[This is the first installment of my memoir, The Long Walk Home. Click here for a complete table of contents.]
One Saturday afternoon when I was about nine my father called me into my parents’ bedroom, closed the door, and invited me to sit on the bed. I’m sure he called me “Boy” on that occasion, a signal that he was not angry but wanted to speak proudly (about one of my accomplishments) or paternally (a lesson at his home school). I noticed the fine white spread on a four-poster bed that was always neatly made. I patted the spread nervously, wondering what was up. Then my father started in on the birds and the bees.
I’m sure Dad had prepared our little talk with as much care as he did a Dale Carnegie lesson, scheming out the order of presentation in advance: the love between a man and a woman who were married, the anatomy involved and the pleasure, and the importance of saving it for your wife on your wedding night. His father had instructed him, while a teenager, that if he ever felt the need, Dave should “see a professional downtown” instead of getting a Minnetonka debutante in the family way. Dad never suggested that I employ the services of a prostitute; instead, he cautioned me about masturbation and premarital sex. I came to believe, and I believe to this day, that my father was a virgin when he married my mother when he was twenty-six and a veteran of two years in the Army and four more in business.
A few years after the birds and the bees, when I was about thirteen, my father and I had another bedroom chat. This was entirely stranger. It was a weekend morning in Connecticut, where we had moved when I was ten. I was daydreaming late in one of the twin beds in the room I shared with my brother. Inevitably, David was downstairs watching “Little Rascals” reruns, or perhaps “Mighty Mouse.”
Dad knocked and entered and asked if he could sit down. When I said yes, he pulled up a corner of the covers and lay beside me. Suddenly, we were two lonely grunts staring at the sky, Army tent mates listening for ack-ack fire in the distance. I scanned my memory for recent transgressions, a cursory teenage examination of conscience. I had lifted a True Detectives magazine from a shop downtown, been nabbed, and undergone a stern paternal lecture. True Detectives contained tawdry prose involving breasts, thighs, and nylons, and I found it irresistible for one long year of not exactly perfect chastity, masturbation-wise.
But no. I rolled my eyes toward Dad. He had something else in mind.
My father talked to me about homosexuality, a strange topic in retrospect for an older man to be discussing with a younger one while they lay together in bed. But my relationship with my father included intimacy, mentorship, and sporting camaraderie in equal measure. Dad taught me to shake hands firmly and to punt with a spiral, and we kissed each other on the lips from the time I was a baby until the day before he died.
Now my father spoke of homosexuality as he had spoken about heterosexual love five years before. He spoke scientifically, unemotionally, his train of thought worked out in advance. He made it clear that he did not think that homosexual love was something a man should ever even think about. He was less moralistic than protective, cautioning me against behavior that he thought could hurt me. He was a product of his generation.
I realized only later that the timing of this talk was not random. Our heart-to-heart followed close on the heels of events in my school life.
On a weekend ski trip, a male teacher in our secular private day school had made sexual advances on me. Other boys had been on the trip, but I do not know if anyone else received the same attentions. I only know that I awoke in the middle of the night with the teacher’s hand inside my underwear. I pretended to toss and turn in my sleep and he finally abandoned the probe, but when we returned home the teacher continued pursuing me.
One afternoon the teacher stalked me in his car while I rode my paper route on my bike. He pulled me over like a cop and dressed me down for not coming to see him after class. It was creepy, and I told my mother about it. She must have told Dad, and my father did what good fathers do. He drove down to school late the next afternoon, buttonholed the teacher in his classroom, and told him to leave me alone. The teacher never bothered me again.
NOTE: This is a brief excerpt from my memoir The Long Walk Home, copyright © 2015 by Webster L. Bull. All rights reserved. To read the next excerpt, “God: Learning About the Saints,” click here.