Welcome!

Hello, lovely people!

For those of you who just saw The Ricki Lake Show, I want to thank you for stopping by. This blog is my little attempt to tell the story of how my mom came out of the closet after 25 years of marriage. Her declaration shook the foundation of our family.  It was shocking and difficult to handle at first, but her truth forced us to really look at our family, to remember why we loved each other.  I suppose we’d been taking that for granted, slowly drifting apart.  So in some ways, my mom coming out actually saved our family.

I’ve reposted a few of the early blog posts to give everyone a sense of what you might find on this site.  I hope you enjoy.

Oh, in case any of you are wondering, Ricki Lake is, without question, one of the most beautiful, kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I was born and raised in Kansas City, so that’s saying something.

Thank you again for stopping by!

If First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie, Lie Again

Growing up, my parents told me to never lie.  Adults say this, but the truth is, every parent lies, especially to kids.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  The house is on fire; the child’s in danger.  There isn’t time to explain why you need to run.  Then you have the magical white lies, like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and Jesus.  Sometimes you’re just tired and you don’t give a shit.  Your kids asks, “Why can’t I eat the little brown nub on a banana?”  You say, “Because it’s poison and you’ll die.”

You’re not trying to traumatize the tyke.  You’ve just been beaten down by the barrage of questions.  You want the little guy to eat, to nap, to shut up for five seconds, so you can pour yourself a bottle of wine.  Yes, a bottle.

My father is the master of mendacity, but the majority of his lies are meaningless.  They’re told to move things along.  Why mention he was playing poker with the guys when he knows it’s going to cause a fight, and they’re already running fifteen minutes late?

Sometimes you just need to expedite.

But while my father has perfected his skills of deception, my mom tells most lies with the grace of a child caught with her hand in the toilet.

“No, I was not trying to pick up my poo.  I wasuhpushedby awerewolf.”

When someone would ask my mom for a favor she didn’t want to do, she’d fumble and stammer until sometimes the person would just walk away to end the awkwardness.

I always assumed my mom just didn’t have it in her to lie, that she was too good, too kind.

That’s what made her coming out so difficult.

Yes, my father had secrets, but not my mom, not something like this.  I know she didn’t have a choice, not really.  I suppose she could’ve moved to San Francisco or New York, but she met my father and she wanted a family.  Their marriage wasn’t perfect, but it was good.  They had two kids and a nice house.  They had friends, family, and a quiet little life.  So my mom swallowed the truth and kept up the big lie until eventually it became too much to bear.

I’m starting to get a sense of that.  For years, I’ve prided myself on being extremely honest, but I’m not sure I have been.  I know I don’t lie well to others, at least not in person.  My face gets red, I can’t hold eye contact, and I keep repeating, “What?” over and over.  But even though I don’t fabricate well to others, I’m every bit the master as my father when it comes to lying to myself.  No, I didn’t have too much to drink last night.  No, I’m not pissing away my talent.  Yes, I have a plan to get myself out of debt.  Of course, I’m going to sell my novel.  Yes, I can lose this weight.  I am not going bald.  My hairline is just fine…

When my mother told the truth about her sexuality it blew our family to smithereens.  We picked up the pieces, and we’re better off because of it, but there’s still residual pain.  I fear the same might happen with this blog.  Will my need to tell the truth cause the same destruction?

Maybe it would be better if I just lied?

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Mom’s Girlfriend Looks Familiar

 After my mom came out, I used to joke, “Both of my parents get more pussy than I do.” Truth was, in the beginning, they were both struggling to even get a date.  They hadn’t been single since the 70s.  Back then all you had to do was unbutton a couple buttons, head to a drive-in theater, and score some Quaaludes.  Now, people were texting and going to chat rooms and shaving everything.

At least my dad had a large circle of friends, office parties, and a lot of bars around the city.  My mom’s options were far more limited.  Kansas City, you see, wasn’t exactly a hotbed for homosexuals.

Comparing San Francisco’s gay scene at the time to Kansas City’s was like comparing Disney World to one of those mechanical horses in front of a Kmart.

When my mom came out, the city had one gay bar, one dirty nightclub, and a small community center, which was just a room above store selling Native American jewelry.

True, it was less dangerous to be gay than it was in the 70s, but people weren’t exactly breaking out the floats for a parade.

The men and women my mom met were shy, kind, and eccentric.  My mom offered to cater one of their poetry readings.  Back in the day, my mom used to own her own catering company, and here she used those culinary skills to win the hearts of the LGBT.  Her food has that effect on most everyone, save the vegans.

Soon, my mom had a little community of her own.  She was giddy.  Her life was electric.  Most importantly, she no longer felt alone, which is all anyone really wants, isn’t it?  It’s why we get married and join softball leagues; why we have kids, go to church, play Dungeons and Dragons, and look at Facebook.

My mom threw herself into this new world.  She got back into her art.  She started sculpting again.

One day she called and said, “I’m thinking of taking some classes at the community college.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“There’s a ceramics class I want to check out.  Oh, and I really want to try welding.”

“Baby steps, Mom.”

A few months later, I flew home.  Mom couldn’t wait to show me her new apartment.  I brought over a bottle of wine and saw a dozen new sculptures scattered around the cramped living room.  Some of the pieces looked like they’d been ripped right from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (which wouldn’t come out for another decade.)

Mom said, “Let’s go out to the patio and open this bottle.”

I opened the screen door and squeezed myself around the little wooden table and took a seat on a metal chair.  Mom came out with two glasses.  We smoked cigarettes and she launched into the gay scene gossip:

Leonard had apparently fallen off the wagon…again.  Marci was cheating on Wanda with Barb, who was only using Marci to get back at Laura.  Phillip’s dog had cancer.  Diane was making a power grab for The Center’s planning committee.  “She just annoys the piss out of everyone.  Everything is so negative with her.”

Over the next twenty minutes, my mom rattled off stories and names as though I had any idea who or what she was talking about.  I just sat there and listened and polished off the bottle of wine.

“So…” my mom said.  “There’s something I need to…”

“Hold that thought.”  I got up and went in for another bottle.  She followed me in.  I poured us each a glass.  I could tell there was something weighing on her, but before she could speak, I noticed something in the corner of the room covered by a sheet.  I walked over.  My mom said it was her newest creation.  “But it’s not finished,” she added.  Slowly, I pulled off the sheet and saw a three-foot-tall woman standing on this trippy pedestal.  The woman’s head was the size of one of those globes from grade school, but her body was almost paper-thin.

 “I call her, “She,” my mom said, drawing out “She” like was whispering to nymphs in some enchanted forest.  Mom gulped her wine.  “Anthony, I…”

A knock at the door.

My mom just stood there, frozen, a little panicked.  I feared what was on the other side of the door.

“You, uh, going to answer that?” I said.

“Now, just be nice, okay, Anthony?  Please.”

“Oh-kay…?”

“Carrie’s really excited to meet you.  And I should’ve told you before you got here, but I wanted to make–”

“Who’s Carrie?”

Another knock.  Mom giggled and ran to the door.  And there was Carrie.  Almost six-foot-tall, wearing denim from neck to ankle.  She had a box of chocolates from Walgreens and a bottle of wine.  Mom and Carrie hugged.  Carrie went in for a little kiss, but my mom angled to the side and gave her a peck on the cheek.

“Anthony, this is Carrie.”

I stared into that face.  It was familiar.  Like I’d seen it a thousand times.  I couldn’t place where though.  Carrie had definitely never been a teacher of mine, and I was sure she wasn’t one of my friend’s mom’s.  But I knew this face better than my own.

“Hi there,” Carrie said and sauntered over.  Her shoulders were broad.  Her jaw strong.  She threw out her hand for a shake.  And that’s when I realized…this woman…looked like my dad.

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Varying Degrees of Gay – Part 2

There are very good psychiatrists in this country.  Men and women who simply want to help, to quiet the voices, to bring peace to the troubled mind.  At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find a pool of scumbags and scoundrels so vile they should be listed as Enemies of the State.  These are monsters who prey on the weakest, the most fragile; they twist everything, because they need someone to hang on their every word.  They have no friends, and in all likelihood, they were peed on in high school.

In between, you’ll find ones who just want to be called, “Doctor,” the people who only do it for the money and prestige.  You also have folk who want to help the injured, but they’re too squeamish for surgery. Then you have physicians who used to be good, but the stacks of the failed cases and bottles of booze simply scraped out their ability to care.

The psychiatrist my father took me to would best be described as “clueless” and “confused.”  He was well-meaning and he had a good heart, but that only made him more dangerous, especially to my father.

This doctor’s office was near my old high school, and as we passed by the football field and campus, I remembered all the father/son fights we’d had during those turbulent years.  We should have been in therapy then.  We couldn’t communicate.  We just screamed.

My father and I entered the nondescript medical building and walked up to the second floor.  Dr. Len greeted us and shook our hands.  He had a beard, thick glasses, and a soothing voice.  He was wearing a turtleneck and pants that were way too tight.

I tried not to make any judgments.  The man was helping my father to deal with the pending divorce and to move on with his life.  I needed to respect that.

My father and I sat on a small couch, while Dr. Len smiled and blinked.  My father and I were practically touching the couch was so small.

“Thank you for coming,” Dr. Len said.  He was only staring at me.  “Your father wants to see how you’re doing?”

“I’m…fine.”

Fine, okay…okay… What do you mean by that?”

I suddenly realized this wasn’t about my dad’s progress.  This was about me.  I felt cornered.

Dr. Len sat there, smiling, blinking.  “It must have been difficult hearing your mother tell you she’s gay?”

Over the past few months, I’d been asked this question a lot, by friends, by acquaintances.  My answer came out by rote: “It was unexpected, sure.  But she’s my mom, and I love her, so I support her.”

“Of course, of course.  But how are you dealing with it?”

“Dealing with…?  I don’t know.  I’m just…dealing.  I mean, I’ve definitely asked myself if I’m gay.”

I gave a little laugh. I could feel my father’s heartbeat quicken.

I continued, “I’m just saying I’d want to know, like now, you know?  I don’t want to figure out I’m gay when I’m forty-five like my mom.”

I felt my father shifting in the seat.  I chose to stop talking.  I was actually enjoying his discomfort.  He’d ambushed me, after all.

“And…what conclusion did you come to?” Dr. Len asked.

Conclusion?”

My father was going to have a heart attack.  I thought about singing my answer.  Instead, I said, “I’m not gay.  I’ve thought about it though.  I really have, but I’m just not.”

“That’s good,” Dr. Len said.  “I mean, not that you’re not gay -  I mean, it’s good you’ve asked yourself that question.  Perfectly normal.”

“I know.”

“Well, I don’t know if you know this, but ninety percent of the population is bisexual.”

My father sat back and nodded.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“The vast majority of people are bisexual.”

“I’ve…never heard that…”

“Oh yes, all the new data proves it.”  Dr. Len brought out an image of a bell curve on this little cardboard square.  “See these ends here?  They represent the extremes.  Only five percent of the population is completely gay.  And over here, only five percent is absolutely straight.”

I looked over at my father, who was nodding along, clearly having seen this chart before.

“And the rest of the population,” Dr. Len said, “are varying degrees of gay.  See, some are more straight, while others are more gay.  And some are right in the middle.”

“I’m not sure…I mean, what?”

“Well, take me for example.”

Okay, here we go.

“I’m happily married,” Dr. Len said.  “Have been for thirty-one years.  And I love my wife.  Truly love her.  We have three kids and a very satisfying sex life.”

I noticed food stains on his turtleneck.

“And while I absolutely love my wife and find her very attractive, I also like watching track athletes.”

“…”

“Their hard muscles churning at peak physical condition…”

Dr. Len kept talking, but I stopped listening, because that’s when I noticed, over his shoulder, hanging on the wall, was a framed picture of Carl Lewis.  The Olympic champion glistening with sweat.

I don’t remember the rest of the session, but I remember the car ride home.

“Why are you seeing this guy?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he’s a weirdo.”

“No, he’s got some good points.”

I realized my father wasn’t trying to move on at all, and it was because of Dr. Len.  If ninety percent of the population was bisexual, then sexuality was fluid.  It gave my father this bullshit hope that my mom wasn’t really gay, that in all probability, it was just a phase.

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Varying Degrees of Gay – Part 1

Part 1

When people hear about my mom coming out of the closet, they always ask about my dad.  They want to know how he took the news.  The answer is, not well.

Growing up, I only saw my dad cry once.  We’d gone to visit his father’s gravesite and it freaked me out.  I suppose if he hadn’t cried I would have thought he was a sociopath, because that was the only time.

I, on the other hand, cried ritually.  I cried when I struck out in little league; when my mom’s steak was too chewy; I cried when my dad made me use public restrooms; when I stared at The Black Hole in my room; when I lost my homework; when the doctor drained the cyst on my knee; I cried when Darth Vader killed Obi Wan Kenobi; I cried because I heard monsters; I even cried at cauliflower, because my cousin called it an “Albino vegetable.”  He told me it had no soul. 

I was always traumatized.

As Vonnegut would say, I had bad wiring.  I still do.  My aunt had bad wiring, as well.  She put a shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.  My parents told me she was cleaning the gun and it accidentally went off.  Even in third grade I knew how filthy the mouth was and that it was a terrible way to clean anything, let alone a gun.

The first time I thought of killing myself was a month after my aunt checked out.  Third graders shouldn’t have thoughts like that.  They should be drinking Capri Sun.  They should be playing with their Star Wars action figures.  They shouldn’t open their bedroom window and sit on the ledge, two-stories up, staring down onto the driveway.  They shouldn’t think to lean forward so they’ll hit face-first and not just break their legs.

I never told my parents about wanting to die.  My emotional problems caused them enough stress.  My father didn’t know what to do with me.  He tried holding me.  He tried yelling.  What he should have done was take me to a shrink.  But we didn’t know anyone in therapy in Kansas City.  Only crackpots went to head doctors.

My father kept his feelings in check.  His dad had died when he was seventeen, which meant my father had to grow up quick.  Grandpa Walter was fixing a flat tire two blocks from their house.  My father was watching TV, while his dad died of a heart attack. 

The earth was pulled out from under my father’s feet. 

It’s why he was always telling me to prepare for the worst.  When he taught me to drive, he said said, “Just assume everyone is going to run into you.”

And that’s exactly what happened.  After twenty-five years of marriage, his wife came out and wanted a divorce.  He wasn’t a bad husband or bad father.  They had a good marriage, and he didn’t turn her gay.  He was just the guy who got hit by a bus.

When my mom moved out, my father started calling me just wanting to talk.  I was living in L.A.  Sometimes it’d be four in the morning.  He’d never called before without a list of things I needed to do.  One morning I could tell he’d been crying.  I pictured him alone in the house weeping.  He told me if it weren’t for our dog, Ace, he wouldn’t get up in the morning. 

I should mention Ace was female, which just furthers the evidence of my family’s sexual confusion.

But the dog saved him.  My father took her for walks and I imagine he shared his feelings with his canine buddy.  Ace became his confidant, his therapist, and in return, my father helped her hunt the squirrels living in our backyard.  Unfortunately, Ace had developed arthritis.  She could hardly walk, let alone chase these furry bastards.

My father called me one day, said he was thinking about borrowing the neighbor’s BB gun to kill the damn things. 

My father lived in a nice suburb, where people had children and barbeques and waved while mowing the lawn.  I pictured him stalking around the cul-de-sac in his tighty-whities.  Arthritic dog in one hand, a gun in the other.

“Dad, are you, uh, okay?”

“Yes, Anthony, I’m fine.”

But he wasn’t.  He needed to talk to a professional, someone who didn’t piddle when the doorbell rang.  I asked him to make an appointment.  I told him I’d call for him.  He said not to worry, that he’d handle it.

Months went by and I started to worry.  He didn’t call as often.  I had a hard time getting a hold of him.    

Finally, I flew home.  My father picked me up at the airport.  He looked healthy, he sounded calm. 

“You seem…good?” I said.

“Yeah, I am.  My doctor’s given me medication.  Just temporary.”

“That’s great… When you say, ‘doctor,’ you don’t mean Ace, do you?”

No, smartass.  I…took your advice.  This guy’s been very…helpful,” my father said.  

“Well, I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah… Look, since you’re in town, I’d like you to come along to one of my…sessions.”

I said yes.  I couldn’t wait to meet the man responsible for helping my dad. 

I had no idea I was about to meet the biggest whackadoo in Kansas City.

To Be Continued…