Joe Hutcheson doesn’t quite get his dad, and his dad doesn’t quite get him. And that’s okay.
I have no idea what my father does for a living. This makes me, technically speaking, an asshole. I don’t remember ever having any knowledge of his occupation. I suppose I could just call him up and ask him. But then I would have to admit to the shocking fact that I don’t already know.
It isn’t because I don’t love my father. And I don’t think it is for lack of intelligence, as I have two college degrees and have done pretty well on a few online I.Q. tests. It has more to do with the fact that whenever we discuss it, I am overcome with a severe yet temporary case of Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s not that I don’t care. It is simply physically impossible for me to pay attention. I get the same affliction whenever anyone mentions cars or sports.
It must be a hereditary disorder, as my father behaves the same way whenever I talk about my personal endeavors. I have a long and varied theatrical resume boasting roles from Shakespeare to Sondheim. I’m not bragging; if you Google my name you will still come up with some baseball player who is famous for some—wait, what was I talking about?
To this day, whenever my acting career comes up, my father proudly says, “I still think my favorite was that Grease thing.” My father is referring to a summer stock production of the ridiculous 50’s musical in which I was cast (quite against type) as Danny Zuko, leader of the Burger Palace Boys. The company was short several leading men. Since I was the only male with a left and a right foot who didn’t rama-lama-ding-dong when he was supposed to chang-chang-changity-chang-shoo-bop, I was awarded the coveted role. They costumed me in an over-sized, faux-leather jacket and an equally over-sized, jet-black pompadour wig. I looked as if I was being devoured by two synthetic prehistoric mammals not yet identified in the fossil record. Needless to say, it was not my proudest moment. However, my father cannot name one other show I’ve ever been in besides this. I know it’s not because he doesn’t love me. He just cannot possibly care no matter how hard he tries.
Growing up, I often fantasized about discovering that my father was a spy or an international drug dealer. But my memories of him coming home smelling like a gas station and wearing a shirt proclaiming his first name tell me otherwise.
I’ve always known how different my father and I are. I tried desperately to care about sports and cars when I was a kid, but had no talent for or interest in either. My father coached the T-ball team on which I played, which often caused some tension at the dinner table. And every summer he would take us to the Auto-rama, but I couldn’t get myself to care about a flashy car parked on top of a mirror with the doors splayed wide open and a woman in a bathing suit lying across the hood.
In high school, I tried to put on a pretty good show for him. I had girlfriends, though now I know they were really just a “girlfriend!” pronounced with a sassy intonation. And I had pretended to be very disappointed when I got kicked off the track team after milking a bronchial infection for several weeks.
Shortly after graduating high school, I decided it was time to come out to my father. I invited him out to dinner. And I invited him to pay. We went to one of those sprawling soup/salad/pasta bars that plagued us on the West Coast in the early ’90s. The place was crowded, so we squeezed into a table between two large families with several kids each. My father set right to work on his Oriental chicken salad (it was the early ’90s so it was still okay to say “Oriental.”)
“So, Dad,” I began, managing only a whisper, harshly aware of our surroundings. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
I launched into the monologue I had practiced several times in the shower and on the drive over. However, in my rehearsals, I hadn’t been crammed amidst so many suburbanites.
“So I have come to the conclusion…” Time for the big closer: “That I am… gay.”
“Oh, yeah. I always wondered,” he said, raking up the cabbage and peanuts with his fork. “I just want you to be happy, son.”
I simply did not know this man. He just accepted this information in a way I never expected. I was ready for a fight, for him to get up and tear out of the restaurant (hopefully paying the bill on the way out.) But he had known all along. I had wasted my time, efforts, and, quite frankly, acting talent, trying to pretend I was something my father would never believe. Suddenly, the space between us seemed even greater, a chasm that I could never bridge.
But from across the table, I looked at my father. And perhaps for the first time, I saw my father the way he had always seen me: across the space between us. Here was a man who no longer smelled like a gas station nor wore his name above his shirt pocket (leaving me even fewer clues as to what he does for a living), enjoying a sensible salad bar and casually accepting his son’s unnecessary admission of homosexuality. I realized this space between us was not something blocking a connection or a gap in the emotional circuit. It was just space, a space which had given my father the opportunity to see me clearly. And now, I could finally see him back.
We talked on the phone the other day for a long time. He’s considering a new job. It’s largely abroad, and his future tax liability will most likely exceed my annual income. I was very impressed, and I told him so. I have no idea what the job is, but I still have my fingers crossed for drug dealer.