It was 27 years ago today, which is a long time. But I still refer to this as the worst day of my life.
It’s the day my father died.
A lot of time has passed and the gut wrenching sadness of the loss of someone so important to me has softened, but I am having a hard time even writing these words. It’s tricky remembering my dad but not going back to the dark place of loss.
My dad was born in Kansas City, Kansas on July 11th, 1919. He was the 5th of 6 children and he was born at home, not in a hospital. My grandmother was a tiny woman. 5’ 2” maybe…my dad weighed in at 12 pounds 4 ounces! It’s amazing that my grandmother survived!!
When my dad was about 7, the family moved to the Los Angeles area where he would meet and marry my mom in 1938.
It was a different time and place. Pre-depression America…but my dad grew up and was shaped by the worst economic disaster our country had faced. He dropped out of school to help support his family, like many kids did back then.
He turned 18 in 1937 – just in time to be drafted into World War 2 a few years later. My dad served honorably in the U.S. Air Force fortunately serving stateside due to relapsing remitting M.S.
My dad was a big guy – he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, but to me, he was a giant – in every way. He was such a good man. He loved his family, he worked hard and if he was your friend, you had the best friend a person could have.
After the war, he and my mom moved to Lake Arrowhead where they acquired a restaurant called the Arden-Hoff in Lake Arrowhead Village.
Around 1957, my parents moved “down the hill” to Long Beach to start a family. I was born a year later and 17 months after that my brother arrived. They had their fun before having kids! They were married 20 years before their first child came along.
My brother and I were treasured by our parents. I had a wonderful childhood. My dad was the scoutmaster for our Cub Scout pack and he was a strong moral compass. He took us fishing, played ball with us and was involved in our lives. My friends all adored him.
I could talk to my dad about anything. He was smart, compassionate and always guided by love and what he felt was best for me. I could just never bring myself to say the words I ached to say – to tell him who I really was. He seemed so proud of who he thought I was that I couldn’t take that away from him.
[I wanted to point out what most of us in the Transgender community already know – that I knew who I was from an early age. There was no “trauma” I had an amazing childhood. I was affirmed, loved and given everything I needed. But I knew I was a girl. I just knew]
It has occurred to me that a dad like mine can unintentionally make it just as difficult to share something like being transgender with him, as does a dad who is intimidating and distant. I just couldn’t disappoint him. I always seemed to have more reasons to not tell him, than to tell him.
In 1971 – my dad had a near fatal heart attack. He recovered, but there was enough damage that he was physically never the same. He played golf but would tire quickly. He eventually developed congestive heart failure – a disease that would ultimately take him from us.
He was proud of my career and of my little family too. He loved his grand daughters. He loved my wife.
When my youngest daughter, Chrissy was born, it was December of 1986. We were living about 70 miles north of my parents at the time and I really wanted my dad to see his grand daughter. His health had been on a steady decline and we knew there wasn’t much time. We brought her down to meet my dad around Christmas. She was just 3 weeks old.
I brought my camera as my dad gently held his grand daughter, Chrissy, in his arms, tears in his eyes. I snapped as many pictures as I could as tears streamed down my face. I KNEW this was the one and only chance we would have to take pictures of the 2 of them together.
As it turn out, I was right.
I spent the month of February buried at work. I was changing the format of the radio station I was programming and working very long hours. Finally, on the afternoon of February 20th, 1987, the station was launched to rave reviews. The next morning I woke early to do the first morning show on the new station and was so excited! I was walking on air.
10 minutes in to the show, the phone rang, it was my wife telling me my dad had died.
Time stopped. I didn’t know what to do. So I did nothing. I stayed on the air, sobbing heavily during songs and pulling myself together enough to put a sentence together and then more music. I really don’t remember much else.
Dad was cremated and his ashes scattered off the California coast he loved so much.
My dad loved his sons. Of that I am 100% certain. He never knew that he had 1 son – and 1 daughter. I never told him. I just didn’t know how, but I wish I did. We would have figured it out together.
Knowing my dad like I did, I’m sure he would have accepted me. It wouldn’t have been easy for him. He wouldn’t have understood it, but he loved me enough that there was nothing I could do that would cause him to turn away. He would be devastated at the breakup of my family. He was married to my mom for 49 years.
I sure do wish he were alive today (he’d be 94) I miss picking up the phone and talking to him. A friend who claims a psychic gift recently told me that she feels he loves me and is proud of me. I hope so. The biggest crime I could commit as a kid was disappointing my dad.
I love you Dad – I miss you.