The last time I saw my father was in 1997 when we went to see Titanic. He’s not dead or anything, we just don’t talk anymore.
My father never wasn’t conventional. My parents divorced when I was young and my father got custody of me and my siblings. We lived with him for six years until he sent us to live with our mother (on June 7, 1993, not to be too specific). It was in those six years that the groundwork was set for the man I would eventually become. And yes, I am really a man.
I never had a bedtime. Not because he didn’t want me to have a bedtime, but rather because I insisted on watching “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” It was there that I saw the stand up comics that would become my inspirations for pursuing the same goals.
He encouraged my obsessions with Bette Midler, Madonna, and Oprah, even though they didn’t necessarily fit the mold of what makes a “young man.”
He let me watch any movie I wanted to, no matter its rating. How else was I going to see my first crush, Tom Cruise, in Rain Man?
We don’t speak anymore because of the incredible amount of negative history that is there. As I age, I’m able to separate the things he did from the things I’m grateful for. Nothing is ever perfect, especially in relationships, but what matters most is one’s outlook on the bigger picture. He wasn’t a dad, he was more that distant Uncle who overstays his welcome at Thanksgiving. And that’s okay.
I see him in me, both the good and the bad, but being able to rationalize that is what makes me a man. Well, that, and this…
I used to hide the music that made me seem gay. If I had a friend (or “friend”) over, I’d make sure that Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, especially Bette Midler, were all well hidden in the closet (typical, right?). What was left were a handful of Bob Dylan albums, some Tom Petty, and a Led Zepplin album that I never listened to but got from my brother for the very purpose of masking my actual musical interests (strangly enough, that Led Zepplin was the catalyst that sparked the interest in the dude I lost my virginity too, so, thanks Led Zepplin! wait, it’s probably not a person.)
Music continued to be the ultimate indicator of gayness, even as I got older. Back in the day, everybody was into Dave Matthew’s Band. I never got it. I gravitated towards the alternative rockers, a lot of them lesbians. Indigo Girls were big, Tegan & Sara, Tracy Chapman is another one. But again, when you’re trying to be cool, just one of the guys, it’s really hard to make a convincing argument for Melissa Etheridge.
Then I discovered R&B. Wow! The very essence of old school R&B was just feeling the music, no matter who you were. The music made you move, feel, get sad, get crazy. Aretha (oh holy hell, Aretha!), Sam Cooke, Rufus Thomas (“Walking the Dog), Otis Redding, The Supremes, Carla Thomas (“Any Day Now”), Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, etc. This is the universal music, it inspired everybody, mainly because it was created out of respect for artists before them, respect for truth, respect for emotions, and respect for whatever makes you feel something (even if it is just to dance). There’s a reason why it’s often called “Soul,” it comes from the soul, it comes from truth, and it comes from the freedom to be who you are and what you feel.
And it was R&B that gave me the courage to stand up for whatever I thought was good. I can love Madonna, Indigo Girls, Tina Turner, Sam and Dave, Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, and Aretha, with pride! There’s something pretty amazing about jumping from Lady Gaga to Carla Thomas, and then seeing the similarities between the two.
Music is meant to make you feel something, not make you feel insecure about what everybody else thinks is good or bad.
FYI – if you’re ever in NYC on a Friday night, go see Naomi Shelton at Fat Cats in the West Village (75 Christopher St), at 9pm. You will be blown away!