This Is What It's Like When Your Dad Comes Out To You
The latest plot development in the new series of Girls sees Hannah's father come out of the closet. As someone who's gone through this before, here are my thoughts.
Last night I finally caught up on the latest episode of Girls, "Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz". I watched Hannah's dad come out as gay, first to his wife and then to Hannah. My sister, who had already seen the episode, was anticipating me being caught up.
I saw my phone flash as the end credits rolled: "AAAND?" she asked. I sent her an inarticulate reply.
Our discussion continued for hours. Once again, Girls had taken a moment of our lives, changed the setting and characters and shown it back to us, distorted, like the back of a spoon.
My dad came out when I was 21, which is just four years younger than Hannah Horvath is. My dad came out to me on the phone, just as Hannah's dad is outed to Hannah on the phone. Like Hannah's dad who wanted to wait to come out until his wife got tenure, my dad's plan was to wait until my little brother had graduated from high school. But unlike Hannah's dad, whose double life we haven't yet witnessed, events in my dad's life meant he was outed earlier than he wanted.
My father's coming-out story to me has two parts. Before he called me to tell me he was gay, I'd found out about it, almost two years before, by accident.
I was living with my dad in the Netherlands, while my siblings and mum lived in Spain. We'd tried, as a family, to make a new life for ourselves in Spain, but for many reasons it hadn't quite worked out. After a few months I moved back to the Netherlands with my dad; the rest of the family would follow once the school year was over.
Sitting eating muesli one morning I suddenly decided I didn't like raisins; they made the muesli too sour. I meticulously picked each raisin out, scooped them into my hand, and walked over to the bin. I was about to drop my handful of unwanted raisins when I saw lots of torn-up pieces of paper. I spotted the big o's, long e's and curly g's; I knew that handwriting belonged to my mother.
Raisins discarded, I collected all the bits of paper and laid them out on the table. I pieced them together like a puzzle, slowly because I knew the completed piece wasn't going to be a fluffy Yorkshire terrier or a colourful red parrot like all those puzzles I enjoyed completing with my mum; this one was going to show something I didn't want to see – but I kept going anyway.
Once completed it became clear that it was a letter my mum had written to my dad. It felt like stepping into the eye of a tornado and seeing the secrets of my parents' lives whirl around me. I was trying to grasp at things I could understand, but couldn't. I don't remember the full details of that letter, but I remember the most important part: My dad is gay.
I chucked the letter back into the bin, got on my bike, and cycled to school. My best friend, who cycled with me every day, saw something was up. I told her that I'd discovered something and it was very odd and I couldn't quite believe it and the only way I'd be able to tell her was by pretending it was all a joke. I didn't want to cry – was this something I was allowed to cry about? – and she understood. I began my hilarious joke:
"OK, so a girl walks into her kitchen right, and sees a letter from her mum, and she reads it and this is the funniest part, OK? The letter tells her her dad is gay!"
I released a loud, manic laugh, like a comedian faced with a joke that's fallen flat, trying to fill up the room with their own laughter, because no one else will.
What followed was a pretty strange year. I'm terrible at confrontation and I didn't want to bring this up with my dad. Instead I filled my days with little schemes to try to get my parents to talk to each other, despite the fact that they lived in separate countries. From our home phone, I'd call my mum's mobile in Spain, and hang up. She would call back and my dad would yell for me to answer it but I'd ignore it so he'd have to answer. Then I'd sneak onto the landing and see if I could catch snippets of their conversation. I never could, but once I timed that they'd been speaking for 45 minutes, which seemed like a good time to me.
When my mum and siblings joined us back in the Netherlands I waited for the news to be revealed, for my parents to get divorced – something, anything – but nothing happened. My mum had stuck a heart-shaped photograph of her and my dad on our fridge and it upset me, because it just seemed like such a blatant lie.
One day, my anger reached boiling point. My mum asked me why I seemed really ungrateful about a family holiday my dad was planning, and I blurted out in a very teenager-in-a-soap-opera kind of way: "I don't want to go on holiday with a liar."
She looked at me, puzzled, and I began to tell her what I knew, leaving lots of details out, and hinting at others. I wasn't much of a talker. She cried, but I don't remember her saying anything, or clarifying anything, I just remember crying.
It would be another year before I received the phone call and my dad would come out officially.
Perhaps Hannah's story will be smoother, and her dad's coming out won't be scattered over several years. As Girls fans might remember, Hannah's best friend Elijah says something interesting to her during a heated argument in the first season:
Were the gay seeds planted all along? Were we just oblivious to Tad's sexuality? It doesn't seem like it, Peter Scolario who plays Hannah's father tells the Daily Beast:
That was based on an accident in filming. A tiny little thing where I left my own personal, occasionally pretentious stud earring in my left ear while we were filming. I never intended to do that and it made the air. And that was that, and I was glad I didn't get in trouble for it. But Andrew caught it when he was a fan of the show, before he guest-starred for the first time. It went into his file, this brilliant mind of his, and he used it as a weapon to argue with Hannah in what was otherwise an improvised exchange.
Some people have tweeted that they're worried this gay plot will be treated like Hannah's OCD, which felt to many as sudden and not really worked out, but I have faith that this won't be the case here. This episode was directed by Jamie Babbit, who coincidentally directed one of my favourite films, the satirical and hilarious But I'm A Cheerleader, about a girl whose parents and friends stage an intervention for her "homosexual tendencies".
A lot of the tweets about the episode are also very "Well, DUH" about the whole thing:
Funnily enough, that's part of what I felt. I always "knew" my dad was gay, or perhaps bisexual, (a lot of people press me to clarify if my dad is one or the other; to be honest, I don't really care or think it's important. As long as my dad knows who and what he is, nothing else matters.)
Once at university in Bristol, before the official coming out, I was having lunch in a café by myself when I saw a gay couple walk past. They were holding hands and chatting about the movie they'd just seen, and one of them nuzzled the other's neck – and I suddenly burst into tears. I wanted my dad to have that, to be openly in love with another man and go to the cinema and have lunch, and I wanted that for my mum too. I wanted someone to love her completely and make her feel special.
What would I say to Hannah Horvath, as she deals with her dad's coming out in the next episodes and following season?
I think it would be something like:
"Hannah, it's OK to be angry at your dad, it doesn't mean you're a homophobe or a spoilt brat. The quicker you deal with your anger the better, else it will follow you around like a swarm of bees.
"You will meet new friends of your dad's. He might have new interests and lose some of the ones you used to cherish, but he's not swapping one life for another. You are not being substituted.
"You might think everyone in your life will be accepting of your dad's sexuality because this isn't the Middle Ages, but there will be people who will hurt your feelings. I dated a guy who came from a pretty narrow-minded family; one day there was a debate about gay marriage on television and this guy's dad said, "I mean, come on. If we let men marry each other, what's next? SHEEP?" I pretended I'd forgotten something in the car, sat in the passenger seat and screamed until my lungs were empty.
"Sometimes you'll feel extremely sad for your mum, and you'll consider emailing George Clooney a picture of her to try to get them together, because from now on, only a guy like that deserves her.
"You'll learn that your parents' marriage is still incredibly important, even if it's come to an end, and that friendship between two people should be celebrated, just as we celebrate love. You'll grow to be very proud of your parents, and it will make your eyes fill up with tears when you think about that.
"And lastly, your dad coming out and your parents' divorce: It's not about you. In fact, it has little to do with you, but as Loreen says, "It's not not about me, Tad. It's not not".
A lot changed after my dad came out. We have slightly different parts to play in his post-coming-out world, but those parts came naturally, because we're a family and we accept each other. There are still some things I'd like to ask him, there are things my sister and I message each other about in all caps and question marks, but for now, knowing that my parents can be themselves and be happy is all that matters. Oh, and I still pick raisins out of my muesli - some things never change.