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Summing up a life

Philip Wright
This was written in 2005, in response to a friend who gave me the¬†writing assignment: “Write something from your father’s perspective/experience, as if he were confessing his life.”


It is that time in this disease when I have to say goodbye to everyone I love. Your mother and I have said our goodbyes. We’ve said the things that needed to be said. Your sister and I have said our goodbyes. With her things were always so much easier between us. We’ve had our moments, but we generally had a smooth father daughter relationship, very unlike what you and I have had. Gary and I have had our many painful moments of goodbye and will continue having them until the very end. I feel sorry that I have to leave him, that he has to deal with this horror of my rapid degeneration and passing. I love him for caring for me in these terrible weakening times. I don’t think I’d be able to do that for another person. I wish that I had more time with all of you.

Nearly all of the decisions I made throughout my life were informed by my sexuality. This doesn’t mean that my priorities were skewed. It doesn’t mean that I was obsessive. It means that issues of who you love are important. It means that for a large part of my life I was searching out situations in which I could be myself, where I could admit to loving another man. This was often a sub-conscious quest. Just like most people I was looking for acceptance and understanding. You understand the intolerance of Knoxville, Tennessee. You were struck by it the last time we visited my family there and it wounded your sensitive 13-year-old self. I’m sure you understand how impossible it would have been to admit, even to myself, who I really was.

I left the South and moved West to Dallas in search of this vague idea of a broader view, whether I knew it at the time or not. Then after we got married, your mother and I went even further West to California for the same reasons, seeking that bright, shiny liberal paradise.

After I got my MBA I chose the field of Social Work because it seemed to me it would be most tolerant out of many possible career paths. Your mother and I had not been married too long at that time. You had not been born. I wanted to be in a place where I could fake it less. My career went well and I always felt that my choice had been good. I devoted more than 25 years to the Los Angeles Department of Social Services and I think my work there was valuable.

The thing I feel the most sadness around is my relationship with your mother. I never, ever meant for her to be hurt. I am sure that you’ve considered me a heartless and selfish man since you were a teenager. But you need to understand that when we got married I did not know that I was gay. I know now that your mother told you that I had known my whole life and I can understand why that would have poisoned your opinion of me, but I hope that you believe what I am telling you now. I did not fully recognize and accept my homosexuality until about a year after we got married. Things were not that simple then. And it was never the case that your mother and I did not get along. In reality, we got along too well. The two of us were best friends. We wanted the same things. We wanted to do the same things. We wanted the same kind of life, at least at first. Fifteen years is a long time and we were, including you and your sister, a family, and like a lot of families ours was flawed. I thought a marriage was something that I should be a part of. I thought that the normal American ideal of man, woman children would be the right thing. I know that such a large part of your anger towards me resulted from the deception you felt I had inflicted on her. That is not the way this story unfolded. Your mother and I still love each other with the strength borne of decades of knowing each other and having parented two children together. I still feel sadness that she never found anyone to be close to after our divorce.

I really can’t say that I’ve led a long and happy life. It hasn’t been long enough for me to get old. But I have had much joy and I’ve always had people around me who loved me. I hadn’t started slowing down yet. I only retired last year and had finally begun to enjoy the life that Gary and I had built for ourselves in Palm Springs. Our life was full of projects, gardening, community organizations, nude sun bathing, and the strongest, most homogeneous and insular community I’ve ever been a part of. I felt at home. I felt accepted. I always did want things to be the same. One middle class, one culture, one gender. I love it here and I am not ready to die.

I have led a very healthy lifestyle, particularly in the last twenty years. That is the irony of this cancer. I didn’t smoke or do drugs. My drinking was quite moderate, mostly just wine and never to excess. I ate healthy food and got lots of exercise. I missed the AIDS epidemic when it was at the height of ignorance-induced danger. I shouldn’t be dying yet.

More than anything, I regret the distance between us that we so diligently built and maintained. I didn’t know what needed to be said and was too stubborn to attempt. You’re a very headstrong woman and I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. You didn’t doubt what you held as truth and held me at that distance, always judging, never questioning the foundation of what you believed about me. It seemed like we’d always have more time to heal the rift. Now, suddenly, we have days rather than years. I love you and I have loved you since the day you were born.

Posted in Personal Stories.

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