People described my father as a "high-yellow, half-crazy, big, scary Negro," although my father was actually half-black and half-Cherokee, hence my childhood nickname, "Uncle Tomahawk." My father was very tall and definitely scary. When he was 19 he went to prison for killing his stepfather, who had beaten my grandmother with a garden hoe. In prison Daddy murdered two men who thought he would make a good prison bride; they thought wrong. He said, "Yes, I killed three guys in my life, but your mother has made dozens of men wish they were dead." My father and I were very different, which made for some colorful memories. In honor of Father's Day, I would like to take you on a stroll down memory lane.
When I was 5 years old I buried his shotgun because he said he was going rabbit hunting and I didn't want him to kill Bugs Bunny. He promised me that if I told him where his shotgun was, he would not spank me or shoot Bugs Bunny, so I did. Then he started taking off his belt to spank me after all.
"I thought you weren't going to spank me!" I exclaimed.
"I am not going to spank you," he said. "I am going to give you a serious whooping."
However, he did honor his agreement not to shoot Bugs Bunny.
Then there was the matter of sports. He loved baseball. I detest baseball and naked light bulbs. I was the only kid ever cut from a Little League team. However, I was a three-year varsity letterman in wrestling and tennis, but Daddy said that wrestling reminded him too much of prison, and that tennis was a sissy white-boy sport. My mother made him go to my tennis matches anyway. He never missed one of them, but he had to bring beer to endure them. He said that under no circumstances was I ever to let his friends know I was on the tennis team. Unfortunately, I was a good tennis player and in the newspaper all the time. He was not pleased, but I knew he was secretly proud.
Then I decided to go to the University of Michigan instead of Michigan State University.
"Michigan is full of rich white boys, and the girls are ugly," he protested. "Why would you want to go there?"
I wanted to tell him that that was exactly why I wanted to go there, but I knew better.
When I became a cheerleader, he said, "Why don't you just shoot me now? I told your mother, 'Get him a toy gun and a Bowie knife,' but no, she just had to get you that damn yellow stuffed bear!"
In my mother's defense, I was 5, and the bear was jonquil, not yellow.
Then I came out and decided to bring my boyfriend Steven home to meet my parents. He was a cute blond boy from Grosse Pointe who was pre-med and the heir to an automotive fortune. I thought Daddy would be impressed; I thought wrong. At dinner my boyfriend said, "I have a surprise: I discovered that my family owns the factory you work in, so we were connected before Billi."
"We are not connected," my father said. "Not now, not ever."
Steven, who was a little insulted and very stoned, said, "Oh, come on, sweetie. He's a cheerleader. How could you not have seen this coming, honey?"
My father went to his bedroom, got his shotgun, pointed it at Steven and said, "Now call me 'honey' or 'sweetie' again."
My mother stepped between my father and Steven and said, "Negro, don't make me cut you in front of company."
It was an ugly situation. My father just could not get past the boy or the blond part. Again he blamed the stuffed bear.
Then I moved to California. One Christmas I decided to go home, but before I did so, I called my father and said, "You need to know I am a drag queen and only wear dresses -- well, sometimes skirts, and occasionally hot pants."
There was a deafening silence, worse than the one that fell over Atlanta after the hush of the Yankee cannons in Gone With the Wind. Then he said, "Are you bringing that pot-smoking, rich, spoiled, white homosexual with you? I need to know whether or not to bring my shotgun to the airport when I pick you up."
"Daddy, Steven was 10 boyfriends ago," I replied. "I need to know if you have a problem with me wearing dresses."
"Of course I have a problem with it," he said, "but no more of a problem than I had when you came home with that damn tennis racket. This is your home. You are always welcome here."
My father picked me up at the airport. When we were driving home, he said, "You need to know something: I shot that damn stuffed bear of yours. I took him out in the woods and shot him 40 times. And I loved it!"
"What?" I said. "Daddy, you shot Teddy? How could you do that?" I burst into tears because I loved that bear.
"It was a toss-up between him and your mother. I flipped a coin. The bear lost."
"Daddy, I cannot believe you destroyed Teddy."
"And I cannot believe my 25-year-old son wears dresses, calls me 'Daddy,' and is crying over a damn yellow stuffed bear. I'd say we're even."
Happy Father's Day to all fathers everywhere. Remain fabulous and phenomenal.
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