The Good Father

You know who I don’t talk about enough? This guy.

That’s Larry Hall, my stepfather. He married my mom after my parents divorced, and when I met him I thought he was a dreamy, irresponsible goofball completely unlike my father.

Luckily, I was right. Not so luckily, it took me awhile to appreciate that fact.

There were seriously some years in the late Eighties and early Nineties when it was legitimately questionable that I’d grow up to be a decent human being. (It might still be. Ha!) The most glaring model of masculinity so far in my life led me to confuse assholery with strength, and I’m sure there were times when Larry checked his watch and calendar for when I’d move the hell out for college…or prison.

Yet through all of that, he introduced me to the Middle Earth Role Playing game and typed my first serious story for submission to Hitchcock’s and watched the premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation with me. More importantly, he made my mother safe and comfortable for the first time in a quarter century, and though I didn’t know it, he did the same for me.

Now, I’m not going to kid you into thinking you’d want to HIRE Larry to work at your company or government agency or to guard your building as he did briefly later in life. He seemed to be often drawn to jobs that had cool accessories, like badges or one of those pointy bishop hats, but his priority was getting home to talk endlessly with my mother while smoking on the back porch, or to read and nap afterward.

He was kind of a hedonist that way, though an inexpensive one. Which worked out well because they were almost always broke in the way society measures wealth.

He and my mother and younger brother Andrew went through some terrible times financially because, alas, the world doesn’t know what to do with people who work to live instead of the other way around. Yet even through their deprivation (and believe me, it was fucked up), they had this weird fatalistic cheerfulness that said, “Life is totally shit just beyond the glow of our flashlights, but at least we have those.”

When he met my mother while they both worked at a social service agency, he told her he was gay. She reported this to me with whispered drama before he came to visit the first time, like we should hide our most fabulous glitter from him. And yes, he had a gentle voice most of the time and liked fragrances and was better at dancing than any of us.

He might have told her he was gay to avoid the risk of romantic entanglement before he was ready, or maybe he was bisexual. It doesn’t really matter.

He later married Mother, which made him at least a Dianne-a-sexual, and that worked out just fine for both of them.

The last thing any of us needed was a capital-M Man, at least as they usually assert themselves in the world. Larry balanced the masculine and feminine with a wide streak of empathy and perceptiveness that men are encouraged to extinguish.

The most masculine thing I ever saw Larry do was rush out with a gun to investigate an intruder, though unfortunately it was a tiny pearl-handled .22 that might have been better kept in a garter belt than a holster. But let me tell you, he carried that thing outside into the darkness like a New York City cop to protect us, so again…the balance.

I don’t know how he’d feel about me telling these stories about him. I hope he wouldn’t be embarrassed because I’m not making fun of him at all. These are the stories of a hero.

Before he died, Larry said he was proud of the man I’d become, perhaps with the unspoken clause of that sentence being “…despite all the signs.” That meant more to me than any praise I could have gotten from the guy on my birth certificate because Larry knew manhood, all of it, and his path wasn’t narrow.

The night before he married my mother, there was a small bachelor party with his best man, my brother-in-law, and teenaged me. Marty had to drive him home because he’d gotten a little tipsy, and he had to ask whether to turn off at an exit or not.

“Go forward,” Larry slurred. “Never straight.”

That’s manhood. That’s fatherhood. And I wish I could tell him I know that because of him.