On a hot summer day in June 2013, I stood in an old pay phone booth in New York City. I was to have a conversation that I would remember for the rest of my life. It was on this day that I told my African American father from the rural south that I was gay. I didn’t know at that time that my life would begin to transform before my eyes. To put it all into perspective, I grew up in a very loving home. My parents have always let both my sister and I know that we were loved. On several occasions as a child, my mother always assured me that my skinny frame and awkward features were beautiful. My dad even gave me great comebacks to give to the kids at school who were at times, relentless in their teasing. What I know now is that they were teaching me early on the concept of being enough. Unfortunately what my parents didn’t know is that well into adulthood, I had believed I was not.
So how did that conversation with Dad go? Well let me first tell you what led up to that big reveal. I had undergone major surgery that same year. I also just had a milestone birthday and turned 40. I remember lying in the hospital for 8 days being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. My surgery was a success, I had a very supportive family, but yet I was severely depressed and could not figure out why.
At 40 years old I had never been in love.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I began my grueling two-month road to recovery. Due to the type of surgery I had, I was literally waking around like an elderly man. It was such a daunting task just to make it from the bed to the sofa where I would remain all day. One night I realized I had not filled my prescription. I was writhing in pain and felt as if I was being stabbed repeatedly in the abdomen. It was in that moment that I surrendered to the pain both physical and emotional. The effects of surgery and the pain of being me for the past 40 years were too much to bear. I remember crying so much that the tears were rushing down my face onto my pillow. I simply didn’t have the physical strength to flip it over to the dry side. So I laid there in my sorrow until I had no more tears to shed. I then came to a point where I was no longer sad, I was now angry.
I’ve had my fun! I even met so many wonderful, successful, handsome, and kindhearted men. Sadly, I purposely destroyed any chance at happiness with them because of one reason.
Had I not been such a “man” as my mom used to say, and took so long to go to the ER, I might not have been in such dire straits. I remember hearing the words coming from my doctor “you almost died”. The very thought of no longer existing on the planet terrified me. I wasn’t ready to die. I had not become an actor. I had not purchased my million-dollar condo on River Road in North Bergen overlooking the Hudson. I then realized what scared me the most was that I had never been in love. Yes that’s right. At 40 years old I had never been in love.
Now before anyone starts hanging up the streamers for the pity party don’t get it twisted. I’ve had my fun! I even met so many wonderful, successful, handsome, and kindhearted men. Sadly, I purposely destroyed any chance at happiness with them because of one reason. They would never under any circumstances meet my Dad.
I had spent my entire twenties and thirties replacing Robert with Roberta in my cell phone. I had only shown pictures with women (all gracious lesbian friends) on social media. I was a God to all of my cousins and straight friends. What my family and friends were unaware of was that I was extremely lonely. There were times when I chose not to visit because the older I got, I grew tired of coming up with a new lie. I could no longer muster the strength to advise why my imaginary girlfriend “Lisa” was never available to meet any of the people I cared about the most. Lying in my bed at night thinking about it all, especially pretending to be someone I was not, infuriated me.
I was undone and I did not want to live another moment in a life not meant for me. My life and living under the radar was unacceptable. As the wounds from surgery began to heal, I created an action plan for myself. One that included working with a life coach. Don’t laugh; it was that experience that changed my life completely. I learned that in all my mess that I mattered. Not the version of myself I showed the world, but the real me.
I felt as if an entire body of shame, guilt, depression, and self-hate all lifted off of me.
The man I am today is four years in the making. Many changes which included diet, exercise, and letting go of limiting beliefs, led me to being on my cell phone in an abandoned pay phone booth on a hot summer day in June. So there I was, standing in that booth with perspiration dripping down my back from the summer heat. After a few pleasantries with my father I told him about the journey I was on. I explained to him that my life was open to new possibilities since realizing my self-worth. I told him how much I loved him and that I’m proud be his son. It was at this time that fear began to take over and I started to stutter. I was still able to go on and say there was never a time in my life where I did not feel loved and protected by him. When I decided to man up, I asked him if there was anything he ever wanted to ask me. His response was, not that I can think of son. Then came my moment of truth. In what felt like the biggest exhale ever, I blurted out the words, Dad I’m gay! As he began to speak, the tone of my father’s voice drastically changed as he first responded to my expression of gratitude. He was so happy to hear those words come from his only son. Then the deep baritone of his voice became soothing, slow, and controlled. Without hesitation, he said, you are my son! I could never stop loving you. My only hope in this world is for both you and your sister to be happy.
What the hell just happened? Did I just come out? Yeah you really did that I thought. I felt as if an entire body of shame, guilt, depression, and self-hate all lifted off of me. The feeling reminded me of when you see the spirit of a deceased person in the movies gradually lift off the body and looks back at it almost to say, I no longer need you. You no longer need me. I was lighter as if I dropped twenty pounds during our 15-minute conversation. This was it? I hid all those years for that response? I’ll take it.
I must now get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
As I ended my call, I told my father I would call him some other time due to a meeting I had to attend. I was now beaming with happiness. I wanted to dance through the streets of New York City like Janet Jackson in the “When I think of you video”. I was free and everyone that mattered to me finally knew who I was. I no longer feared rejection or the opinions of others because I now knew my Daddy loves me. I’m good!
With my new found freedom I was left with one burning question, what now? Who was I now? I’ve spent so much of my adult life hiding and created a circle of other male friends who were doing the same. I don’t know how to be out! Just the thought of saying I was an openly gay male was a terrifying thought. I eventually calmed my nerves down and thought to myself, this new world will always be much better than the alternative life of hiding. I must now get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was time to navigate my way through a new existence. I’m often scared and want to go back inside my shell on many days, but I am now the openly gay son of an African American father from the rural south. I can trust finally that the man I am now, is enough.