Bravo for this book! Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad is both an open and honest autobiography and a heartfelt tribute to author, Alison Wearing’s, own father. Thank you so much to Random House Canada for providing the advanced reading copy as a gift bag treat at the Book Blogger Lovefest 2013, which Penny and I were lucky enough to attend in February (better late than never!!). This book alone made the 4 hour train trip from Windsor to Toronto worth the time!
Growing up Alison thought that everybody’s dad enjoyed listening to show tunes, baking French pastries and dressing in silk pajamas on Saturday. And that is not a gay stereotype– that was just “Dad”. In the 1970’s being gay was not openly discussed nor was it just another way of living. There were no quirky gay characters on TV, no constant debate about gay marriage, no Gay Pride parades. It was hidden lifestyle and if you were found out there could be devastating consequences. Joe Wearing was always attracted to men but society told him this was wrong. Pushing these feelings aside he did what was expected of him– got married and started a family.
The book is divided in to 4 parts—the longest being “How I Saw It”—Alison’s view on what it was like to have a gay father who came out of the closet in a time where it was sooooooo not acceptable to do so. She describes her early family life as a happy one telling amusing little stories of her childhood living in Peterborough, Ontario in the 1970’s. Hers was like any other “normal” family– she had fun with her brothers, lost a beloved pet or two, learned all of the Canadian Prime Ministers and read Anne of Green Gables. When Alison was about 9 or 10 her dad began to travel– a lot. He would spend more and more time away from home until eventually her mother announced that he would no longer be coming home. It was every kid’s greatest nightmare– her parents were getting a divorce. But then the reason… your father is gay…BAM…Bombshell…Alison now had a family secret that she felt needed to be kept hidden.
“How He Saw It” was the next part– her father’s perspective. It was mostly made up of direct quotes obtained from her father’s “blue box” where he kept bits and pieces of memorabilia from his days living as a “straight” man. There were articles by famous gay rights advocates and politicians, newspaper clippings from the days following Operation Soap (a massive coordinated police raid on the bath houses of Toronto in 1981 which lead to gay-rights protests that would eventually become the now world-famous Toronto Pride Parade) and un-sent letters and diary entries written by Joe describing his feelings– good and bad– about what living an openly gay lifestyle would mean. Reading this really made you feel the internal struggle that this man was going through. He loved his family dearly, he respected his wife but, he could no longer live a lie.
It might have been different had The Box disclosed a secret life, an unresolved past, a trail of lies, brutalities and shame. But when my father came out, his secrets were all set free. Through the alchemy of honesty, they had transmuted into truth. And, ultimately, truth is a gift of liberation, however painful it might be at the time.
“How She Saw It” was the shortest part. It was mostly extrapolations of conversations Alison had with her mother, Anne, when she went to live back home with her in her late 20’s. Anne was a very private person and had never really spoken about what had happened to their family after Joe left. She remarried soon afterwards and Alison assumed that her new husband kept her from having a relationship with Joe. This was not the case. Anne was humiliated by the fact that she allowed the marriage to go on as long as it did and chose not to look back once she left (she has since made peace with Joe and now has a decent relationship with him and his partner of 31 years, Lance).
Last, but not least, was “How We See It Now” a summary of the positive ways this family has accepted and dealt with a situation that could have tore them apart. In the end Joe’s honesty to his own true self was more important that what everyone else thought. It made him a better father and the “being gay” didn’t really change anything. He was just “Dad” and they loved him—prancing, show tunes and all!
An interesting read to say the least! Hats off to brave men like Joe Wearing who made it much easier for the children of today become more tolerant of just another way of loving. Gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender– love is love no matter how you do it! 4 stars.
Once I got a handle on the crude logistics [of understanding what “gay sex” was], I discovered that, gay or straight, the maxim is the same: when it comes to our parents’ sexual practices, we’d rather not think about the details. And for good reason: they’re not meant to be any of our business.