Saturday, April 7, 2007

My Daddy

So, in honor of his birthday, and perhaps in attempt to help hold myself together today, I'm going to post about Dad. He was an interesting character, to say the least. Far from perfect, his one flaw was his arrogance and self-centeredness (is that even a word?). But when he became terminally ill, for the first time in his life, he started thinking about other people besides himself. He learned humanity and compassion, there at the very end. And I think that makes it that much harder to not have him around anymore.

Robert Scott Coleman was born April 7, 1947 (that's 4/7/47 - this is important, pay attention) in rural Virginia. He was a very beautiful child, as he later became a very beautiful adult, and was also exceptionally bright, oh, and gay. Not a great environment for a beautiful gay boy to grow up in, I'm sure. His father died when he was very young, and everyone says that's why his mother was so crazy and abusive. I don't know, but I didn't know her back then either. I remember looking at old photos when I was quite small and asking him who the pretty little girl was. Dad and Gramma just laughed that loud horsey laugh they shared, and told me it was my Daddy. So, naturally, I thought my father must have been a little girl when he was young. He always got a huge kick out of it when I asked him questions that began with "when you were a little girl..."

I have no doubt that my parents really loved each other, as far as either of them was able. But they were very young, and it takes more than love to keep a marriage together. I remember sitting by my bedroom window every day there at the married student housing at Yale, looking up the hill into the parking lot, hoping Mom wouldn't decide not to come home. And every evening, I would see her headlights and know she hadn't been pushed past her limit just yet. What pushed her past that limit was coming home early and catching him in bed with his male lover, with us kids in the next room. To this day, she denies every bad thing that I remember ever happened in my childhood, and there was lots of bad. There was good too, and I remember each and every bit of good very clearly, but Daddy had a drinking problem and like I said, never thought of anyone but himself, and never knew anything about parenting except his mother's abusive style of violent punishment and hair-trigger temper.

So Mom packed the car and took us back to Virginia that night. It must have been very hard on her, being a single parent in the 1970's, but it couldn't have been as hard on her as it was on us kids when the parents of the other kids in school found out our father was gay and wouldn't let us play with their children (I still refer to that particular small town in Virginia, near Fredericksburg, as "bigot-town" - and they call themselves a village!). At that point, I still knew nothing about homosexuality, and "gay" was just a word, the worst thing you could call someone else, but I had no idea what it meant. To my point of view, the abuse suffered at the hands of other children was far worse than anything my parents ever did to me.

Dad continued his graduate studies at Yale Divinity School until he ran out of classes to take and they made him graduate... with a 4.0 average, no less! After we left, he and Doug had moved into a cozy little apartment over a small grocery store on Cumberland Avenue in New Haven. Dad worked as a ground's keeper for this creepy billionaire old dude who seemed to really enjoy watching him work without a shirt on, while studying about religion. He had been a Methodist minister back in Virginia, before moving to Connecticut to attend Yale. At one point, later in his life, when I was in college and contemplating studying philosophy or religion (I did eventually go back to school and earn a degree in philosophy after his death), he told me that the more he learned about Christianity, the less he agreed with it.

Upon graduating with the first of what would become three different master's degrees, he moved with Doug to Brooklyn to work at the Botanic Garden. While there, he took classes at the Bronx Botanic Garden (I think) and earned a degree in horticultural therapy, and had the job of keeping up the therapy garden for disabled visitors to the BBG as well as the children's garden. I think he also worked in the library there at some point, but my memory isn't so clear, maybe Doug worked in the library. My favorite part was that the therapy garden was designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with raised plantings, but also was made for blind people with plants that you could experience with your other senses such as smell, touch, and even hearing.

and that takes us up to about 1980, or maybe more like 1983 or 4...

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