Color me jealous when I hear another gay man talk about his close friendship with his father. That wasn’t in the cards for me. I have always blamed my father for our lack of closeness, because he clearly didn’t want to be friends with his children. His generation believed “Father Knows Best.” He was the father, and you obeyed.

My father had to have been as disappointed in me as I was in him, because I didn’t give him what he wanted either, which was a son who did what he was told. I wasn’t the rebel who had parties at the house in my parents’ absence, but rather the one who questioned everything. My dad never got the satisfaction of ending the conversation with, “Because I said so.” Even if I didn’t win, I had the last word. 

It embarrasses me now when I reflect on how critical of my father I was for many years, including how he ate, drank, drove, farted, belched, blew his nose, smelled, and spoke. That was then. This is now, and I, at times, eat, drive, fart, belch, blow my nose, smell and speak like my father when he was my age. Justice. As you judge, so shall you be judged. But, I am without children of my own, and my grand nieces and nephews have a friendship with me that makes it less likely they’ll be as mercilessly critical.

I was lucky in having a mother who wasn’t afraid of losing respect by being friends with her offspring. My mom was spared my critical eye. Instead, I was protective of her. It sounds like a gay cliché, but I suspect most straight men had a similar relationship with their fathers and mothers. Among those straight men who feel they were close to their fathers are many guys who considered sharing sports and politics with their dad an indication of mutual intimacy. Most sons are protective of their mothers, often because they feel their fathers are not fully appreciative of them.

If I had a child that I nurtured from birth, providing them with everything they needed to learn, and grow into their own lives, I think it would be very difficult for me not to love them, and not to expect in return both respect and loving kindness. That’s the rub. Children aren’t obligated to respect or love, but only obey. I obeyed until I didn’t, which is the first sign of individuality, something a parent should value. You hold them and keep them close until it’s time for them to fly. Many leave the nest and don’t look back. Others find reason to stay. Neither choice is an indication of friendship or of love.

It is the time of year for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I used to give my parents “Spiritual Bouquets” as an indication of my love. The less I felt love at the time, the more I pledged to attend Mass and say rosaries in their name. My dad got promises of more Masses than I have or intend to attend. 

When I had money, I bought cards and gifts. I always called, as did each of my siblings, all competing to see whose gift, card, or call got most mentioned by my parents to the others. Those Sundays pass unattended today, and would be unremarkable we’re it not for the occasional email from a niece or nephew thanking me for my presence in their life. 

Our dog, Lincoln, has two dads, but there are no cards, no Spiritual Bouquets, no boxes of candy, or even long focused attention. But there is gratitude for providing him the love he needs to feel safe and protected, and there is no embarrassment of our appearance or behavior. We’re totally accepted, obeyed, and appreciated, and have been by all of the dogs we’ve had.

My dad had a dog that followed him everywhere. My dad was never a disappointment to the dog, and the dog was my dad’s best friend. The Universe, in its wisdom, makes dogs and cats available to both fathers and sons, and in them we all find the intimate relationship we missed having. I’m grateful to my dad’s dog for giving him something his children couldn’t.

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McNaught: Love in the Event of Death