Ray Triggs, my father, was sexy guy in a fish camp, Jack Daniels kind of way. Even at seventy-five years old, crippled by several strokes, breathing raspy from a three pack a day habit, he was sexier than I was on my best day. He just had that air about him.
It's probably because my Dad was controlled by sex in a way that I never have been. That might be because I'm smarter than he was, or he was more secure than I am. At any rate, his record and actions speak for themselves. By the time he was forty he had a lot of children, biological and step, with different women. I have a brother I didn't meet until I was almost thirty.
My Dad had a son that he all but abandoned. Learning that helped explain why he was comfortable with our relationship. It wasn't perfect, but we were living in the same house. He was doing better by me than he had done by other children.
Sex was more about power and getting off than it was about love or consequence for Raymond Triggs.
Sometimes you learn things like that about people because of how they treat you in regards to the same subject. That was made obvious when I came out to my parents. I sat them down in our living room in Wisconsin - the epicenter of style in my hometown of Madison. Mom was on the inherited plaid couch and Dad was sitting in his Lazy Boy recliner when I dropped the news. There was an inevitable silence and then my father said: "How many other people know about your sex life?"
Sex. That's the first thing of which he thought. A man who had been unfaithful, a man with illegitimate children, a man who had been arrested and thrown in jail, was worrying about what other people might think. That's the power of sex.
In hindsight, he provided a powerful lesson about how many straight people look at us. They think it's about the sex.
Imagine every time you met a woman and found out she was married to a man. "Oh, MRS. Jones, is it?" Immediately you start seeing her, prim and proper, living up to the stereotype of a heterosexual woman with which we grew up. Her flannel nightgown is pushed up around her hips. Mr. Jones is on top of her in a traditional position. He's thinking only of his own gratification while Mrs. Jones plans her grocery list.
It would be foolish, limiting and unfair to define the Jones' marriage that way. However, I honestly think that's what a lot of straight people do to gay people. Everyday. That's what my Dad was doing.
Every once in a while you get lucky. The right words come to mind. I've never forgotten what I said that night when my dad asked me, "Who else knows about your sex life?"
I said, "I haven't told you anything about my sex life. I told you that when I meet someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with, it's going to be a man. That's all you know."
By that time, my dad was very sick. I wasn't sure I would ever see him again. I tried to make our time together meaningful and profound, in that way too earnest way that borders on annoying. He wasn't interested. He was distant and more isolated than he had been in years.
On that trip home, I finally figured out that I couldn't force the moment. He was the parent. Not me. It was his job to step up to the plate (sports allusion for my dad) and fix this.
So, I left. I didn't call. I didn't write. About two weeks later the phone rang. It was Dad. He had never called me before. We chatted, there was a pause, and then he said, "Tell me about this guy you've been seeing…"
Raymond and I were closer until he died. I'm thankful for that. Perhaps it was a direct consequence of my coming out to him. Maybe he figured out we were more alike than either of us had realized.