. I mean, if someone had told me one of my kids would be gay, I’d have put my money on Stuart, not you.”
My dad had tried to push my little brother into sports for a while when we were in high school, told him he probably got beat up because he was a nerd. It had never occurred to me he was worried about Stuart being gay. The thought made me feel irrationally guilty. I made a mental note to give him a call soon.
“…Um thanks? I mean… you’re not mad?”
“Don, you’re a grown ass man. I don’t get the gay thing but if it makes you happy doing it with dudes, then that’s none of my business. You know I’m not church going like your mother. You keep in touch with Stuart?”
The change of topics was enough to make me dizzy.
“Um I call him a couple times a year, Christmas, Thanksgiving.”
“That’s nice, how’s he doing?”
“He’s ok. Look, Dad, why don’t I give you his number and you can call him yourself?”
“That’d be nice. What about your sister?”
“You need her number too?”
“No, I’m good, she writes me sometimes. You speak to her much?”
“Occasionally. She’s busy getting ready for the new rugrat right now.”
“Another one? She sent me a nice card when the last one was born. Ugly little thing, but I guess no baby’s pretty.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “That’s your first grandchild!”
“It’s nothing personal, I said the same thing when you were born.”
“Thanks Dad. Have you been to visit?”
“Karen? No, I don’t know when I’ll get the chance.”
“Why not? She still lives in Baltimore! It’s not far and I know she’d be thrilled to see you… you know if you don’t ask her to cook for you, like the last time.”
My sister had been on the phone for half an hour complaining about his selfish attitude when he visited her the last time, and my mom had called not long afterwards to rant about it at me for an hour. I was almost more annoyed at him for that than for how much of a prick he’d apparently been.
“Maybe. Where are you living these days?”
I sighed and decided it wasn’t worth reminding him I’d just told him fifteen minutes ago. At least he was making an effort.
“Right, you and…”
“So how about you, you get married again?”
“No, you know how it is, couple of girlfriends.” At the same time, probably, I thought.
“I mean… no offense.”
“Anyway, Don, it was great to hear from you. Call me again sometime?”
“Yeah I will, Dad, I’ll text you Stuart’s number.”
“Cool. Stay well.”
The line went dead.
I glanced at my watch. Twenty minutes, it was the longest we’d spoken in decades. Huh.
I sat in the car for a while, replaying the conversation in my head before I picked up my phone again and dialed Timmy’s number.