In the early 1970s, the choices for my life were stark. My father showed me a model of the rugged individualist. Then there was my attraction to men and the life that homosexuality seemed to promise. Neither was what I wanted.
Dad had many great qualities. When he passed away, people shared stories of how decent and honorable he was, how his word was his bond. Dad was someone people looked up to, but as his son, I had a different opinion.
To understand my father, imagine the character, John Galt, from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which dad loved. Dad saw himself as a character in an Ayn Rand novel playing the heroic entrepreneur out to show the world the right way.
As a teenager, I remember dad holding court with friends or extended family over dinner, so sure of his own rightness. He would discuss the political events of the day with an utter sureness about his perspective. Anyone who disagreed with him would be met with a knowing smile and some amount of contempt. My aunt, my mother’s sister, was often the target of his arrogance at family dinners because, as a liberal, she dared to challenge the rightness of his conservative perspective.
As a gay child of a very straight man out of 1950s central casting, dad did not know what to do with me. From an early age, I disliked sports, disliked the things dad did, like fishing, and was not interested in business or world events. I preferred to watch TV engrossed in my shows like The Bowery Boys or the Little Rascals, sew with my grandmother or play dolls with my sister. He, for his part, dad was quick to anger with me. He also gave up on me too quickly. I was not an easy child for him, and he had no reference points on what to do with a child that did not meet his view of what a straight male child should be.
Then, later on, there was my attraction to men. At fourteen, I discovered that I was turned on to nude pictures of men I found in Screw Magazine and immediately began looking for information on what this meant. I did not have to look further than the books in my father’s den. Hidden on a high shelf was a book about sex that colored my idea of homosexuality for years to come. That book painted a picture of a sick life of furtive sex in highway rest stops and park bushes. It painted a picture of illness and a life of depravity. Homosexuals appeared to live outside the bounds of “normal” society. Homosexuals had jobs like a hairdresser or worked in the theatre. But a life like my parents had? No, not that kind of life.
I did not see myself as anything like my father. From a young age, I found I could not enter his world the way my sister and later my brothers did. Dad was an incredibly decent and honorable man, and I valued those attributes. But he was a father who had no patience or understanding of me, and in turn, I increasingly did not want much to do with him.
I also could not see myself as part of the gay world. In the pre-AIDS era, of random sex and wild hedonism, I saw a world that stood outside regular society. I could not imagine having a professional career as an out gay man. The book I had read at fourteen haunted me for years with thoughts of the sick subculture that was homosexuality.
When it came the time in high school to choose a direction for college, I leaned towards fine arts. My own sensibilities about acceptable future jobs, however, had me go for a design degree, which seemed to combine creativity with a paying career. I did not see myself as a starving artist and was self-aware enough to know I wanted to make enough money to be comfortable. But I could not imagine myself following in my father’s footsteps, at least not initially.
Design, however, led me eventually to business school and an MBA in finance with a concentration in real estate finance, my father’s profession. After my MBA, I went to work for my father, but found him distant, wrapped up in his own life, with little time to teach me. Within a year of graduation, I let my father know I was leaving his company and moving to New York City. Increasingly, I had become interested in technology and saw my future emerging in the field of information technology.