My father told me he was gay when I was 13. He said he had known ever since he was a little boy. Growing up Catholic in North Carolina during the 1960s did not present the most welcoming of circumstances for a gay man. For a lot of people, it is difficult to understand how a gay man could marry a woman and have children, but it is a lot more common than one might think. Most of my girlfriends are ecstatic when I tell them I have a gay dad; most of my guy friends are uncomfortable. For me, it's a fact of life.
First, let me explain to you what it is not: It does not just mean I have a "cool dad" who goes shopping with me and that we get our nails done together (although, occasionally, we do).
This is what it is like: Harnessing my anger when I hear about hate crimes against the LGBT community and crying when I hear about LGBT kids committing suicide because of bullying. Biting my tongue (not often successfully,) when someone tells me that being gay, transgender, bisexual, etc. is "wrong, immoral or sick." Watching the confused look on a person's face when I try to explain why my dad stayed in the closet for 20 years and started a family as a straight man. Feeling hurt and frustrated when people actually believe gays set bad examples for their kids and being teased in grade school and, at that time, feeling ashamed. Have you ever tried to explain to someone that your stepdad is your father's husband?
I fight against the ignorance because I know what it is actually like having a gay dad: wonderful. I adore watching him love my stepdad fully and wholeheartedly, no differently than two straight people would. Having a married gay dad means I get to have not only one intelligent, warm-hearted dad, but two. My dad, as a writer and advocate for the LGBT community, has become a resource and beacon of hope for lesbians and gays all around the world enduring the same struggle he did, and he encourages them to be open about who they are. As for changes in my life? I have become accepting and welcoming of all, regardless of how different they may be from me.
The relationship my father and I have today did not come easily, but it sure was worth it. Through a lot of counseling, tears and love, he became not only a better parent but a best friend. I am not sure if we became closer because he came out of the closet, but by showing his authentic self, our bond strengthened. He does not fit the so-called stereotypical "gay man," but we certainly do enjoy our lunch dates and nights out on the town together. Our relationship is no different than any other good father and daughter bond. He still calls me every so often to make sure I am focusing on my studies, taking care of myself and staying away from bad boys and parties. (Sorry, Dad.)
Having a gay dad is so much more than meets the eye, but I would not have it any other way, and in fact I couldn't. At forty-three years of age, I'm glad he finally figured that out too.
Marisa's father writes at The Authentic Life
A revised edition of this article appeared on Odyssey.