You have to love social media. An inked twink put up on facebook last weekend ‘Happy Father’s Day to all the leather daddies.’ It was Father’s Day in the USA, Canada and the UK, (other countries celebrate at different times of year) and aside from the commercial opportunity, it’s time to celebrate the value and wisdom of our gay mentors. The fathers who, held us together when our relationship went pear-shaped, when our own birth fathers didn’t know we were gay, or when they had booted us out, or knew we were gay but the silence going back home was deafening. No-one mentioned it. Those daddies that started as a street, club or sauna pick up, then became our home tutors in the art of relationship kick-back. I remember very clearly those middle aged men who assisted me in wiping tears when the current boyfriend walked out, never rang back or cheated. Who else could I run to in emotional crisis as a twink barely out of teenage years?
Memories from my gay youth still affect me today. As well as the two week relationships that went sour, the germs of codependency, abuse of drink, drugs and credit cards, I also recall the kindness of Brian Eyles who showed me, in a very grand restaurant, without embarrassing me, how to fillet a Dover Sole in three strokes. This older gent also paid the bill, never suggested sex, and taught me to make the most tongue quenching champagne cocktails, that I can no longer quench, but praise must be given. The Eighties, sadly, brought about his demise with AIDS, like many that held me to their hearts. I also thank Pav, from Poland ( known as Peggy, as he had a thing for spring clothes pegs on his nips) who stood by me at the latter stages of alcoholism, when I ran out of money and despair, feeding and watering me until I got well. Ted Gatty, in his fifties, who in Kent, England, WAS the gay scene in the 70s, holding underground parties in his house basement, for queers to meet, dance and shack up a relationship. It was here that I met Pat, from Norfolk, camp as a coot who travelled hundreds of miles to get to Mum Gatty’s parties and always arrived in the same way. People would say “Is Pat here yet?” Soon after Pat would arrive with the world’s worst hair-peice crown topper weave EVER. It looked like a yachting cap on his head. He then did a full cartwheel into the hall, to prove it never came off. Pat was 75 and had regular sex with his bisexual postman. This was my entry into gay life. No wonder I stayed! Such fun, such a family, such a homecoming.
Ivor Powell, mid-forties, who guided me as a friend through not only the difficult years, but never laid a hand on me (with me not knowing he had a fetish for red hair), who introduced me to all manner of characters, who spellbound me with wartime tales of sucking off US GIs in tunnels, of antiquarian booksellers who taught me aspects of the classics, and titled baronets who were still ordering rent boys at the age of 70. I am blessed to have embraced these pillars of wisdom into my heart and life experience, these daddies who suffered suppression, even prison for being gay, and not being able to be out to their families.
I was lucky, my Dad accepted me being ‘a homo,’ along with my Mum, who said “it’s because David is in Art” as I worked in advertising as a commercial artist. They came to gay parties and gay bars, met my friends and Dad didn’t blink an eyelid – quite unlike the horror stories we know of and read about, tales of rejection, distaste and abandonment. The gift he gave me was one of acceptance, laughter and being ‘matter of fact’. Not that much difference really from the way I work at things today, so he is always with me. He died in 1992, in a bar in Spain, while I was in the UK. Rarely a drinker, he only drank shandy (lager and lemonade) and cherry brandy for special occasions. He asked for a cherry brandy in the bar, the barman said “we don’t have it,’ Dad promptly fell off his bar stool, had a heart attack and died immediately. What a way to go.
On reflection, even in death he was funny, my Dad. Take one moment to remember the relationship you hold with your own father, dead, unknown or alive. Do you echo his traits, weaknesses or strong points? Until you get clearer on this, interpersonal relationships with men will resonate with what is uncleared on the resentment front. Perhaps sadness that he was emotionally unavailable to deal with sexuality, bondship and presence. Think of those gay daddies also, that held you in their arms in silence, teaching you the things they never knew: freedom, respect and shameless esteem. Think of the daddies that AIDS swept away in a tsunami almost overnight, and the gay seniors, the grandfathers who lost their lovers, friends and acquaintances, who now stumble in the wilderness of loss without people to talk to in the winter of their years, their friends gone by. Do befriend them. You will learn so much.
The new generation of bears and daddies have much history to teach, about HIV prevention, virus living and healthier communications, as inter-generational relationships, of all kinds are more visible now. Maybe now is the time to ask: “Who is mentoring ME now?” What is my birth father relationship like – does it need attention? Have all resentments been resolved? Have you told him you love him, hugged him or sent a letter into the ether if he has passed over or is untraceable? One day you will look in the mirror and see his face, for better or worse.
Take this as a starting point of discovery.