I grew up utterly confused by the dad tropes in pop culture. While I saw a parade of dads on TV calling their daughters “princesses” and fretting about the fact that boys were hovering around them, I could never relate to it.
Fathers don’t want their daughters to have dates? To have boyfriends? To have sex? Why on earth not? Mine always did.
Fathers think boys should toughen up, but girls should be coddled? Mine didn’t.
Fathers are uncomfortable with strong emotions and complicated relationships? Really? Mine isn’t.
I didn’t want to be “daddy’s little girl”—not as a kid, and especially not as an adult. And thank goodness, I wasn’t. My dad is not the stereotypical dad of TV shows, movies, and books, and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Then and Now
My dad, unlike most of my friends’ dads, is gay, which means that he had to keep a major part of his life secret when I was little, and it was a big reveal when I was finally told about it. All that was a very long time ago, and whatever issues I had, most of them around the secrecy of NOT being told something so important, are long gone.
And now, it’s Father’s Day AND Pride Month, which makes me think not just about how much I love my dad as my father, but also about the journey he had to go through. He was a gay teen when there were no other gay teens to talk to, no internet, no Love, Simon, no gay rights marches. He was beaten up as an adult by homophobic thugs in Key West when I was a teenager. He and his husband had to wait for state laws to change to get married, and in the past, had to disguise the fact that they were traveling together as a couple, sleeping in only one bed in hotel rooms, and so much more.
Before all that, he gave the straight life a good go, as I sometimes say—he and my mom had four kids together. All these years later, he’s been with his husband for over four decades and they’re still deeply in love, which should fill us all with hope for long-term relationships. Thanks to them, we have another brother and sister we love dearly. He’s a proud gay man and a family man, thrilled to have his six children, seven grandchildren, and no doubt looking forward to the day when he has great-grandchildren, too.
Last year, a friend of mine — a very talented photographer named Andrew French— was hired for a “Picture Love” ad campaign for camera lenses, and he asked if Dad and Michael would sit for him. They are shy about such things generally, but decided to do it. So during Pride Week of 2019, I got to walk around and see an absolutely gorgeous photo of them on the buildings and walls of Manhattan. Whenever I found one, I remembered the stories Dad has told me about hiding who he was, having to worry about violence or discrimination, and thought about all the stories he hasn’t told me, too. I was filled with joy and sorrow at the same time.
But what I think of the most when I think about my father is how close we are. He has had to face and cross emotional boundaries that most straight people don’t ever have to, and he did it in an era when his story was neither reflected in pop culture nor even considered appropriate to discuss in public. He has always been someone I could go to with my tears, with my teenage girl emotions, with my grown-up girl emotions, with my insecurities and doubts… with my weaknesses. He has always understood them, even when he couldn’t do anything about them.
He doesn’t tell dad jokes, or dress badly, or need to be told who trendy famous people are. He’s more up on pop music than I am, and while he’s not a TV-watching guy (to my dismay, as I write about TV and sometimes produce it), he’s up on every book, all the movies and plays, political issues, and cultural discussions. Just like his 100-year-old mother, he lives in the present, not the past. And I don’t blame him. Despite the myriad of problems we still need to solve, he is legally married to the man he loves, they have two (now grown-up) children together, and we are a huge and loving family, grateful to be in 2020 when it doesn’t have to be hidden away. And I, as his daughter, am grateful for HIM, on this Father’s Day, as I am every day. Happy Pride Month, Pops!
A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.