Jason Zenobia celebrates Father’s Day by reflecting on that time when his dad joined him at his first pride parade.
I love my father.
He raised me a Jew in a Christian society, which has been difficult.
He raised me an atheist in a world full of believers.
He taught me to hate war and violence in a world filled with both.
He taught me to take responsibility for myself and my opinions.
He instilled in me the instinct to challenge authority, which is dangerous.
When I came out to him as gay, he was frightened for me and for my safety.
He didn’t want me to be gay. He wanted my life to be easy, he said. I guess he didn’t realize that it was already far too late for that.
He sent me to a doctor to cure an illness that I didn’t have and it almost killed me. So I hid myself away.
Years later, I came out again. That first year, I had the chance to go to Pride 1990. My first Pride Parade. At school in Tacoma, I went to Seattle with a group of students to march in the parade and attend the festival. My mom was in a play in Portland so she couldn’t join us, but my father drove all the way north to march by my side.
He was still figuring out what it all meant. Who were all these gay people? What were they like?
He made a sign to carry: “I Love My Gay Son”
But he didn’t bring a thin, little pole to stick it on. He brought what looked like a massive fence post; so heavy that he needed both hands to lift it.
“Dad? Why didn’t you bring something easier to carry?”
He gripped his plank in both hands and swung it, like a batter at practice. “This,” he said, tapping it against the ground then swinging it up and bracing it against his shoulder, “this is for when the cops come with their dogs. If they want to mess with you, they’re gonna have to get through me first.”
But as my fellow students gathered at the starting grounds, and as the other marchers arrived with their children and flowers and balloons, high-heels and make-up, my father’s face began to change. He had arrived ready for battle, but this was something else.
Before we started marching, a woman in her late thirties stopped by. She had short, sandy hair and a solid build. Rainbow beads draped around her neck. Plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. She read my father’s sign and her eyes fell on me.
“Is this your dad?”
She turned to my father and reached her hand out to him. Before he could speak, she started, “My dad doesn’t even talk to me anymore. I haven’t seen him in ten years.”
She leaned into my father and they hugged. He set his fence post aside. She was shaking, crying. My dad just held her for a few moments. Then she drifted away into the crowd.
As we marched, the scene repeated itself over and over again. Strangers from everywhere sought him out as we made our way to the park. I kept hearing: “Your father is here with you? My father would never …”, “My father kicked me out …”, “My father told me I was cursed by God …”, “My father …”, “My father ….” They took turns embracing him, many of them wet with tears.
“I have unlimited hugs to give out,” he told them.
By the time we reached the park where thousands were gathered, I don’t remember what happened to my father’s enormous plank of wood. He looked out on the crowd, people still coming up to him, thanking him for being there, hugging him. Crying.
“Can you imagine?” he asked me, “Rejecting your kid for something like this? What’s the matter with those people?”
I was filled with pride.