A few years back, I took my mom’s place on a seven-day Alaskan cruise for two that my father booked through his company. It was just Dad and I, and we spent the entire week on Holland America’s Zuiderdam enjoying what we considered to be luxuries compared to the hellscape of the Carnival Holiday — a budget cruise ship that carried our entire family to Cozumel and back nearly a decade before. The Holiday was our only basis for comparison, so we found the Zuiderdam to be a lot nicer in just about every way — most notably the grade of passenger. While the Holiday was a showcase for obesity and the varying results of what happens when people from Alabama fuck each other, the Zuiderdam was basically a slow-moving retirement home where geriatrics in scratchy sweaters shuffled from one buffet line to another and never used their outside voices.
During our fourth sunset at sea, Dad and I had drinks in a bar with panoramic views of the glacial landscape named "The Crow’s Nest." Dressed in dark suits without ties, we sat in plush maroon lounge chairs, sipping our drinks and gawking at the sky; a majestic explosion of purples and oranges. I was making a mental note to write about the sky later and use the word “majestic” to do so when a cocktail waitress swept by and asked if we needed anything. We looked at each another and shook our matching tumblers of Grey Goose on the rocks; our shared drink-of-choice. “Nah, we're good,” said Dad. “Hold on,” I said, cocking my head in his direction. “By the time she comes back with a new one, I’ll be ready for it.” He rolled his eyes. “So order another, smelly. It’s not like you have to drive anywhere later.” I looked back to the waitress. “If you would, please bring me another one of these,” I said. “Fuck it. I'll take one as well,” said Dad. “Oh, for Christ’s sake!” I groaned. The waitress tossed her head back and service-industry-laughed before touching my shoulder and heading back towards the bar. We gulped from our glasses in unison, and without looking at me, my dad said, “Man. I think she thinks we’re a couple.” I readjusted my jacket and crossed my right ankle over my left. “She doesn’t think that,” I said. “I might be a lot younger than you, but I’m clearly out of your league.” And without missing a beat, my father said, “Please. I could do way better than you.” A few seconds of silence passed between us, and then I said, “Whatever, man. I wouldn’t even let you buy my drinks.” Dad raised one eyebrow and leaned across the arm of his chair, clinking his tumbler against mine. Then he said, “But you already are.”
The thing that’s always fascinated me about my parents is how much they shouldn’t be like they are. My dad is a hyper-masculine lifelong athlete and food and beverage salesman who prides himself on his dual abilities to intimidate and charm. By contrast, my mom has spent her entire life working for small cardiology practices on the Westbank and avoiding any trip across the river at all costs. By all accounts, they shouldn't be as open-minded about the gay thing as they turned out to be.
Throughout my childhood, my father coached me in baseball, soccer, and basketball. But when he noticed I wasn’t taking to sports like the other boys, he brought me to the library on weekends and purchased tickets to every Broadway touring production that passed through New Orleans. And when I was in fourth grade — at the height of my Spice Girls obsession — he checked me out of school early so that I’d be the first kid in my class to see Spice World at the movie theatre. Mom wasn’t as proactive about fostering my “unique” interests as Dad was. She thought buying me the Young Magician’s 50-Trick Magic Set for Christmas was weird, but she got it for me in a heartbeat when she noticed the next item on my list: a My Size Barbie. Then one day, when I was a sophomore in high school, my mom came home from work and asked for my username and password to the home computer. I refused, a Mexican stand-off ensued, and I ran upstairs to my room to wait for my dad to come home. I never gave my parents the password, but I did admit to watching gay porn, which in my option was a lot less mortifying than having them look through the search history for themselves.
I didn’t officially “come out” to my parents until my 19th birthday, when I told them I was "bisexual." As expected, they got annoyed and said, "We've known you your whole life and you're definitely not bisexual. You're clearly a gay person.” Since then, they’ve met six boyfriends and never questioned anything on my Christmas list. Last year, I asked for a knit infinity scarf from 21Men.com, and on Christmas morning, there it was on top of my pile of presents. I yanked the scarf around my neck and from across the room I heard my dad scream, “OH, THANK JESUS IT’S A SCARF! We thought that was some sort of girl’s tube top sweater! It still looks ridiculous, but Christ Almighty!”
Even though they’re wonderfully accepting, that shallow trench of intolerance is where I like to mess with them. I get an immeasurable amount of pleasure from making them uncomfortable with my sexuality. Every so often, I’ll show up at my parent’s house, unannounced and wearing something overtly homosexual. One time, I snuck up on my mom in the kitchen wearing a deep V-neck under a thigh-length button-down, with cut-off shorts and cowboy boots, and she wouldn’t even look at me. Now, I like to threaten her with potentially fruity outfits just to watch her squirm. The day before Thanksgiving this year, I repeatedly told her I had something "really special" planned for dinner and the only clue I gave her was "Two words: sexy pilgrim." For the remaining 24 hours, I watched her bite her nails off and wordlessly shake her head at me like she was waiting for the impending murder in a horror movie.
I give her a hard time, but my mom is an endless source of support and guidance when it comes to my dating…I don’t know what you’d call them. Ventures? She doesn’t get invested in a person until I tell her it’s safe, and otherwise, she just tactfully dispenses advice and asks non-prying questions. I can tell she worries about me, though. She worries that I’m not taking my relationships seriously and that I’m burning bridges along the way. She worries that I don’t want a family and that I’m going to spend the rest of my life bouncing from one guy to another. She worries about whether I’m being safe and if I’m getting enough sleep. She worries if people are laughing at me and if my boots are heavy. She worries, but she doesn’t have to because I’m doing my best to make her proud.
My blog notwithstanding.
I won the parent lottery, really. And not just because they're generally great parents, but because they’re great parents for me. I have a father who encourages my behavior and a mother who frets over it. A dad who cheers and mom who shushes. He gives me rope and my mom worries it’s long enough for me to hang myself. And when I write my first book, I plan on dedicating it to the both of them. Not just because it seems like the poignant thing for a person who writes a book to do, but because dedicating a book to my parents would piss them off immensely.