More than a Vacation

October 11, 2011 1 comment

My niece Courtney recently had a baby boy.  I had some vacation time available so I planned a trip to California to see her and the baby.  After my travel arrangements were made,  she planned Braeden’s baptism for the Saturday during my visit.  My father and I traveled to California for the baptism and maybe catching up a little with family I had not seen in more than 5 years and to meet the additions to the family I had never gotten the chance to get to know.  What I got from this trip was so much more than I expected or  I could ever hope for.

The first person I got to meet was 8-year-old Bailey, my Nephew Chris’s oldest kid.  He came  to the airport with my brother Ronnie.  I  was nervous about meeting him and did not know how he would react to meeting some old guy who he only had seen a picture of and was told that he was his uncle.  My fears were put to rest.  As soon as he saw me he said, “Hi Uncle Patrick.  You look different than your picture.”  I responded, ” Hi Bailey.  I am glad to finally meet you.”  That was it.  We loaded our luggage and we were on our way.  We talked the entire time during the one hour drive from the airport.  It felt like we were friends forever.

We stayed at Joyce and Lynn’s house.  My niece Courtney, her  boyfriend Tim, and my nephew Vinny all live there too.  Joyce is my brother’s former wife and Lynn is her husband.  Some people may think that this is an odd arrangement  but in reality it is not.  I had developed a good friendship with Joyce during the time that she and Ronnie were married.  When they split up things were awkward for quite a while.  It took me a while to come to the conclusion that whatever happened between them had nothing to do with me.  It was between the two of them.  I had not seen Joyce since my mother’s funeral 7 years ago and it was not until maybe a year ago that we started talking again, gradually through online chats and then short conversations.  I knew then that whatever apprehensions that I had were just silly and Joyce was still my friend.  We spent almost every night during my stay talking and catching up and really sharing how we felt about everything about our lives.  I knew by the time I left that she was my sister and also my best friend.

Ronnie and Joyce worked hard at being friends and being good parents and through that hard work he and Lynn became good friends.  Lynn is a wonderful man.  He told me that he thinks of Ronnie as a brother.  I had only met him once before, 7 years ago at my mother’s funeral which was not a good time to get to know anyone new,  but during this visit I had the opportunity to get to know him.  I spent many evenings  talking with him about just about anything and felt very at ease with him.  I had the opportunity to spend a day fishing with him and  Tim.  It was a great day spent on the banks of the Sacramento River.  We each caught quite a few fish but threw them all back because they were not quite big enough to keep.  It would not have mattered if we caught any because of the company I was with.  I heard a saying a while back that went something like this, ” You can learn more about a person in a few hours of play then a whole year of conversation.”  I know just from this day that they both are good men and I count them among my very good friends.

My sister-in-law Tina, my nephew Michael’s wife Heather and their little boy Mikey came up from southern California for the baptism.  I had not seen them since Heather and Michael’s wedding 5 years ago.  I had never met Mikey who will be 4 on New Year’s Eve.  He is the spitting image of his father.  We got a big surprise the night before the baptism.  Michael flew up from San Diego to surprise everyone.

I spent a lot of time with Vinny and Courtney that week.  Whether it was a trip to the store, going for coffee, watching a movie, helping Courtney with christening preparations or working on family history with Vinny.  We talked a lot about just about anything.  The last time I saw Courtney was 5 years ago and she was 20.  The last time I saw Vinny was 7 years ago and he was 15.  I was getting to know them as adults now.

Friday that week we went to San Francisco.  Tina Joined us.  I was a little unsure at first because I never really talked with her about me being gay, but I know she always knew.  I had always felt at ease with her.  I put my fears aside when we arrived in San Francisco.  We were all determined to just have a good time.  We spent the afternoon doing typical touristy things, having a great time being just plain old silly along with some old-fashioned, good-natured ribbing.  I don’t think I ever had as good a time as I did that day.  Not once the entire day did I worry about being myself.  My niece and nephew had grown up to be two fabulous people and Tina was not only my sister-in-law but now a good friend.

Saturday was Braeden’s baptism.  What was a joyous occasion was also a little bit sad for me, because I knew that I would be going back home to Ohio the next day.  After the ceremony at church, we went back to Ronnie’s house for a celebration gathering.  I got to meet some of Tim’s family and do some catching up with my own family.  After the guests had left it was just my family at Ronnie’s house.  We really enjoyed being around each other, reliving old times and celebrating the new ones.  As the night wore on the mood was getting more somber.  Still happy, but the sadness was setting in.  In less than 24 hours I would be on my way back to Ohio.  The only thing on my mind was “When am I going to see everyone again?”  Lots of hugs were exchanged and some tears were shed too. It was very difficult for me so I can only imagine how it was for my father.  This was the first time I had seen him cry since my mother died 7 years ago.  The next morning before leaving for the airport was even more difficult.  Saying goodbye to my nieces and nephews was difficult enough but I was in tears saying goodbye to Joyce.  The regeneration of our friendship that I was taking home with me was priceless because it took on new meaning that week.

Ronnie took us to the airport.  We unloaded our luggage and were saying our goodbyes when I got the most unexpected hug from Ronnie.  This was from the brother who never really showed much physical affection that I can remember.  The brother who at one time thought he could catch being gay from me.  It was obvious that he did not believe this any more.  I did not say anything at the moment and thought about it the entire trip home.  When we got home it was very late.  I texted Ronnie to tell him we arrived safely.  He texted me back and said to give him a call as soon as we got settled.  Dad went to bed because it was really late.  It was now time to call Ronnie.  I wasn’t sure what was up with that.  We never really talked much before except for the obligatory hello and how are you doing type of conversation.  The call lasted for about 20 minutes.  He wanted to let me know how much he appreciated that I spent so much time with Courtney and Vinny.  They had a great time with me while I was there.  Courtney and Vinny taught me that I do not have to be afraid to be myself and that is what I told Ronnie.  Then he said the words that I thought I would never hear from any of my brothers.  “I am proud of the way you handle your life and you should never be afraid to be who you are?  I did not know what to say except thank you for telling me.  I got off the phone crying a bit and thinking, ” Wow! My brother is not the person I thought he was, but he is the person I always wanted him to be.”

It is a coincidence that I am publishing this on October 11th.  October 11th is National Coming out day when those that are gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual open up about who they are even if it is only expressing it to themselves.  Last year on this day I wrote about my experiences growing up gay and was wondering what I could write about this year.  The story of my vacation fits this theme really well.

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Who Would Have Thought?

August 3, 2011 1 comment

When I was 16 years old my first real job was working at a fast food place called Gino’s.  Even though I only worked there for about 6 months it was the experience of a lifetime for me.  I finally had my own money to spend on whatever I wanted.   It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized why it was such an experience.

Not only was I collecting that weekly paycheck, I was also learning many of life’s lessons.  I learned to be responsible by having to be somewhere at a certain time, having to do what was expected of me, and accepting responsibility for my actions.   I grew from being an awkward teenager to a semi mature young adult in the short period of time that I worked there.

The biggest thing that I learned while working there was social skills.  I had to get along with other people whether I wanted to or not.   It was not like having a fight with one of my brothers where I could go lock myself in my room for a while.  If I was mad at someone at work I had to just suck it up and do my job.  I was fortunate that the people who I worked with were all good people wanting to do their best at their jobs and it was a rare occasion when we did not get along.

This job is where I found my best friend who I still keep in touch with to this day.   Wanda was not just the girl who sat across the room in choir;   she was someone I had to work with daily.  During the 6 months that we worked together we developed a strong bond and we were able to talk about any thing with each other.

Fast forward 32 years later and I find my life is very similar.  I currently live over 500 miles from where I grew up and have been working as a manager at my local McDonald’s for the past 6 years.  I have had the same experiences here as at my first job 32 years ago.  My best friend Sarah works with me and I have also developed a few good friendships with the people who work here.

There is a bonus working here.  I work with a lot of teenagers who remind me of who I was 32 years ago.  I have watched most of them grow from awkward teenagers to very confident young men and women.  I feel blessed to be able to have an influence on them during this crazy period of their life.  Most of them have graduated from High School and went on to College.  Some of them went on to bigger and better things at other places.  Several have graduated from college and two have recently gotten married.  I had the honor of being a guest at their wedding a few weeks ago.  I consider all of them my kids even though I only have them for a short period of time.  I feel proud when one of them achieves something good in their lives and honored when they invite me to the events that are important to them.  I feel sad and happy at the same time.  I don’t know if parents feel this way, but I have a suspicion that they do.

I plan on retiring from here in 20 or so years and owe it to the experience of my first job at Gino’s 32 years ago for wanting to stay here.  Who would have thought that I would be doing the same kind of work today as I did 32 years ago?  There is nothing like the experience of a first job, NOTHING

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Thank You Boy George

June 13, 2011 1 comment
Culture Club, 1983. L-R: Jon Moss, Boy George,...

Image via Wikipedia

Throughout my high school days and into my first year or so of college, I had come to the conclusion that I would want to tell my mother that I was gay.  The problem was, how did she really feel about gay people.  I did not have a clue.  I did not know how she felt until one night we were watching the Grammy Awards and Boy George and Culture Club were up for the award for best new artist.  When it was announced that they had one I felt some pride.  Here was an openly gay man winning something important.  Of course my brothers had to crack a few jokes about the members of Culture Club being gay, when my mother chastised them and said, “I don’t care whether they’re gay or not, I like their music.”  Hearing this, I smiled and went to bed knowing that when I was ready to tell her, it was not going to be as bad as I thought.  Maybe a few years later I finally told her and her reaction was wonderful.  I was her son no matter what and she loved me no matter what.

Here is Boy George’s acceptance speech via satellite from the U.K.

More Culture Club

The Rainbow Flag

June 8, 2011 1 comment

The rainbow flag has become an international symbol of gay pride and it has a very interesting history behind it.  Here is a good history of it written in 2008 on a blog called Box Turtle Bulletin. The History of the Rainbow Flag

Pride

June is LGBTQ history month and pride month.  It is a celebration of those that made their mark in the world, those that were there for us every step of the way, and a celebration of acknowledging who you are and being happy about it.

Here is the dictionary definition Pride.

Different people have different ways of celebrating and acknowledging it from a small, quiet celebration to a very big and flamboyant expression with parades and festivals.  Nearly every big city and most smaller cities have some type of celebration lasting from only a day to the entire month of June.

My own personal way of celebrating falls somewhere in between.  Sometimes I like the big extravaganzas, but they can be a bit overwhelming to anyone, even someone who has been out of the closet for more than 25 years.

I like to think that I celebrate every day by living my life for me, not as a phony and being grateful for the people and things that I have in my life.

For the rest of the Month of June, this blog will be part of my way of celebrating by sharing how Pride Month and  History Month are celebrated around the world with pictures, videos, news stories and exploring the history of the GLBTQ community

People Like Me

May 24, 2011 1 comment

The following is something that I wrote and published on Facebook on October 11, 2010.  October 11 is  National Coming Out Day and I thought it was time that I told my story so that others can know that life does get better.

Coming out was not necessarily an event for me like it has been for many people.  It was more of making a conscious decision to stop pretending I was someone who I was not.  I always knew that I was different from other boys, but I did not really have a name for it.  I don’t know why,  but I had the feeling that I should keep this to myself and not let my secret be known. When I finally realized what this secret about me was, I had also learned how society looked at it.

I grew up in a rather large family and was raised Catholic.  Although we were not very religious, being Catholic had a great influence on how I thought about myself.  I always loved going to church until I learned how the church felt about people like me.  This was the beginning of the self hating period of my life.  I had  no clue yet how my family felt about it, but I was certain it would not be good.   I had to keep my secret no matter what.

I remember one evening watching the television show “Family”   In this particular episode  one of the main character’s best friends told him he was gay. “Wow! Someone like me,”  I thought.  My eyes and ears were glued to the television.  I never did see the entire episode.  My grandmother came into the room and heard what was on.  She turned it off and told me that I should not be watching this.  I learned how my grandmother felt and was certain that the rest of my family felt the same.  Another reason to keep my secret.

From time to time I would hear news reports and see in the newspaper stories about people like me  and I would gauge how people felt about us by their reactions.  It was usually ranged from mild jokes to cruel threats.  Another reason to keep my secret.

I did have a friend who was also like me.  His mother knew about us and made sure that we could talk to her about anything that we wanted with her.    I could not talk to my family.  They hated fags, or so I thought.

I grew up like this carrying this secret.  I was bullied often. At times it was too much to bear.  I learned how to drink and drank very hard.  Alcohol was this great savior.  It helped me forget, at least for a little while. Whenever I felt tortured I drank and then I felt good.  I soon discovered my first gay bar.  This was great for me because I could be around people like me and feel good at the same time.  I was around people who knew what I felt and they did not care.  They felt it too.  They all drank for the same reason I did,  to feel good.  I soon started using drugs.  Wow they made me feel good.  How could anything bad make someone feel this good.  I did not care about anything anymore.  Drinking and getting high were a priority because I knew they would make me feel good.  I flunked out of my first year of college.  I did not care.  I took some fluff courses so that I could stay enrolled.  I was able to still feel good and still stay in school.

Eventually all of this feeling good started feeling bad.  A day did not go by that I did not want to die.  I knew this was not good but I did not know how to make it stop.  I saw an ad in the college newspaper about counseling.  I made several appointments, but kept canceling them.  I finally kept one appointment after the scare of my life.  I woke up one morning after a big night of feeling good, but had no clue how I had gotten home.  My car was in the driveway, but how did I get home.  I wanted to die.  I made one of those appointments again and kept it this time.  It saved my life.

To make a long story short I found sobriety.  I did not like it either.  I could not feel good.  The counseling led me to people who knew how to feel good with out the alcohol and drugs.  After a period of time I really did begin feeling good and learned to accept myself.  At the age of 28 I came to the realization that I had to be who I am regardless of what others think.  There was no big coming out event.  I just began living my life for me and not anyone else. It was difficult at first but now I had people to show me how. If someone could not accept me then they had no place in my life, including my family.  I was shocked when I eventually figured out that most of my family accepted me without a second thought.  My oldest brother had the hardest time accepting me.  It took his wife almost 5 years to convince him that being gay was not some kind of disease you could catch.  On the whole it has been good.

I consider myself lucky that I have the family that I have.  Things could have been worse.  I know many that were disowned by their families.  Many were bullied and harassed and even beaten up for being themselves. I feel lucky that I only had to put up with the harassment and bullying as bad as it was, it wasn’t as bad as being disowned and beaten.  I owe it to every young person struggling with their sexuality to be myself and show them that life gets better.  I am heart-broken by the recent news stories of those who could no longer deal with it.  I used to think National Coming Out Day was a waste of time, but I now realize it is not.  Everyone needs to hear my story and every one else’s story to know that life gets better and there is plenty of help out there when you don’t want to cope any more.  So for someone who’s coming out was not a big event, I am making it a big event today.