Never underestimate a man whose son is leaving the country.
And for that matter, never underestimate a boy who misses his father.
When I went to get my dad at the airport I was sweating. It’s kind of something I do. Luckily I was able to blame it on the mid-80s weather and distracted him by showing him the tickets I’d bought to go check out the Empire State Building. “I know it’s touristy, Dad, but you’ve gotta go. It’s part of the New York experience,” I explained, it’s not like he was going to protest after I’d already bought the damn tickets. I just wanted something for us to do together, since that’s how our relationship is: we have to have things to do. But that’s okay.
It was a Saturday and therefore a long, crowded wait. Plenty of time for talking, but nothing could get too bad because we were in public. I may or may not have planned this. But conversation went pretty smooth for the most part, only a few awkward pauses in which we both pretended to quietly people-watch.
Dad brought up Kurt first. I let him. We had been casually talking about the problems behind the subway delays a few days back and had lapsed into a silence in which we avoided looking at each other when he suddenly asked, “So how’s the, uh, deal going?” And I looked at him, brows knit before he elaborated, “Kurt’s deal. With the, uh…H&M?”
So we talked about Kurt’s work. I explained what headway had been made since we last talked on Father’s Day and mentioned some things he might not have known, like how Mika (“That’s a singer, Dad”) wears Kurt’s clothes. And it was just nice because talking about Kurt is not always safe territory, but talking about good old-fashioned business is a guaranteed hit with my dad, so it was this mix of the familiar and unfamiliar that felt like…I don’t know, like we were paving roads or something, or maybe repaving them, expanding them and widening the lanes to get us places we’d been before, but better, faster, smoother.
“You’re really, really proud of him, aren’t you?”
I laughed sheepishly and looked to my feet. “Yeah, I am. What he’s done these past few years is just amazing.”
“It really is. He’s so young, and to do what he’s done…. You should be proud.”
“Are you?” I asked suddenly. And probably too earnestly. It was a bold question, one that I might not have asked if dozens of people weren’t chattering around us as we edged forward in line.
I could see him working through the implications of what I’d asked. Was he proud of Kurt? Proud of his son’s fiancé? Was he able to accept that, no matter what his feelings on homosexuality might be, he was going to have a son-in-law — a gay son-in-law who would be married to his gay son — who was an honest-to-goodness hard worker and all around respectable person?
He cleared his throat. “I never really…” A pause. “Yeah. He’s done well.”
When we were on the observation deck there was little to talk about except what we were seeing. That was okay. He took pictures while I pointed out certain buildings and landmarks, showing him places I’d been and places I’d always wanted to go. It wasn’t until we went up to floor 102 where it was less crowded that I told him about Les Mis.
He didn’t even know I’d flown to London to audition. But how could he? It wasn’t like I had told him.
He was happy for me. And it was that sparkle in his eyes, the way he looked at me like he couldn’t have been more proud, that had a knot growing in my chest. I pressed my fingers against the glass as we looked down at New York spread out beneath us and tried to commit those eyes to memory. Those were the eyes I imagined he might have made when he found out I was on Broadway. I told him about that on the phone. And those were the same eyes he must have had on Spring Awakening’s opening night when he snuck in and out of the theater without a word to me except a cowardly voicemail the next day, surrounded by strangers who had no idea that his son — Philip Anderson’s only son — had starred in the Broadway show they’d just watched.
I’ve never doubted that he loves me. Not even on the day he stuttered to me, flustered, “I-I just don’t un-understand why you would choose this lifestyle. W-why are you doing this?”
Because he’s always known that there’s more to me than being gay, just like I’ve always known that there’s more to him than homophobic ignorance. And it pains me to even use that word — homophobic — to describe him, and not because he’s my father and I’ll deny his flaws but because he’s my father and he never meant to hurt me, and to say he’s homophobic is so two-dimensional, like something someone who doesn’t know him would say. We’re not distant because I’m gay, or at least not only because I’m gay, so it’s not that simple. But I don’t know another, easier word for “not entirely okay with homosexuality but at least accepting enough to acknowledge the fact that his son is gay and trying to be more comfortable with this life that he still thinks his son chose but maybe not trying as hard as he could.” But he loves me, he really does, and —
God, sometimes I don’t understand why I defend him so much, which is exactly what I was thinking as we ate dinner later. I was stewing and I was angry. I was angry because I spent so much time explaining his thoughts and actions to myself and to others, and I bet he never spent that much time trying to understand me. And I thought about how glad I’d been that we were able to talk about Kurt’s work without awkwardness and how, in retrospect, that just wasn’t fair. How talking about Kurt should always be safe conversational territory with my dad because I love Kurt and I’m marrying him and that’s important.
And I was just working up the courage to say something when suddenly he put down his wine glass, looked directly at me, and said in the most fragile voice, “I can’t believe you’re moving to London.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Until he kept going and I realized that I was supposed to listen.
“Knowing that you were going to New York seemed like distance enough,” he continued, now looking at his plate. “Which is funny, I know, coming from a man who could make you feel like you were miles away even when we were sitting in the same room. And I know that we can’t…um, there’s a lot of fixing to do between you and I, but it just seems like every step I make towards you, you’re making a million steps in the opposite direction. First out-of-state, now out-of-country, and I’m just having a hard time following. And I’m trying, you’ve got to know I am. But you’re so grown up, and…and how did my son become a man? Not with my help, that’s for certain. So how do you fix things, father and son, when you’re both men? How d’you…when you’re both grown up and so sure of who you are, how do you bend and change and…I don’t know. You’re moving to London and — and oh, Blaine. You’re still just a boy. And you’re my boy.”
I couldn’t move. Could barely even blink. And I wish my eyes hadn’t welled up, but they did, and my mind was swimming with the question he had presented me with: What do you need from me? And the answer was simple.
“Be in my wedding, Dad.”
He was silent.
I pleaded, “I know it’s out of your comfort zone. I know. But please. Don’t let me stand in that theater and get married without my father present. If you… Please, I love you, please.” And I hadn’t meant to say it, which is the worst part — that I hadn’t meant to say that I loved him. But there it was, tumbling right out of my mouth and onto the table between us. And I felt so weak and stupid and hopeful, stuck somewhere between suffocating and drowning before he finally just nodded and I could breathe.
“Yeah…I said I’d try, and…yeah. I’ll be in your wedding.”
I was wiping at my eyes because I didn’t want anyone to see, him least of all. I croaked, “Because you want to.”
And he was wiping at his eyes too and I didn’t know what to do, but then he said, “No, son. Because you want me to and I love you and that should be enough. That should always be enough.”
“Okay,” I replied, which was about the lamest thing I could have said, but it was what came out. And then I excused myself to go to the bathroom where I washed up. When I returned to the table we both laughed and I took a hearty sip of wine, noting that his glass had gone from half-full to completely empty in the time I’d been gone. And we didn’t say much about the wedding after that, but that was fine, it was perfectly fine because I was just glad we’d said anything at all, and for once it didn’t feel like settling.
After dinner was my show and I just saw him to his hotel afterwards. But he said it was so much better the second time and I have a feeling that it had nothing to do with the show at all.
It’s not perfect. Nothing between two imperfect people ever could be.
But it’s so much more than I ever could have asked for.