Two of the biggest catalysts for intra-familial bad behavior and hurt feelings are funerals and weddings. A grandparent dies and someone is always ready to lay claim to contested family heirlooms. When a niece marries the "wrong" man, an aunt may keep her peace during the ceremony, but come the reception all bets are off.
My relationship with my father became strained during a funeral, for complicated reasons that would take a book, not a blog post, to explain. But, as with other impasses the two of us had reached over the years, I assumed at some point the re-sharpened edges in our relationship would dull once more and we would get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Then came the wedding. My wedding, in particular.
My husband, Cavin, and I didn't get legally married -- we live in Virginia, after all. What we did have was essentially a religious marriage ceremony, adapting Vietnamese Buddhist traditions to our own situation and desires. It was an odd mix of my Kentucky and Indiana heritage with Cavin's immigrant family -- but it worked perfectly for us.
There was no problem at the actual wedding -- the problem came before, when I invited my father to join us. Weddings are supposed to be a family affair -- whether the family in question is biological, chosen or both. In planning the wedding, I had discovered that there was a part of me and my heritage that had long ago gone dormant, believing that the traditional aspects of a family -- the interactions, the celebrations, the holidays -- were closed to me because I had turned out gay. Going through the process of a ceremony brought that part of me back to life.
To be honest, thought, I didn't truly expect my father to attend. The more recent problems ran pretty deep, and involved my sister and other family as well. But sometimes the asking is more important than the accepting, so I did.
What I really didn't expect was for him to give me a reason for not coming, namely: "You know, I don't really believe in that."
That was two years ago and, unsurprisingly to me, the last time I talked my father.
This is why I get so upset with the Maggie Gallaghers of the world and their hateful little organizations like NOM that spew delusional claptrap to undermine our lives and our families, selfishly insisting that our lives are actually all about them and that we should act and cower and hide accordingly.
I don't believe in any sort of organized religion conception of God, but I didn't get up and walk out when the preacher started bloviating during my grandfather's funeral. I didn't refuse to enter the church for the Catholic funeral service of my aunt. I didn't skip outside for a smoke during the vows at my sister's wedding. Because those events weren't about me -- they were about celebrating, mourning and/or respecting people who were and are important to me.
So for my father, someone I never saw in a church outside of Christmas pageants and Easter to take the "I don't believe in that" tack with me was pretty silly. And sad, given that on so many things -- religion, race, class -- I was taught by my parents to think for myself, no easy feat in some ways in western Kentucky.
In contrast, my maternal grandmother -- a woman who married and moved away from her hometown in Massachusetts to live in rural poverty in backwoods Indiana, watched her husband leave to fight in France during World War II, raised seven children (my mother, the oldest, remembers when running water was installed in their farmhouse) -- at the age of 79 found herself sitting front and center as her eldest grandson got gay married to a man whose family immigrated here from a country we were at war with when I was born.
And she was happy for us.
Barriers can and will come down, and the selfish antics of Maggie Gallagher and her band of (un)merry idiots will someday have faded into a distant, discriminatory past. Perhaps someday soon, when Cavin and I add a legal imprimatur to our marriage in Massachusetts or Vermont, my father will be able to say the only word he needs to say in response: "Congratulations."