Yesterday I found out someone very important to me passed away. His name was Fred and he was the father of my partner of seven years, who remains my close friend, Greg. Fred was closer to me in many ways than my own father and I am so sorry he’s no longer here. Thankfully his kindness to me and so many others lives on in my memory.
At the end of October of 1989 I fell in love for the first time in my life. His name was Greg and we had already been friends for a little over a year. I was quite smitten and knew that he was the one, I also knew that I’d face some hostility. He was 20 and I was 33 and when I told my roommate he made some snide remark about Greg’s age. It was the kind of snarky comment I heard made, often behind my back, for the first year of our relationship. Those comments were made by gay men my age or older. I never heard any criticism from Greg’s friends nor did I hear them from Greg’s father and mother. I am sure they may have had concerns but I was always treated like a member of the family. Over the years we were together my relationship with Greg’s dad, Fred, grew stronger.
Greg and I were both preacher’s kids but the similarity ended there. My father was a Seventh-Day Adventist and very conservative. Greg’s dad was a pastor with the United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ-inclusive denomination. I was included in every family event and made to feel quite welcome. Poor Greg went home with me once for Thanksgiving and it was the most awkward holiday ever! No one was openly hostile but the silence hung heavy in the air. Ironically both Greg and I were born in the same city in Vermont which is where my parents lived that Thanksgiving. I had come out to my father two years earlier. It was after the 1987 March on Washington. I was on the phone and mentioned that I’d been on a trip with a church group, (I went with a Unitarian Universalist delegation). My father asked, “that wouldn’t have been in Washington D.C.?” I replied that it was and then came out. I can’t remember the subject being mentioned by my father again.
Greg’s family was very welcoming on the other hand. The Thanksgivings with Greg and his extended family were quite pleasant. I don’t recall any hostile moments or even uncomfortable silence like the visit with my parents had been. After Greg and I had been living together for awhile Greg’s dad asked us if we would move into his home, the church parsonage. He and his wife were buying a home and wanted us to be caretakers of the parsonage. Greg’s dad would stay with us whenever it was inconvenient to drive out to their new home a few towns over. So for awhile Greg and I lived as an openly gay couple in the church parsonage! During that time I got to know Fred even better. He was a passionate campaigner for social justice while being the most kind and gentle person you could hope to meet.
Sometime around the Spring of 1994 we went for a vacation to the Southwest. Me, Greg and Greg’s dad Fred. I doubt too many gay men, particularly 20 years ago, would be found on vacation with their father-in-law. I do have a few photos from that trip. For some reason they’re all wide shots but for the first photo I’ll show the original and then all the rest are cropped shots.
I hope these photos capture how wonderful a person Fred was. Here he are posing together. That’s me on the right and Fred on the left.
When I learned that Fred was I’ll I wrote him and thanked him for being a special person in my life. Here’s part of what I wrote to Fred and his wife:
I heard from Greg about the challenges you now face. I want you to know my thoughts are with you. You are both important people in my life.
I have been strolling down memory lane and remembering all the times we spent together during the early and mid nineties. The most remarkable thing was the way you lovingly welcomed me into the family at a time, much less enlightened then now. For that I’ll be forever grateful. Fred, your kindness and empathy really meant a lot, particularly at a time when my relationship with my own father was strained. You were also along for the ride when we vacationed out here in the Southwest. I fell in love with the people and the enchanted land. This August I’ll have been here 18 years!
I have been part of many people’s lives when things were really rough for them. I wish I could say it got easier but it didn’t. Unfortunately major challenges are part of the price we pay for being human. Thankfully many of those friends that I now only visit in memory, taught me a great deal about living. That’s why taking time to admire breathtaking sunsets, observing beautiful flowers, taking in the smells emanating from them and watching the hummingbirds and insects pollinating each flower are important things to do. Also important is sharing how special friends are in your life. You are such friends. Please don’t hesitate to write if you want to share something, I’ll be here for you. I love you both.
Here’s part of his reply, (words in parentheses are substituted in order to maintain privacy):
What a wonderful gift you have sent through Facebook email. Your candor, your caring and your genuine affection clearly shine through your kind words. Your letter prompts many special cherished memories of when you, Gregory and I were living together under the one roof at (the parsonage).
Your reflections regarding life’s many subtle gifts that we often miss because of our busyness are also right on!!
At this point he talks about his medical condition and his optimism. He then concludes
Jerry, it’s hard to believe that its been 18 years ago since you and Gregory left New England for the welcoming sunshine and warm climate of the southwest! My, how the time goes by!!
Again, I cannot express adequately how very much (my wife) and I appreciate you kind and thoughtful letter. We send our hugs back in return.
So it’s left for me to say farewell to one of the most remarkable men I have ever known. Goodbye Fred you will live long in my memories. Greg, if you read this thanks for sharing your father with me.