I was 16 years old when I realized my father is gay. I wish I could say the experience was akin to Blair Waldorf's in "Gossip Girl," equipped with pastel-colored polo shirts and a somewhat campy, yet likeable companion for my dear old man.
The reality of discovering the gay pornography explicitly displayed on my computer screen one morning, sloppily left open after his routine evening go-around with his one and only mistress, cheap vodka, was far less majestic.
Back when I was little, I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world.
I never thought twice about having the father who preferred to go ice-skating over a game of catch in the backyard with my big brother. I never thought twice about simultaneously helping him bake kitchen sink cookies while watching Sunday night football with Mom.
As a matter of fact, I never even thought twice about assisting with extravagant holiday decorations or handcrafting of my Halloween costumes, or my brother’s resent-fueled rants, attacking my father's obscure masculinity… until that seemingly innocuous day, when everything clicked.
Now, allow me to briefly clarify, as it is not my wish for the title of this piece to be misinterpreted: My father’s sexuality did not cause our relationship to self-destruct.
In all actuality, his perpetual alcoholism and overall insufficient financial and emotional support had eroded the foundation of our family long before I was ever forced to acknowledge the sobering truth as to who my dad was, and believe me, I was the last person to arrive to the party.
Instead, it was his inaction since this shocking discovery that led to the disintegration of our bond and my faith in men.
Fast forward seven years later, I'm at the ripe age of 23, and my father, despite slinking out of my life and shacking up with a man somewhere in New Jersey, has yet to come out to me, or to the best of my knowledge, anyone else in his family.
As a firm believer in both equal rights and Cher, I can honestly say it was never his sexual orientation that caused me heartache. Conversely, it was the devastating notion that nearly every aspect of my sheltered existence up until that point was built on an innumerable, cleverly concealed web of lies.
Growing up a massively entitled Daddy’s Girl, this was a gargantuan blow to my ego.
The deeply saddening realization was that he routinely drank to excess not only because he hated himself, but even more so because of the life he handcrafted as a deceptive, yet well-versed cover story. The only life I had ever known.
As I continue to embark on the self-indulgent trials (and errors) more appropriately referred to as one’s early 20s, I aim to pave a future that’s as authentic as it is personally gratifying.
Yet, plagued by the struggle in which I’m certain many of us find ourselves wrapped, I cannot help but worry that deep down, part of me will never truly accept myself, just as my father failed to do so over the course of his own closeted vitality.
Sometimes, I feel as though I’ve already wasted so much precious time battling a self-diagnosed autoimmune condition that targets healthy self-esteem. Instead of focusing my efforts inward, I turn to those outside of myself for answers to why I can never seem to feel fully present, comfortable in my own skin or open to intimacy, especially with men.
I fear that in my father’s silence, coupled with these broken-record patterns of attempting to fill the void he left behind, I could very well carry his crippling shame with me step by step for the rest of my life.
While it’s true that the sense of betrayal I presently harbor shows no sign of dissipating, I do sincerely hope that the man who raised me has found the strength within himself to embrace the individual he was destined to be.
And, to all those out there who have similarly felt the pressures to embrace their genuine identities, the people who love you will continue loving you, regardless of what you say or whom you love.
Ultimately, when the darkness creeps in and counting sheep falls short, nothing can quite compare to the accompanying peace of mind that comes hand-in-hand with recognizing and accepting the self, buried deep within.