Easter, For Me, Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
I’ve always had a weird connection to Easter and my father. When I was young, I remember being terrified of a gigantic, human-sized Easter bunny looming over me with a hard plastic distorted bunny face yelling a muffled, “Happy Easter” from inside itself. It scared the shit out of me! There is a picture of my brother and me holding up a sign that reads, “Happy Easter”. This big production, I presume, was for my grandparents because they lived in the south and evidence of a Happy Easter was required. I have no idea, all I know is I have been creeped out by men in Easter bunny suits ever since. Nothing about a fake bunny suit is comforting or festive. On the contrary, it makes my skin crawl! I have the same aversion with clowns, but I have no recollection of any early clown occurrence that would cause this kind of reaction from me for the rest of my adult life.
My father’s death certificate says he died of Leukemia, but I am pretty certain he actually died of AIDS in the early 80’s before there was a name for the virus. At that time, gay men in New York were dropping like flies and being refused medical care in hospitals for fear of contagion.
It was very important to my father that things always looked “good” regardless of how they really were. I’m sure I was balling my eyes out seconds before that picture of me holding up the “Happy Easter” sign was taken and that a big fight with my father saying, “Dry your eyes, brush your hair, you’re being silly, and we are trying to take a picture” occurred. But, you would have no idea looking at that photo taken of us, a cute brother and sister around 4 and 5- as seemingly happy, well-rounded, carefree children, but nothing could be further from the truth.
As I child of divorced parents, I learned a great deal about paradoxes at a very early age. I spent my childhood from the age of four up in two very different homes. My mother was very much “what you see is what you get”, and my father was very much “ keep up appearances regardless of how crappy things really are”. So, not only was my father into a big façade, he was also a defeatist by always looking at it as how crappy things are rather than things are pretty damn good all things considered! I had limited visitations with him as a child-every other weekend and one week night- and quite frankly, I was lucky for it. Had I had more time with him I doubt that my relationship with him would have been “closer” or more cohesive. As the years progressed I would probably have been more of rebel than I am and at a much earlier age than 12. That’s when I got messed up with the wrong crowd and drugs and I begged my Mother to send me away to school so I could basically leave my father.
I actually don’t think my father really wanted to even be a father, much less be married to a woman, but he thought that was what was “expected” to look good. It was all a façade and unreal as much as that hard plastic, human head-sized bunny mask…
All of it was for “show”.
I never really went to church as a child except on vacations with our father, to visit his family in North Carolina, because that was the “southern way” and it was certainly the way he was raised. My brother and I would be put on parade in our Sunday best clothes, which frankly were never “good enough”, and I would listen to my grandmother ask me, “What in the world does your mother do- she lets you run around with holes and stains on your clothes? If she hadn’t left your father, you would have such beautiful clothes.” She would spend an exorbitant amount of money on “church” clothes, shoes, etc. that we would never use again (the Greenwich Village lifestyle did not support Sunday school best!).
Then she would parade my brother and me all over town “VISITING” her friends, berating our mother- “Well you should have seen how these two showed up!” We would dread Sunday when we would be dropped off early in our new, uncomfortable, stiff, imposter clothing to be a part of SUNDAY SCHOOL with a bunch of children that looked at us like we were aliens. And of course, we were! We didn’t know the hymns, the bible, the procedures or how Sunday School actually worked. It was awful. Then we would sit in church all lined up in a pew with my father and grandparents and act as if this were the most normal of situations.
I didn’t know my father was a homosexual or bisexual until after his death, when I was 18. I wouldn’t have cared if he was gay, purple or an alien, all I cared about was how he treated me. He didn’t treat me very well until the end of his life, and at that point it just felt like a “plea bargain” with “God” or the great “Beyond”. It was rather pathetic to me actually. I had great compassion that my father was sick, and I was grateful that it made him a “softer” human being, but I had little compassion for the mentality that now he was going to live his life a certain way because it felt as if he were making a bargaining chip with God-that if he found God perhaps his soul would be saved. This was not a true connection, a loving embrace, an opening of faith and trust, it was simply an act of fear.
One time, I remember my father being authentic. I was 16 and he came to my school in Massachusetts. We walked alone and ended up at the outside basketball court in front of my Senior English group. He started crying and he leaned his head on my shoulder, sobbing and telling me he was afraid to die. I was flabbergasted, I had no idea who this creature was. I was just beginning my life and we did not have a relationship of intimacy. It was as if he wanted us to be something we never were. A part of me resented being told this burden- how the hell was I supposed to comfort him or even know what to say? The other part of me felt helpless and embarrassed, as I knew my schoolmates in senior English class- which contained my 3 best friends and my boyfriend- were all watching this scenario play out before them. It was one of them most awkward moments of my life.
My entire life I’ve had two things I simply have no tolerance for: defeatism and being unauthentic. Flash forward to the spring vacation when I was home the year I was 17. My father had visitation for Easter weekend and wanted to go to church. So I dressed in my Sunday Best, whatever that was, and I managed to find something suitable. We went to church- something we NEVER did in all my years in NYC- and as we sat in that pew and I pretended to know the verses of the songs and play along with the rest of the congregation, I realized that my father was so desperate to find some solace- but never did. He looked for everything from outside himself instead of going within and looking for his faith there. It was a feeble last attempt to be something he wasn’t because that was what was “expected”.
I spent my 18th year in New York City, after graduating high school in May, visiting my father while he was declining. In and out of hospitals and visits, while my 3 best friends and my boyfriend all rented a house in San Francisco and started going to college. My father and I made some sort of peace that summer, as much as you can cram a lifetime into less than a precious year, while his health slowly weakened and my resentment of not having my freedom and my young life with my friends in California grew. By October he was gone. I think he died peacefully in that he did not suffer too much physically, but I don’t think he ever found that “inner peace” or “faith” he strived so desperately to grasp in trying to find God -because I believe he always felt separate from God.
I realize now, in my adulthood, that soul growth comes with life experience, and my father’s fear of being who he was not only kept him separate from God, It kept him separate from everyone he loved, including me. I feel blessed that I have always, even as a small child, know that God = Love and love resides in me. I believe in Jesus as a great teacher and a healer and I felt his presence around me when I survived a grave illness last year and since my recovery he has never left me. I realize i kept the “traditional” Jesus separate from my own heart prior to this experience because I associated him with the fear and judgmental guilt ridden, limited church going days of my childhood and my father. Now I hold my father’s memory in my brave authentic heart and I can be authentic for both of us while he remains in my heart for safekeeping until we meet again. If Jesus can rise, I see no reason why we can’t either, so now I can celebrate Easter for what it has always been a glorious rebirth and the promise of a new beginning.