I have a friend, who didn’t want children because he feared he would be the type of father to them that his dad was to him. That “like father, like son” reasoning was exactly why I did want to become a parent. My dad raised his kids with humor, love, respect and patience — all attributes I try to emulate.
My father passed away just before sunrise on July 4th.
As I’ve reflected the last few weeks about him and our relationship, I’ve had to admit that I wasn’t always the ideal son. For a hardworking son of immigrants growing up in the poverty of the Great Depression, having a gay son wasn’t his first choice. Nor was it his second for that matter.
But my dad’s love for me was much stronger than his preconceived prejudices. While some of his peers grew more entrenched in their conservative beliefs about gay people, Dad evolved to become far more liberal. Was he ever going to march in Pride? No. But tell him that gay marriage was wrong or that Christ preached against homosexuality, and you were likely to be taken to school.
My dad was not, however, a big supporter of me becoming a father myself. At least not at first. He was worried, I would discover, about how a kid with two dads would be treated.
Then Gus, whom we named for my dad, came along. Before the adoption my dad never talked about the baby. He seldom asked how Gus was doing or where we were in the adoption process. Granted, presents came, and when we visited, Big Gus doted on Little Gus the entire time. But that was the exception to the rule.
I finally confided in my mom. What she told me still makes me smile a dozen years later: my dad was crazy excited about Little Gus, but he wouldn’t say anything for fear of casting the evil eye on the whole adoption. I had forgotten that for all the progress my dad had made, deep down he was still a superstitious old Greek guy.
My parents, sister and one of my brothers came to California to be with us at the adoption hearing. When we arrived in the courtroom, Kelly, the baby and I took our seats in front of the bench, as our family and friends sat behind us in the gallery. That is, all of them but Dad. He positioned himself at my side, symbolically saying he was behind me completely, daring the judge to deny the adoption.
We have a photo of the two of them on that day. In it Gus is holding my dad’s hand as they walked away from the rest of us. That photo perfectly sums up their special relationship, their deep bond.
The same was true of Niko. My father acted as if that kid was the Dauphine of France. Dad saw so much of himself in Niko, and it’s true that they shared a particular twinkle in the eye, which usually meant that mischief was at hand.
My kids had a chance to visit with their papou the day before his death. They told him about their adventures at my cousin’s cabin earlier in the week. They were the last people with whom he really had a normal conversation.
The next afternoon, the boys stood next to me as our priest administered last rites. It was strangely comforting to have them with me. Just as my dad had stood by me as I gained children, my sons stood by me as I lost a father.