Credit: Jade Zhang/Xtra
Love Like Mine
7 min

How weekly trips to the theatre with my father helped me come out as gay

He learned that my sexuality didn’t entirely define me

My husband and my friends joke that I am a curmudgeon when it comes to teenagers on their cell phones or people running in and out of movie theatres — I got it from my father.

If you were a dick at the theatre, my dad wouldn’t hesitate to tell you so.

I remember several instances where he went out of his way to inform total strangers that they were behaving in a totally inappropriate manner.

At the time, as a young teenager, I was embarrassed by these random outbursts, but now, I remember them as some of my favourite moments with my dad.

I have always gravitated towards performing arts and film.

My older brother and I are polar opposites — something I still feel the need to point out — and while he loved sports and video games, I always preferred singing and writing potential movie scripts.

When my parents separated, it felt natural for me to move with my mother, and my brother stayed with my dad in the house I grew up in. Even before my parents’ split, my dad and I would find ourselves at the theatre. He would take my brother to see Pittsburgh Pirates games, but he and I would go on a half hour drive to see the latest blockbuster.

The first double feature we watched was in the summer of 1999.

We started with Lake Placid and then I told my dad I wanted to see Eyes Wide Shut. He didn’t bat an eye and bought two tickets. Surely he had heard about all the explicit content, right?

My dad was an intelligent and well-read guy. There had to be a Time magazine article or New York Times piece about this Stanley Kubrick sex odyssey.

I was probably one of the very few 15-year-olds seeing Kubrick’s final film on opening day next to their father.

After the movie ended, my dad asked me what I thought, and I told him liked it.

He agreed.

We ran into a married couple my dad knew in the lobby, and they asked us what we saw. When my dad said Eyes Wide Shut, both of their jaws dropped.

My dad would surely win “Father of the Year.”

I was always in charge of the day’s moviegoing schedule.

It didn’t matter where we had to go as long as I had a clear itinerary in hand. I would jump in the car and just tell my dad what we were seeing and he was all right with it. He drove us an hour to go see Evita because it was only playing at one suburban Pittsburgh theater, he agreed to see it because he had an unwavering respect for Madonna.

If we started early enough, we could see two movies — maybe three.

Time didn’t matter.

He only wanted to spend time with me and ask my opinion when it was over.

The first time my dad spoke up to a total stranger was when we saw Runaway Bride on opening day.

My dad was a massive Julia Roberts fan, and he was jazzed that the summer of 1999 had not one but two movies starring her (Notting Hill came out a few months earlier).

As the lights were dimming for the trailers, two older women in the row directly in front of us were arguing over the seating in the nearly sold-out house. As he watched the previews, I could tell that their bickering was getting to him, but he didn’t say anything as the women carried on.

When the film started, however, he couldn’t take it anymore. He was there to see Julia Roberts’ triumphant second feature that summer, and this pair wasn’t going to spoil it.

He gently leaned forward and, in a loud stage whisper and said, “Please shut the hell up. I’ve been waiting months to see this movie!” I laughed loudly and covered my mouth to not draw more attention.

My dad turned to me and reassured me that his actions were justified.

He looked like a snarky young kid caught doing something wrong but trying to hide it with fake innocence.

“I said please,” he said.

Around Christmas of 2002, I planned for us to see Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Gangs of New York back-to-back.

He wasn’t looking forward to the Tolkien adaptation, but went along with it although he hated it. He fell asleep during Martin Scorsese’s New York epic, and he openly told people in the lobby that the film was good time if you can find the theatre seats comfortable for a good nap. He insisted on sticking around to see something enjoyable, and he selected Two Weeks Notice to finish the day.

My father declared it the best movie of 2002.

Since we would have to drive back home, we would have discussions about what we saw. I would always talk about the performances, but he always found something to praise whether it be the art direction or the music.

As an editor of my town’s local newspaper in the ’60s, my dad continuously encouraged me to write reviews or essays. Sometimes I would read them aloud to him on the rides to and from the theatre, and he would tell me if something was good or if it needed reworking.

He taught me to never think that I was the best at anything: you can always learn even if you’re at the top of your game. Stand your ground if your opinion differs from what everyone else thinks, but be open to others’ views. Your thoughts can change.

He would defend his love of Being Julia until the ends of the earth, but he would understand why you didn’t like it.

My dad is responsible for me thinking critically about anything.

When I was in the early stages of coming out to my friends, it somehow got back to my father even though he lived 15 minutes away. Small towns be damned!

He angrily called me and asked me directly if I was “a homosexual.” The old school phrasing caught me off guard, and I sort of giggled through the phone. I confirmed the rumor he heard, but I got nervous and hung up the phone.

He didn’t call back.

I thought he would be fine with me being gay, because one of his other sons from a previous marriage was living happily with his partner in Connecticut. My father was considerably older than my friends’ dads, but I imagined that he wouldn’t have a problem with my inevitable coming out.

That day on the phone, his tone was upsetting and a bit scary. He was never really a firm disciplinarian, but this was the first time that he found out something about me that he wasn’t prepared for. Was he angry? Did he feel like I lied to him about myself?

We didn’t watch movies that week.

Looking back, I never knew if he was mad and needed his own space to think, but I never asked. I was too afraid that he would yell at me or say something hurtful, but I remember the car ride to the theater the following week was mostly silent.

After he found out I was gay, I never had an explicit conversation with him about it.

I would casually bring up my boyfriend’s name several times on a trip together, and I think he would infer that we were dating. In my senior year of high school, I dated one guy who would come with us often.

Dan lived in the city, so it was easy to pick him up. My father would even have conversations with Dan’s mother when we would drop him off at his house afterwards.

My father wasn’t stupid. Surely he knew this kid who sat very close to me in a darkened theater was the guy I was dating.

I’d like to think that we kept seeing movies together every weekend until he died.

It’s a bad excuse to say that ‘life got in the way,’ but it’s the only reason I have for not seeing my father every weekend. I always had work or rehearsal for whatever musical or play I decided to throw myself into or I didn’t feel like driving far. I should have had the same consideration for him that he had for me when I was 16 — and I will always regret that.

My dad wasn’t perfect — no parent is — but I’m discovering that he instilled things in me that I always assumed were part of my personality. The more I grow up, the more I realize how much he influenced and shaped me.

I always thought I was more like my mother, but in his death I see I am much more like my father, especially when it comes to learning from mistakes and being receptive to other people.

Going to see movies has been such a huge part of my life, and I have my dad to thank for that. He cried after we saw Titanic and Far From Heaven, and he loudly scoffed at the graveyard scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan because he thought it was cheesy.

I knew he would ultimately be okay with me being gay because “even the gay cheerleader found someone” at the end of Bring it On.

One of the first critics my father told me to read was Roger Ebert, because he didn’t view Ebert as a film critic but as a film lover.

Ebert would like things his counterparts considered garbage, because he would look at every aspect of a film. Not only is Ebert still considered one of the all-time great film reviewers, but he shared a quote in 2005 about how cinema and art create empathy.

It was as if he spoke about what my father and I were doing ever since I was a teenager.

We learn from what we see on screen and we become more tolerant and understanding people. It didn’t matter if it was a foreign film from France or a screwball comedy starring Jim Carrey — there was something to learn from everything we consumed on our weekly moviegoing trips.

He learned that my sexuality didn’t entirely define me, and I learned from him, and from movies, that you deserve to allow people to know the most realistic version of you.

I never had to put anything on or say the right thing to impress my dad. I was always a precocious and energetic kid, and I believe I was never really inhibited because of those weekly trips to see the latest blockbuster.

Going to the movies was what we did together, but we unknowingly learned more about one another on the rides back home.

Perhaps my father told people what he thought because he wanted to make sure our time together wasn’t ruined by anyone’s bad etiquette or behaviour.

And I know I’ll have something to say, the next time someone kicks my chair when I catch a matinee.

Love Like Mine