Dad's Reservations

He has taught me more than I can ever thank him for. My dad's gift to me on this ride is a special one, his vocal disapproval of me unicycling Straight Into Gay America.  As a non-gay person, I will never have the coming out experience that marks such a big part of many GLBT people's story heritage, but in some sense I believe we all live with closets in our lives, calculating our personal freedoms, societal responsibilities, and cultural pressures.  So, for me,  I will try and learn what I can from this divergence between my dad and me.  It feels important to share, for there are many experiences of coming out that end in the tragic breakup of family relationships. How thankful I feel that dad and I continue to share love and respect despite these differences.

Just after publicly announcing Straight Into Gay America I participated in a poetry workshop.  Early feedback for the ride started coming in very positive.  My dad's letter arrived on the same day as the workshop began, and our first assignment was a letter poem.  The epigraph at the top of the poem is from my dad's letter.  Instructer Jim Bodeen listened as I read my work in class. "Send it," he said quietly, when I had finished. "Your father will cry with pride for that poem."

A Green Pickup

With that in mind
I would suggest to you
that you should try to find
a way to stay in the mainstream.
And the unicycle ride
is not moving toward the mainstream.

I came to the poetry workshop last night with nothing in writing
except the mail in my back pocket,
the letter you'd written.  I thought to read a paragraph out loud,
but it didn't seem the place. 

Then, at the end of class, in the way that serendipity intrudes,
the class assignment came—write a letter poem.  I walked back
to Chalet 3, and here I sit, your thoughts pulled
from my pocket, trying to gather my own for you.
How old was I then, anyway?  Eighteen?  Twenty?
The time we took that cross-country shortcut
to finish our weeklong trek in the Sierras?  Remember
that white-granite crevasse we started up,

which got so steep we couldn't turn around to come back down? 
How we ended up taking off our backpacks, handing them up from ledge
to ledge, and joining tandem hands to push and haul
each other up impossible steepness until at last we came out on top,
in that bright high-altitude blue sky that felt closer
and more wondrous than before the challenge of that chute?
Remember in the afternoon, at the trailhead,
after the hike was finished? 

And Don's old Toyota pickup
that we'd promised to spot for him to retrieve
at the end of his own hike?
How it wouldn't start and wouldn't start,

even for you the master and me the aspiring mechanic? 
And how, when more than an hour later we gave
up, and sat in our car eating crackers and drinking from our water bottles,
I had told you to go and start the truck? 

And you'd said no,
and I'd insisted, and you'd gone over to crank
the starter one last time and that little green pickup
turned over immediately and started running smoothly?
And I followed you in our Pinto,  and we dropped off his car,
and then drove home through Yosemite Valley. 
And how a week later when you talked
to Don, he told how he'd needed a tow for the truck,

from the trailhead to the auto shop
in Bishop, and the mechanic there had voiced amazement
over how it ever got to the trail junction,  "These points
are completely burned out.  Your engine should never have started."

I grew up with no doubt of your love
for me, of your hand being there to haul
me up when I am in need, and hoping mine can always be there for you,
no matter the size of the mysteries or the miracles.

Strange then, that we two lovers of philosophy
seem to grow increasingly farther apart.  The very places
that you admired me learning
from, the Air Force Academy, Cal Berkeley and seminary,

all helped me see the holes in the center,
and the hope in the edge.  The Christianity
that I studied revealed a conflicted core, even while Jesus
the person became a stronger colleague to my pathways.

It's not new, your push on me towards the mainstream. 
You would have preferred something other than my bicycling
across the USA in 1987. At the end of all journeys,
though, you offered your congratulations. 

Now as I announce my next hope,
you let me know once more
that I'm advancing against your sentiments,

"There must be a way to work
for a better future without listening to the shrill
voices and the ‘Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling.'"
Know that I feel both gift and question in your pushing. 

Few others cause me such careful reflection, and my own voice
is always stronger because of yours.  I wonder,
though, from the center of this conversation,
what you would want for me if I were gay.
Would you want me not to be a pastor? 
Would you want me not to have your grandchildren? 
Will you treat those grandchildren differently
if they grow up gay or lesbian,

or even wonder if I'd helped to cause their homosexuality
by my own efforts at inclusion? Perhaps we're back
in that Sierra chute again, no turning back,
passing gear above our heads to one another,

handing ourselves into each other, not knowing
where the crest is, or where the easy hiking will resume.  
Perhaps at the end of this trail, we will find
another green pickup.