BY AARON STELLA We’re back, folks, with another fabulous edition of GAYDAR! OK, I realized last week that we need to have a little “come to Jesus meeting” about my father, as so much of what happened with my family stemmed directly from the decisions he made. But keep something in mind as you read: I know little about my father’s interior life. I could never trust the man, both in what he told me of himself and about the world, so my assertions about him here are, by definition, pure speculation. But at the same time, I have learned much from sorting out the qualities I share with my father, and our differences; and through that process, I’ve come to know both of us a little better. In any event, let’s get to it, shall we?
My father is what I like to call a “Rolls Royce Catholic.” You know the type: likes to test drive fancy cars; proudly defends the infallibility of the Pope; believes the Church should incite another crusade; detests Vatican II and all that peace, love, and modern-world ecumenical bullshit. Being that he’s a powerful orator and a brilliant rhetorician, as well as having an encyclopedic knowledge of the catechism, he would jump at the opportunity to demonstrate his religious erudition with impromptu sermons whenever our family would entertain company. And he would regale people with stories of his beloved children, how our vast intelligence and academic aptitude is all thanks to his genes. Still, he could be very charming when he wanted to and people warmed to him.
My father was both driven and destroyed by a compulsion to create ornate worlds for himself that are completely devoid of reality. He relied on the patience and forgiveness of his family, as well as the kindness of strangers and the naivete of youth, to sustain these illusions; and made excuses when they fell apart. Curiously, he had no friends his own age; most of them were in their late teens and early 20’s (more on that later). Despite all his bluster, he feared the company of men his own age because he was afraid they would see through his bullshit. Even his own children posed a threat, especially me. I was insufferably inquisitive throughout my childhood and adolescence, particularly about religion. The weekly sojourn to celebrate Mass seemed to me a waste of time, and served no purpose but to exacerbate the already burgeoning imperiousness of the faithful, where instead they could be providing for the less fortunate; acting in the will of Christ. This of course, among many other inquisitions, my father took as a slight, and it angered him — and sometimes triggered histrionic displays, with him imploring the mercy of the Lord to deliver me from the fires of hell, and me rolling my eyes. This is why I could never have a heart-to-heart with him: it was either his way or the highway.
My father met my mother at a dinner party thrown by mutual friends. They started talking and my mom was quickly smitten by his charm and empathy. They wound up dating for six years, and then one breezy, moonlit evening on the glistening shores of Myrtle Beach, my father proposed and my mother readily accepted. A week later, they went to a Christian convention in Atlanta. After the first day of the convention had concluded, my father went out to get some fresh air, leaving my mom behind in the hotel room. He headed straight to a nearby park, where he met a man, and they had sex. My father confessed this transgression to my mother the next day and then and there she broke the engagement — and it would stay broken, she said, until he received psychiatric therapy.
They continued to see each other despite what had happened, and a year later, my father proposed again, claiming that he had gone to therapy as requested and no longer desired the company of men. In truth, he never went. This would not be the first time he deceived her. Years later, when my mother asked my father to see a psychiatrist because we were having family problems, he would arrived home from his appointment announcing that the psychiatrist told him that he was justified with the way he was acting in the family. In disbelief, my mother would eventually call up the psychiatrist to corroborate my father’s story and find out that very little my father had told him about his family life matched our reality.
Nevertheless, when my father proposed, my mother accepted, being the trusting woman that she is.
It was a fairytale wedding. My mother looked stunning, as did my father. My mother remembers that when it came time for them to kiss, my father swept her towards him in a single dramatic movement, creating quite a spectacle. She now looks back on that moment as something that didn’t symbolize their love but my father’s love of showmanship. My mother became a stay-at-home mom. My father worked as a physician in the ER. He made plenty of dough to support us, take us on lavish vacations three or four times a year, buy each of us a horde of gifts at our birthdays and on Christmases and eat out pretty much wherever we wanted, when we wanted. He did always provide for us, I’ll give him that much. I was never in want of anything — anything, that is, except the love of a father.
That midnight tryst he had with the man in Atlanta, Ga. was probably not the first and certainly not the last. As I said before, my father never had any friends his own age. Instead, he befriended the youth of the neighborhood — clean-limbed, athletic, bounding young men. I remember walking home from a friend’s house one night when we still lived in The Cult, only to find my father sitting atop a wooden picnic table surrounded by an audience of boys. He was recounting experiences from his work in the ER while interweaving teachings of Catholic doctrine. Starry-eyed, they listened intently. I also remember when he would have the older boys over for wine and revelry. He loosened up at those times, when he had his arm slung around the shoulders of another man. He became more human, if that makes any sense. And then there’s me: all of a sudden, I’m his pride and joy, and the testament to his virility and superior genes. On my fourth birthday, the only present I received was the first of many piano lessons. So on these festive evenings, I was tasked with entertaining the crowd with minuets and ballads, bulking my father’s boundless narcissism, as he boasted about how much I resemble him.
Then there were the father-son outings. Whenever we went camping, my father would sleep with his “special friend” in one tent, and I would sleep in another. I remember this one skiing trip, when my father took about eight or nine sinewy young men and me with him from The Cult up to a remote spot in the mountains of West Virginia (everything was paid for out of his pocket, of course). At one point along the trip, we parked at a mall so the boys could play in the arcades. I waited in the car. After a while, a few of them stepped out from the arcade, which was positioned in the front of the mall. They approached the car, opened the side door, then grabbed me by the shoulders and pinned me on my back. As I lay there immobilized, pleading them to stop, one of them began licking my face while the others snickered behind.
The first thing my father and the boys did when we got to the cabin was move out the furniture from the large living room on the first floor and replace them with mattresses from the bedrooms, so to make one giant mattress covering the floor. Then they stripped down to their underwear and started wrestling with each other in duos. All the while, I stood by and watched as their bodies became sweaty as they grunted from the exhilarating sport. I didn’t really think anything of the handsome sexpots writhing beneath one another and being tossed about in the their tussles. It was what it was. And that’s all there was to it.
Aaron Stella is an English major at Temple University. He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org