Greg is driven to succeed on the football field.
What begins for him as a simple attempt to win a starting position on the team
ends up as a journey to discover who he really is.
Brent was coming along. We could both see the changes in his body. Surprisingly, I saw a change in his personality as well. As his body grew stronger, his self-confidence also grew. Looking at him now, how he carried himself, how his walk was now a stride, how he met people’s eyes when speaking to them, I doubted very much Rocco would have approached him had he looked like this. Brent stood straight and tall now, and even though he was still the average height of a freshman, he simply looked more substantial, like there was more to him. He didn’t look like kid you’d think of when selecting someone to bully. Somehow, kids who carried themselves with the poise and confidence that now radiated from Brent simply weren’t picked on very often.
It was easy to see the changes by looking at the album, too. It was filling up with photos, six to eight a week, and it was over two months since we’d started. I’d even asked Brent if he was ready to start working with Jason now. He’d just shrugged it off and said he liked working out with me. Go figure.
Brent had just left and I’d finished up in my room when the phone rang. It was Mom, calling from work. She said she’d be late and either Dad and I could go out for dinner, or I’d have to cook something.
Dad never cooked. He’d never said it, but I guessed he thought that cooking was women’s work. He believed in proper roles for men and women. Mom seemed to go along with it. I’d thought about that some, wondering how he’d ever cope with one of today’s women. The girls at school didn’t accept being looked at as second class citizens, as lesser humans than the boys. Try doing that, and you wouldn’t believe what would happen to you. The boys most likely to act that way were jocks. Some of my buddies thought women were put on the Earth solely for male enjoyment. I had witnessed what happened next, watched them learn what girls our age thought about that!
Dad came home and we decided to go to Chili’s for dinner. I liked their appetizers, and they had a chicken dish that was yummy. Dad liked the tall, frosty mugs of beer there.
He went upstairs to change while I put my shoes on. Then I called up to him. “Dad, will you bring down my jacket? I left it in my room.
It took longer than it should have to come down. When he did, his face was bright red and he looked as mad as I’d ever seen him. And instead of my jacket, he was holding Brent’s photo album.
“What’s this?!” he demanded. Shouting.
I probably went a little pale. He was livid, his rage filled the room, and he was my father. I was bigger than he was, but for some reason, I always felt like a little boy around him. I somehow knew, instinctively, that he wouldn't get violent with me. He never had. So that wasn’t a concern—or not a real big one. But having your father that angry with you, even when you’re almost 18—well, it’s upsetting.
“Uh, that’s a photo album I’m keeping of a friend to show how the lifting we’re doing is helping him progress.”
“Lifting? He’s in his goddamn underwear. He’s practically naked! What is he, 12? You’re down in the basement with him, and he’s in his underwear? What have you been doing! You like little boys, Gregory? You a goddam faggot?”
He was screaming now, and I was cringing away from him.
“You can’t stay in this house if you’re a fag! I won’t have any goddamn faggots in my house! Get out! Go on! Get out!”
And saying that, he threw the album at me.
Thinking about it later, I was glad he had. He could have ripped it up. And if he’d have started to do that, I know what I’d have done. Cringing from him, upset at his fury, I still would have stopped him. Whatever it would have taken, I’d have stopped him. I loved that album. Brent and I would look at it each week. And his progress really showed. He was better developed now. His work was paying off. And I was really proud of him. I was proud, too, that I’d helped with how he looked. What showed up in those pictures, I’d had a hand in it.
But Dad threw it, and I came out of my daze quickly enough to catch it. And after doing so, I then stood up a little taller. A little straighter. And I stepped forward to face him.
“Dad,” I said, keeping my voice soft and contained but not preventing some of the emotion I was feeling from leaking out around the edges, “I’m not gay. All the two of us were doing was lifting weights. I made this album to record his progress. That’s it. That’s all. He’s in his underwear just so you can see all his muscles. I don’t know why you have a problem, but you do. You. Not me.
“I don’t know many gay kids, but the few I do know are good people. I don’t hate them like you do, and I never will.”
I paused long enough to see if I was making any headway at all, but nothing had changed in his expression. He was as mad as ever. Nervously, trying to hold it together, I forced myself to continue what I was saying.
“I’m not leaving, Dad. We’ll wait for Mom to come home, and we’ll talk. All three of us. If she agrees that I’m not wanted in this house any longer, that I should leave as you’ve said, then I will. Though I can’t really believe you’re kicking me out.”
I was really upset now. The more I thought about it, the worse it got. He hated me! My dad! He had to, to throw me out.
“I’ll find somewhere to live,” I said, now getting angry as well as upset, “but wherever it is, you’ll have to pay for it because you’re responsible for me till I’m 18. So you’d better hope I can find a friend willing to take me in. Even then you’ll still have to pay for the food I eat.”
Then I simply turned and walked into the kitchen. I pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. I needed to let my heart slow down and my adrenaline settle and my light-headedness retreat. I was upset, maybe as much as he’d been, certainly as much as I could ever remember having been. He’d wanted to be rid of me. My dad. After 17 years of living with me, knowing me as well as anyone ever had. Could he really hate me, knowing who I was? I wasn’t a terrible human being. I wasn’t! And he wanted to throw me away like yesterday’s coffee grounds. Was that all I meant to him? After all the closeness we’d shared, all the love we’d shared as I’d been growing up?
That took some getting used to.
I just sat, doing nothing but feeling. Hardly even thinking. Just existing and feeling wounded, as if patches of my skin had been torn off.
I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t much of anything except hurt, badly hurt, from his rejection. I dimly heard the front door open and close. Either Mom had come home or Dad had left, and it was most likely Dad leaving because Mom usually came in through the garage.
It was probably an hour or so later that Mom came home. By then my head was down on my arms on the table, but I wasn’t sleeping. I was still mostly simply feeling emotional, battered by the hurt of what my father had said.
Mom saw me sitting there, saw my eyes were open, and walked over and put a hand on my shoulder. “Greg?”
I sat up. I found I needed to wipe my eyes, and did so.
“Greg? What is it?”
“Dad threw me out. Well, he tried to. I wouldn't leave. I think he did.”
She pulled up a chair and sat down, then put her hand on my arm where it rested on the table. “Why?”
“He saw an album of pictures I’d made.” Then I realized it was still on the table. I slid it over to her. “This one.”
She opened it up, turned a couple of pages, and said, “Oh!” She closed it and slid it back to me. “And he saw this?”
“Yeah, it was in my room, and he saw it. I must have left it open.”
“And then he came down and was mad and said things and told you to get out?”
We sat in silence for a while, then. When I glanced up at her, she was looking away toward the window, but it didn’t seem to me like she was really seeing anything at all.
“I’m not gay, Mom. But even if I was, so what? Why would he hate me? Why does he hate gay people? The kid in the pictures? He’s gay. And he’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever known. He’s brave and funny and kind and smart: just a great kid. Dad hates him? He doesn’t even know him, but he hates the idea of him. Why? Why is he like that?”
Mom shook her head. Then she stood up and went to the coffee pot, dumped out what was in it, and started a fresh one. Then she came back to the table.
“Greg, your father is a good man except for this one thing. And this one thing makes him angry. He’s angry a lot of the time. You know that. I’ve always worked too many hours, and you spent more time with him than I did. He’s got this idea about gays, and he’s wrong about that. Without that album setting him off…”
She stopped, then went to get a cup of coffee. It wasn’t done yet, and she stood there waiting. It looked to me like she was making a decision.
Back at the table with her coffee, she gave me a long look, then began. “I was in college when I met him. He was a year older than I was and not a college student. He came to a party where I was having fun. I was very innocent, and I’m afraid by the time I meet him I was rather drunk. He was very handsome, and it was very flattering and seemed somehow an adventure to be interesting to an older guy.”
She stopped, and it looked to me like she was building courage or determination, one or the other.
“He was drinking, too, and I never quite stopped, and, well, that was the night you were conceived. I didn’t ever remember much of the sex; it was my first time and his, too. But what it was like, I don’t know. I know the product of it was you, and you are worth everything that followed, however that night went and whatever has come after it.”
She stopped then to drink some coffee, and I took the opportunity to ask, “What does this have to do with his hatred of gays?”
She looked me hard in the face. “He’s gay, Greg. Your father is gay. To what degree, I can’t say. But he’s attracted to men. That night, he was trying to prove to himself he was normal, that he could perform with a woman. He hated the fact he found men excited him, back then and ever since. He’s like many repressed gay people, I guess. Like a lot of straight men as well in how he’s wired. He can get aroused by women, but he’s more attracted to men.
“But you know his father. Your grandfather’s prejudice ran deep, and your father picked up on that. When he realized he was attracted to men, he hated that side of himself—and feared it, too. He tried to ignore it. Tried to tell himself it didn’t exist. Tried very hard. Tried to be with women.”
She stopped, then said, very softly, “I was one of those women.”
There was a long pause, and then she sighed. “He’d dated girls but had never had sex with any of them till the time with me. We met at the party, I was drunk, he had something to prove, and… Well, he proved it. But that was the last time we ever did.”
“Well, it’s true. But that wasn’t only his fault. Fault isn’t even the right word. I was innocent when you were conceived, but I’d had chances before that. What I’ve learned is, I don’t have much interest in sex. So, between his greater interest in men and my very marginal interest in sex, we’ve been able to stay married without sex being an issue in our marriage.”
I thought about that. And I thought about my own situation. I knew that my sex drive, while certainly there, wasn’t as strong as it was in other boys. While they seemed obsessed with sex, obsessed with getting laid or all the other things guys my age talked about doing and getting, it simply wasn’t that important to me. It hadn’t been till I’d been spending time with Caitlyn that the idea of having sex with a girl really had started percolating. Part of the reason was, Caitlyn was very frank, and no subject was taboo. We hadn’t had sex yet, but we’d sure talked about it. And the talking, along with the knowledge it would eventually happen, had certainly stirred my interest.
When Mom didn’t continue, I asked, “But if he’s gay, why the hatred for gays? That’s nuts.”
“He always hated his attraction to other men. He wanted to be straight. He wasn’t. He couldn’t change, and that just made him hate that part of himself even more and brought on the feelings of shame and anger that are always just below the surface. He broods about it, and I guess the fact he can’t change, that he is what he is, just became a hatred of gay men who aren’t mad or afraid of who they are, who have the courage to accept themselves and live their lives as they are.”
This was all completely out of the blue for me. I’d had no idea!
“Why haven’t you told me this before?” I asked. “And why didn’t you say anything when he was preaching all that hatred to me?”
She shook her head, a look of sadness on her face. “I didn’t know what to do, Greg. I knew what he was telling you was wrong. I didn’t want you growing up hating anyone. But if you think about it, most of the times he was telling you those things about gays, you two were alone. Rarely did he do it in front of me. When he did, he frequently had a look of defiance on his face, as though challenging me to refute him.”
“You should have, Mom,” I said. “What if I’d believed him? And I did believe him, at least to some extent, until I actually met some openly gay kids.”
“I didn’t know what to do, Greg. That’s the truth. I’m not comfortable talking to you about this even now, and I couldn’t possibly have when you were younger. Your dad and I love each other in our own way. There doesn’t have to be sex in a marriage for it to work. If I’d had a partner who wanted sex the way it is in most marriages, that wouldn’t have worked. If he’d had to perform with me, he couldn’t have. But in other ways, we were very compatible and grew more so as the years passed. I do love him. And he does love me. I don’t like the anger, but I can see past it. And I didn’t want to start an argument with him about his views in front of you. To be completely honest, Greg, I’d have been happy if you’d never heard any of this.”
Now I was shaking my head. “I’ve heard that being gay is genetic. If I have a gay father, you had to wonder if I was gay, too. Well, if I was and was growing up with all that vile crap being thrown at me, what then? I might have been just like he was. I might have grown up hating myself.”
She sat up straighter. “Greg, if I’d seen even one sign of that, I’d have stopped him. You have to believe that. I could have. But I watched you, and you never showed any indication of being gay. They say a mother knows. Well, I never had any reason at all to think that you were gay, and I was watching. You haven’t dated much, but that seemed to be because you were so wrapped up in sports and friends. But you weren’t having sleepovers with one boy a lot or going on camping trips or spending time outside the house alone with any one boy. Believe me, I kept track. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I even checked your computer history. What porn you looked at was all straight porn. I will say, you didn’t look at nearly as much as I’ve read boys generally do, but that just made me wonder if you’d inherited more of my problem than you did Dad’s.”
I had a lot to think about, and we sat there for a while in silence, me thinking and her slowly sipping her coffee and waiting me out. Finally, I said, “What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to talk to your father. You know, you told us you were dating someone. Why don’t you bring her to dinner? That will help.”
“That isn’t enough. I have gay friends now. I like them. I don’t want to have a father who’s full of hatred.”
“You’re right. We’ll get him to go to counseling. I’ll insist. He’ll do it if I insist. He knows his hatred isn’t rational. He does know that. But he can’t really help himself. Perhaps a counselor can.”
“He wants me to leave.”
She shook her head, dismissing it. “Don’t worry about that. Watch. In the morning, he’ll apologize. Now, when’s the best night for you to bring this girl to dinner? How about next week? The sooner the better. What’s her name, by the way?”
“Oh, what a pretty name.”
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