Family / Family-building

This Father’s Day

For many years I was equal parts resentful and grateful on Father’s Day. Grateful for the usual reasons: my dad taught me a love of learning and reading, how to travel, and how to accept myself, though I was different. My dad provided for me, but also helped cultivate my soul and spirit, and taught me to embrace my sensitivity and love for nature instead of hiding or rejecting it.

My dad was into Buddhism, yoga and philosophy in the 60s and 70s (reconciling all of these with our Catholicism) and bits and pieces of what he read and digested were incorporated into the lessons he taught us, the conversations we had, and his outlook on the world.

In many ways, my dad was – and still is – a Renaissance man. But in some very glaring ways, he’s not.

And that’s where my resentment comes in.

A dozen years ago, I struggled to reconcile a love of my dad with a hatred of his politics and the pain of his rejection on some level. Did he love me? I have no doubt. Did he accept me as a gay man? I also have no doubt. But did that acceptance include acceptance that our society as a whole discriminated against gays and made my life risky and limited my rights? No.

During the Dubbya years I stewed over his politics, withdrawing some of my love for him. I didn’t share as much, and I allowed a slight distance to settle in between us. “You want to disagree with me?” I was thinking. “Then I’ll withdraw some of my love.”

Thankfully, I was never stupid enough to completely withdraw. I know people who’ve moved across country or overseas to avoid their parents or to send a message to them. I wasn’t one of those, but I was less giving of myself with my dad.

Once, we argued over Bush’s treatment of gays, and I said mean things that, thankfully, I can scarcely remember. Shortly afterward, we had a long conversation that ended in reconciliation. The two of us in tears, we agreed to never talk politics gain.

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My parents in Provence in 2010. Photo by Alan J Shannon.

And we’ve stuck by that agreement.These days, I don’t have much time for hate or rejection. My dad’s 81 and has Parkinson’s. He’s had prostate surgery and two open-heart surgeries. When we take family trips to Europe, he chooses to stay home because they’re too tiring.

Thankfully, Shannons are long-lived. But there’s no mistaking where we’re headed. I can hear the clock ticking away the minutes of our time together as if Big Ben is at my ear.

I’ll disagree with discrimination against gays – and any marginalized group – and I’ll fight for equal rights. But I will not hate my dad and I won’t reject him because of his views.

I realize that it’s complicated. I could say that I love my dad despite his views on gays.

Maybe it comes down to the idea that some battles are not worth fighting. Or perhaps it’s that the time for fighting them has passed.

Whatever the reason, this Father’s Day I’m only grateful, my resentments and anger having melted as completely as the snows from this winter’s polar vortex. A dozen years ago I might have thought this was a gift to my father; these days I realize it’s a gift to myself.

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2 Comments

  1. Lisa Lohenry Gilligan says:

    This is beautiful, Al. Thanks so much for sharing your reflection!

  2. Lynn Shannon says:

    Al,
    glad you got where you are with this, life is short, Carpe Diem. It does take time to work through our disappointments, and as Dad told me many years ago after his midlife crisis, “I’m a work in progress”. I say this often to others, and so I believe we can keep trying to love, nurture, and appreciate each other regardless of our different views. Love you my bro

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