I want him to read this while he still can.
For me, the most difficult aspect of coming out was realising that my life was NOT going to head in the direction I had planned. Having to justify yourself to others around you, when you yourself don’t even feel it’s OK, is really, really tough.
It wasn’t what I wanted at all. But it had to be, because that’s the way that it was. There have been a number of people who have helped me along my way, one of whom I’d like to mention now.
His name is Thomas David Lehane (known in our family as ‘TD’) and he is my grandfather. He’s the old school ‘patriarch’ of my mother’s family. As a child I used to marvel at how he was able to sit at the dining room table while his wife Muriel, known to us as ‘Mirum’, bustled around waiting on him. Cups of tea, porridge, more tea, the paper, his reading glasses, the sugar, a spoon to stir his tea…
One thing after another she would race around and get for him – it was her job. She herself told me that when I asked her about it one time. TD went to work to look after the family, and she stayed at home to look after the family.
It was simple: the traditional model of that generation.
It was very different to how our family dynamics operated and I found it both fascinating and perplexing.
But for them, it worked. Sixty plus years of marriage are testimony to this.
TD was strict, and as a child, he was absolutely terrifying when he was angry. I adored him though, as did everyone in the family. We still do. He is funny, clever, interesting and kind, and he is fiercely protective of his family. His wife and four daughters, his grandchildren, and now even his great grandchildren, are faultless in his eyes.
Heaven help anyone who tries to tell him otherwise.
I can remember breaking it to him when I was a late teen that I in fact like girls rather than boys. It was a difficult conversation and I had become teary when I told him, expecting him to unleash his fury. I was petrified, but I needed to tell him. So I did.
He looked at me in a way I’ll never forget and he said, ‘Oh Shadder (my nickname in the family), you are just a little girl, you don’t know what you want.’
But I did. There was no shouting or fury, he just listened to me quietly while I spoke.
And it was ok.
It became known to everyone in the family that I was ‘that way inclined’ at (not so coincidentally) around the same time I decided to head overseas for 12 months to England.
My year away brought clarity and confidence in the new me. The prospect of embarking on my alternative lifestyle at home, however, was not inviting. It was one thing for friends and family to say it was fine, another for them to deal with the cold, hard reality.
Upon returning to Australia, I eventually met T. I knew the relationship had long term prospects, and so wanted to introduce her to everyone. In a ‘baptism of fire’, I chose a family birthday celebration. No one knew what the grandparents’ reactions were going to be: my parents, aunts and uncles were all apprehensive. The tension was pervasive, as people waited for TD and Mirum to arrive. Finally we heard familiar voices so we made our way towards them.
TD took one look at T by my side, paused for a second, then opened his arms, saying ‘Well, come on then, give us a hug’.
That was the extent of it. The tension immediately vanished and everyone else followed his lead, welcoming T as part of the family.
I have never actually explained to him how much what he did meant to me, and although I suspect he knows, I want to make sure. He is 85 years old now, not a spring chicken anymore, though he is still as charming and lovely as always.
Thank you TD. I truly hope I make you as proud of me, as I am to be your granddaughter.