My dad’s best friend came to him one day when I was about 16:
“So Tony’s gay?”
My dad responded with “Yep. Tony’s gay.”
“What are you gonna do about it?”
My dad chuckled and said: “Nothing. Tony’s still Tony.”
On paper my dad and I should have been at odds. My dad had lived in this small country his whole life. He was a tradie and high school woodwork teacher. A big man with a beard and a deep voice. He would take my brothers to footy on the weekends, he would build and fix things around the house, he was “a good bloke.”
I was a Judy Garland-loving, loud, flamboyant, camp little boy who would sing at the drop of a hat. Everyone knew when school was out because I would perform a small little concert for the cars driving by as I walked home. “Clang clang clang went the trolley, ding ding ding went the bell,” I would belt out the Garland standards. You would be able to hear me from a mile away.
When I think of Dad, there are many times that statement has rang true. In Year 10, I went to my dad who was sitting at the kitchen table and asked him about when he buys my mum’s panty hose. My dad answers all my questions without a concern.
Finally he said: “Do you need panty hose?”
I answered cautiously: “Yes.”
“What size are you?”
He brought along Mum, and we roughly figured out what size I was. He went up to the local IGA and brought me a pair of panty hose for a Drag performance I had the next day.
My first job was at a roast chicken restaurant at the end of my street.
One evening I was working the drive thru window. I was using the headset.
“Can I take your order?” I asked.
“Yes, can I have a Roast Chicken Roll meal deal? Upsized please?”
As I typed in the order, I was simply focused on getting the order correct. I wasn’t thinking of anything other than a Roast Chicken Roll Meal Deal.
I read back the order and said, “Drive through please.”
The van was an old rusty surfer van with curtains on the back window. The type of van that with one glance you think “they live in that van”. As the driver arrived at the window I took the money. I gave him change. It was like a hundred transactions I’d done before.
As I was getting his meal ready he yelled “Yo Faggot!” As I looked up, my manager had walked in and slammed the drive-thru window shut. The customer had tried to beat me with a baseball bat through the window.
The window caught the bat. I watched as the man slid the bat out from the window. I went to the back of the store to take a breath.
As I locked up the restaurant door this evening, my dad appeared. He was standing there with his wooden walking stick that he made in his woodwork room at school. I finished up for the evening. I was puzzled. I asked why he was there, I mean we lived four houses away.
“Is everything alright?” I asked.
“What do you mean?"
“I don’t understand why you’re here.”
“Your manager called to say someone tried to beat you with a baseball bat.”
“Oh yeah, that happened.”
My nonchalant attitude to the situation took my dad by surprise I think. As much as for him this is not a normal thing, for me it was just another day. I was first called “Faggot” at the age of eight.
“What’s the walking stick for?”
“In case I need to whack anyone with it,” he replied with a chuckle.
“I was really disappointed in your eulogy. You didn’t speak about how your dad loved you despite the fact that you were gay.”
The comment stuck in the air.
I stood there in the narrow kitchen of the weatherboard house my family had lived in for 42 years, speechless.
I worked really hard at being me, so people would see Tony before they saw ‘Gay’ Tony. So to have someone, on one of the worst days of my life, reduce me back to ‘Gay Tony’ was unbearable. I was not shocked that she believed the most important part of my relationship with my dad was the “gay” thing.
Our relationship confused a lot people. How could such an all-round Australian top bloke have a gay son?
The short answer is perhaps my favourite answer, that’s just the way it was.
Tony is a story teller/writer, who has a passion to share stories to illuminate experiences of those unheard in a mainstream audience, with a focus on the belief system of thriving while surviving always with hope and love. You can follow Tony on Twitter @pantsshop87.
This story was originally entered in the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition and forms part of a special collection curated for Mardi Gras celebrating LGBTIQA+ writers and stories.
Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.
The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV (geo-block removed for viewers internationally).