Posted by: krusty505 | August 30, 2011

What My Dysfunctional Father Taught Me About Love.

The following is part of a Coffee Talk Challenge from First Gen America. It’s my first attempt to “link back” to another blogger, so hopefully I’ll get it right…

To say that my father was dysfunctional would be an understatement of mammoth proportions. He was diagnosed bipolar; in those days (the 1970’s) they called it manic depression. For much of his adult life, Fred took lithium for this terrible illness. Lithium was and is a pretty poor drug with lots of side effects, which included massive withdrawal symptoms. However, it was effective in treating his disease (when he took it), and he was a better person when he stayed on it regularly. Unfortunately, lithium’s relative success often led my father to believe that he didn’t need it any longer, and he would stop taking it, thus leading to wild and massive swings from crazy states of mania to long-term depressive episodes.

He was also openly gay in an age when that wasn’t really the safest way to live one’s life. I’ll never forget the first time the dangers inherent in my father’s lifestyle became clear to me. My parents divorced when I was 3, and I spent Saturdays first and then weekends later with him and his lover, Tom. The following happened when I was 8 or 9. He had dropped me off at my mother’s house after one of our weekend visits and had stopped at a pay phone on the way home to call his lover and let him know he was running late. While he was on the phone, a group of young teenage boys noticed his attire: tight tank-top and tight bell-bottom jeans, shaggy but well-groomed hair and mustache. They started yelling “faggot” and throwing rocks at him. At first, as the rocks were pelting the glass of the phone booth, my father thought he was being shot at, and this is what he communicated to Tom. In fact, these were the last words Tom heard before one of the projectiles hit my father in the head, temporarily knocking him senseless. Seven stitches later, he was physically as good as new, but this attack could/should have left him with little faith in humanity. Fortunately, it did not.

My father had a deep and abiding faith in human beings and their inherent goodness. I remember at a young age being told by him and by Tom that people were basically good and full of love and compassion. If a person was acting hatefully, he/she was clearly ignorant (a word very different from stupid in my father’s lexicon) and had been taught to hate. I, on the other hand,  was taught to deal with such ignorance with tolerance and understanding, and I was always to treat others with dignity and respect. I’m not sure I could have treated my father’s “ignorant” assailants with dignity and respect, but I can say that only once in his life did my father advocate the use of violence on my part.

Near the end of my mother’s battle with cancer, a battle she was losing swiftly, she would take to having long and torturous coughing fits. These painful episodes sometimes lasted several minutes. Arleen was frail and tired of putting on pretenses; thus, she frequently wore a head scarf instead of her usual wig. It was clear that she was ill and probably dying, and most people were kind and understanding of her obvious condition.

She liked to go see Broadway musicals at Fords Theater; Fred and I would take here to performances regularly as she and my father rekindled their deep but platonic love for one another near the end of her life, and during one of the big numbers in “Cats” she succumbed to a particularly nasty bout of coughing. The “man” sitting in front of the 3 of us kept glaring over his shoulder at her as if she had any say in the matter of disturbing his enjoyment of the show. I was so insulted and furious that I wanted to ask him to step outside, but remembering my father’s disdain of violence, I held my tongue. Later, Fred told me he wished I would have taken the guy outside and “beat the snot out of the bastard.” So though this flew in the face of my father’s general principles of tolerance and understanding, I think what he was trying to say was, “Christopher, be strong and protect your loved ones.”

Aside from this particular incident, however, my father eschewed violence in all forms and generally taught me to be kind to other people and to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves. So yes, my father was dysfunctional; he was a total pain in the ass to deal with at times, especially when he was swinging at the very edges of his emotional pendulum. And yes, he frequently neglected me to the point of putting me in dangerous and sometimes ridiculous situations. But he was also a man of great principles, deep love, and an unwavering respect for all individuals’ humanity. He was the living embodiment of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So what did I learn from my gay, bipolar, dysfunctional father? I learned the real meaning of the word love.



  1. […] Krusty On Chrissy- What My Dysfunctional Father Taught Me About Love […]

  2. This is SO good!

  3. The phone booth scene is practically cinematic! Great story. Great storytelling.

  4. Wow. I can’t wait to link back to this story.

    It’s really amazing what an optimist your dad was about despite being exposed to more than his fair share of ignorant and dangerous people.

  5. […] Krusty On Chrissy- What My Dysfunctional Father Taught Me About Love […]

  6. This is so moving — what a lovely essay. It seems so strange to learn from love from difficult behavior, but it so wonderful when you can. What a loving tribute to your dad.

  7. Thanks for all the positive responses. For some reason my replies are not showing up on my end, so if I’ve responded to you more than once, sorry. If you haven’t gotten my responses, I have responded to all comments, so I’m not sure what’s going on with wordpress.

  8. […] Krusty On Chrissy: What My Dysfuctional Father Taught Me About Love […]

  9. […] Krusty On Chrissy- What My Dysfunctional Father Taught Me About Love […]

  10. Great story, and well-written!

  11. Thank you for sharing this story. What your father taught you is a great lesson for all and it is clear that what you learned has stuck with you.

    • I didn’t even know you were reading my blog! Thanks for the comment:)

  12. OH, CHURKEN.

  13. […]  That post was one of his first where he threw the focus on his family.  Go check it out here, it’s about traditional values taught by his fairly un-traditional […]

  14. Chris – Really nice piece. Your posts are pretty inspiring on a number of levels. Nan

    • Thanks, Nan. What I NEED to do is get off my a$$ and write some more;)

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