A Boomer’s life lesson: Gay Pride

Old people can still learn

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s I never knew anybody who was a homosexual. The word “gay” hadn’t yet been been appropriated from its original definition as a synonym for happy. Back then people who were sexually attracted to members of their own gender weren’t discussed openly among normal, heterosexual people. When it did come up in conversation it was always in the form of a disparaging joke or an embarrassed whisper of disgust. As children, we weren’t allowed to know these people existed.

People like that were “in the closet”, a phrase I first heard in my teens. The closet was where they belonged, we thought. We were happy to keep it that way. We assumed “they” were satisfied with the arrangement, too. It never occurred to us that people who were in love with a person of their own sex might wish they could live a normal life without being ashamed of who they were and who they loved.

In my youth “normal life” was on display nightly on our family TV shows: Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best. Families were comprised of a wise father who held a good, steady job and provided guidance and wisdom to his children and his wife. Women worked in the home. They cooked and cleaned and made the family dinner.

These old fashioned stereotypes are laughable now but they really did define us. It was who we were and who we would become as we grew into adulthood ourselves. It was simple, sensible and comforting.

Gay Pride Parade, Chicago

It wasn’t until the 1970s that people got tired of being in the closet and came out to claim their place in society. They were shamed and scorned. We didn’t want to think about their sex lives because sex, even among “normal” people, was dirty and private. Sex in any form might be personally glorious but it was socially icky.

Most of us from that era still believe that the most intimate part of normal loving human relations is nobody’s business but our own and we still don’t want to think about the sexual activities of anybody: our parents, ourselves, our own adult children, and most certainly not people whose private parts couldn’t possibly function the way God intended.

The God problem is still a huge obstacle for many people today. Though I wasn’t raised in church I’ll admit that I still find homosexuality baffling and unnatural, but through the years I’ve decided to accept the fact that other people’s private lives are different from mine and none of my business, just as mine is none of theirs.

Over many years I slowly came around to accept this compromise of my childhood indoctrination with limited understanding. Still, when the gay pride movement became a full fledged political issue my reaction has been the same as many others of my generation running to catch up with cultural and social evolution:

“Fine,” I thought. “Whatever. Just keep it to yourselves!”

I still firmly believe that what happens in the bedroom or who we love is a private affair that shouldn’t be flaunted publicly.

Now, in my sixties, I’ve taken the next step: I know that what I think is of no interest to people who believe strongly otherwise.

And I’ve learned as I age that sometimes I am wrong.

I just watched a TV show on HGTV of all places, in which a realtor finds fabulous homes for people who have recently won the lottery. One of the lottery winners was a gay man, a man of hispanic descent with a male life partner who is black. (This show attacked two social issues for the price of one.) I absolutely fell in love with those guys. Their biracial gay relationship wasn’t even mentioned, it was just there. They bought a home together. Neither of them flaunted anything; they didn’t dress weird or talk with a flamboyant lisp. The only reason I know they’re gay is that they were buying a home together and occasionally one would place a hand on the other’s shoulder, just as the man and wife in the story before theirs did.

Those guys were excited about their new home, they love each other and that defines happiness and freedom in every age.

I don’t have to understand their relationship to enjoy it.

Change moves too swiftly for people who grew up in a different world. Political protests, gay pride parades, LGBTQ demands and the like scare us old folks into a corner we can’t understand.

But I’m not too old to learn.

Woodstock 1969

So, here’s the thing: If you’re a young person, try to realize that your parents and grandparents are wise in their years and life experience. They have much wisdom to share, but they didn’t grow up in the same world you did. You have as much to teach them as they can teach you. Just do it gently, patiently and with love.

If you’re an old fart like me, remember that we are the Flower Children, the original Peace and Love Generation who set out to change the world with freedom for all.

Remember?

“Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding;
No more falsehoods or derisions,
Golden living dreams of visions;
mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation,
Aquarius!…
Aquarius!…”

— The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In
Copyright 1967
Lyrics by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot

We would have had a gay pride parade fifty years ago if we had thought of it.

PS. I’m working on the transgender thing. Please be patient.

(Copyright 2017, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)

A Boomer’s journey

September 1969…

I was 17 the first time I sat behind a microphone and cued a record. I was nervous but too excited to be scared. I had dreamed of this moment since I was eight. I was ready.

The first button I pushed exploded with thunderous drums, brass and a godlike voice:

On the air at KROY, Sacramento 1969.

“And now, LEE WILLIAMS on a Solid Gold Weekend!”

(Singers) “K-O-B-O, Yuba City!”

The second button I pressed started a rock song and my career.

Liftoff! I felt like I was on my way to the stars.

Program Manager at WHBQ Memphis 1975

Somehow 48 years have slipped away since that Saturday morning in Northern California. My resume is as long as the roads that took me from Yuba City to Sacramento to Los Angeles, back to Sacramento and then on to Memphis, back to Sacramento again, to Los Angeles again, then Chicago and now Dallas.

Along the way I’ve been married twice, became a father and bought three homes in different cities.

I’ve made and lost friends and watch loved ones die.

My son just turned 40.

I’ll get my first Social Security check next month. Medicare has my vitals.

And still, I arise at 2:45 a.m. to go do what I do. The old giant radio studio console has been replaced by computer screens and I haven’t played a song since 1975. I talk about the news these days and frankly, most of the stuff in the news is either boring, depressing or comical in an inside joke way, because at my age I feel like I’ve seen and heard it all before.

In the 60s, at the so-called dawning of the Age of Aquarius I first met my now writing partner, Anita Garner, and was given my dream job at KROY, Sacramento. I was the youngest member of the staff. Now I’m the oldest by more than ten years.

Dave & Amy, Mornings on KLIF, Dallas 2014

Some of my colleagues today are young enough to be my grandkids. As people do between one generation and another we’re nice to each other but we don’t really connect. We can share a laugh and bits of our lives but we can’t relate.

I’ve had a wonderful life including my career in radio, though sometimes I wish I had been allowed to stay in one house for more than just a few years. As Anita points out in her latest post radio life is nomadic. Moving from city to city can be exciting but as I near the end of my working life I wonder almost constantly where I will finally call home.

Between now and then I will write about the places I’ve been, the things I’ve learned and some of the stuff I’ve thunk.

That’s the beauty of a life. By the time you close in on the finish line you have tales to tell and wonders to share.

What follows on this page are some of those tales and thoughts compiled over the past several years.

And, you will love Anita. See inside her delightful mind by clicking here.

You’re not supposed to bury your children

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Jeremy and his mom, 1977

If people were born with warranties we’d all be guaranteed a certain number of years of good to reasonable health. Untimely death by accident or an act of God would be the only exemptions.

This week my son returned home from the hospital, a week mostly spent in the ICU.

He was very sick. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have lost him and they still don’t know why. Jeremy’s doctors were skilled enough to revive his failing internal organs, reduce his fever and send him home, yet vials of his blood are still being spun in small centrifuges and smeared onto slides in a lab at the CDC in Atlanta.

JT & me, Fairytale Town2
Jeremy and me, 1982

A couple of weeks from now my kid will turn 39 and while we all try to make sense of the numbers that log our own existence and constantly inform of us how much time we may have left to live, the number of years of JT’s life are completely meaningless to me. I’m his father and all my son’s birthdays are equal from my perspective. They are all scattered moments of his life, the nearly four decades of memories of him that I keep in my heart, timeless and eternal.

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Jeremy and Emily, 1997

He’s still five days old to me, five years old, the teenager, the joyful college student; the remarkable husband and father to his own son that he has grown to become.

He’s still the young man who stunned me by asking that I stand beside him as Best Man in his wedding. When I choked back the lump in my throat and stammered, “Why me instead of one of your buddies?”, he answered as if it was obvious, “Because you’re my best friend”.

For the past week I’ve tried to understand why our children’s lives, regardless of their age and ours, mean more to us than life itself. I suppose it has to do with our own survival instinct, the fierce insistence that above all else we will live forever or at least, in the end, to have mattered.

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Jeremy and his son, Tyler.

It’s a spiritual rabbit hole that I can’t enter and that’s probably a good thing.

All I know for sure is all that will ever matter to me:

My son is alive.

He’s back and getting stronger.

How can I miss you if you won’t go away?

You ever get tired of yourself?

We all get tired of constantly being around other people. Not always or often, but occasionally we need a break from even the people we love most in life: our spouse, our kids, our best friend. And it’s not just one or two of them at a time it’s all of them all at once!

Nobody’s doing anything wrong. I still love you all, you knuckleheads, but still, sometimes I just get a bit weary. We all do. I’m no psychologist but I’m absolutely sure that it’s normal and healthy and nothing to worry about. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Or, as Dan Hicks put it in his song by the same name: How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

Have you ever wondered how you can go through your entire life without feeling that way about yourself? bored

Geez! Everywhere you go all day, every day, there you are!

When you go to bed you go with you. When you wake up you’re still there.

Every single moment of your life you know everything you’re thinking and everything you’re going to say before you say it! Doesn’t that make you just a little crazy every once in awhile?

You understand yourself better than anybody else. You talk to yourself but you never, I mean NEVER, have a disagreement. You like the same foods, watch the same TV shows, laugh and cry at the same things and you love the same people.

The one thing I almost never do is surprise myself. And that’s a drag.

I swear, sometimes I just need a short break from me. I need to send myself away or take a short vacation and be somebody I never met before. Or, be nobody at all just for a little while.

If you know me personally, admit it, the thought of being with me 24/7 for 64 years is unimaginable, right? Sure it is! You couldn’t do it, so why should I be expected to?

I know what you’re thinking. Both of me assures you emphatically I am not having a break down or bordering on being dangerous to myself. I love every moment of life.

I love me!

Still, sometimes I begin to have a thought and then cut it off with, “Yeah, I know. — Whatever.”

Ever feel like that?

Perfection in solitude

When I was between marriages some thirty-four years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives:

I learned to be alone and to love it.

the-lonely-man

I had never been alone for more than a couple of hours, or an afternoon at most. I grew up in my parents’  home, moved into an apartment with a buddy at 19, was married at 20 and lived with my first wife until I was thirty. Then, the divorce. Reality caved in on me and I found myself living in a small apartment with our newlywed furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again.

“Our” life was over. My life alone was beginning and I was terrified.

Forced to take a scheduled vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Ft. Bragg, California, and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.

There is nothing more lonely than an unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.

People who have never been married for a long time and have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self mourning. I’m not talking about self pity, that’s the easy part, but rather, true self mourning. It has nothing to do with longing for the company of your ex-spouse. Missing your happy memories of that person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the excruciating sense that half of the whole person I had become over my lifetime was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.

I missed everything that gave me comfort: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our daily routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away but I didn’t know how. So, I cried. It’s all I could do. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then, exhausted, I would tumble into a restless sleep and eventually awaken still empty, still lonely but refreshed enough to well up with pain once again and resume my suffering.

That’s the key, I think. Wallow in your misery. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care when nothing seems to matter, including self preservation. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic but nothing heals like embracing pure grief, for that is its purpose.

During a lull in despondency during my lonely vacation, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement and getting bored with self pity, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world.

The sky and sea were complimentary shades of brilliant blue. The sun and sand were golden, the air crisp, thick and salty. It was one of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast and that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head:

“This day is a gift.”

Epiphany!

“You’re going to be fine. You’ve survived. You’ll be happy again,” the voice said.

I was not alone. I had me.

As I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser – perhaps divine – part of myself I suddenly understood that I had always been there and that I knew more about myself than I had ever considered. I had a lot to say but had never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of noise and distractions. And, as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:

I like me.

A few days later, still sad but at peace, I wandered into a little shop in Mendocino and spotted a poster waiting for me to carry it home. It was a beautifully photographed picture of a tiny, empty rowboat mirrored in a calm sea. The caption beneath it read:

There is perfection in solitude. It is the reflection of serenity.

I returned to the societal circus and made my way back in.

That was many years ago but now I can still hear my internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice.

Today, Carolann, and I are gloriously happy in the twenty-eighth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey often said, we are “happily ever-aftering.”

But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because I still need to be alone once in awhile, to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen to the brain in my heart.

I need days away from familiar people, places and things to talk at leisure with my internal best friend and to frolic together like dogs on a beach until we wear ourselves out with freedom and possibilities, and to promise each other we will do this again!

Copyright © 2007, 2015 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Wanderlust

It’s a lifelong disease. There is no cure that I know of, but then I’ve never known anybody who wanted to be cured. IMG_20140708_113913

Though Western America is now a Happy Meal collection of fast food franchises and big box stores there is still a lot of heart to be found in the Heartland if you know where to look.

You look in small towns away from major cities and highways, in out of the way places where ordinary people live extraordinary lives.

You look by just wanting to find American treasures of passion and goodness boiled down to old fashioned common sense in very uncommon people. And by not being in a hurry to get where you’re going. So much the better if you’re not going anywhere in particular.

My friend, Chuck Woodbury, has lived the life of a motor home vagabond for nigh on to 40 years and has managed to earn a living and buy gas writing about his adventures, the oddball places he has discovered and the people he has met.  Inevitably, all of Chuck’s stories are wonderful in their uniqueness and astonishing in their consistency.

Road signs 380 and 720Americans everywhere are all the same. When you peel off the layers of anxiety,  necessity and pretense we all just want to enjoy our lives with our families, our friends, and most importantly, ourselves.

My father, Don Williams, surely wasn’t the first person who ever said this  but he was the first who said it to me:

“Until you learn to know and love yourself, you’ll never be worth a  damn to anybody else.”

Like Dad, I found myself on the road.

 

Chuck Woodbury’s Roadside Journal can be found and enjoyed here: http://roadsidejournal.rvtravel.com/ 

 

 

 

A postcard to Ireland

I just took my wife of 27 years to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport and sent her on her way.

Carolann Conley is going home for the first time.

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I’ve always called her Feisty One. Her Irish roots are strong and obvious. She dances with joyous abandon, lives in the moment, loves ferociously, laughs like a free angel and cries only for puppies and children, never for herself.

Carolann roses

Her emerald eyes sparkle one minute and then cloud over the next, with the dangerous darkness of a storm borne of the cold Irish Sea.

She’s a handful, for sure, but not this week. She’s on her own now, to find her ancestral roots in the green hills of her old country.

I expect Carolann to return to me with breathless stories of her Ireland and a heart filled with discovery.

This is how we grow into ourselves and learn to appreciate the thousands of lives before ours that loved us into existence.

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The TV revolution

Have you heard about the new TV show called Transparent? The Hollywood crowd is abuzz with excitement. Here’s how the producers of the show describe it:

An L.A. family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone to spill their secrets.

In the industry that’s called a “logline”, a one-sentence show description designed to hook the reader into wanting more. This one strikes me as pretty bland but the critics are raving about the show and the industry insiders are fawning and fussing over themselves for being so brilliantly progressive as to create this wall-shattering, breathtaking cinematic experience.

CarolAnn and I were curious so we watched three episodes last night. They’re only a half hour each. The show is labeled as comedy.

Transparent is about a 70-ish family patriarch cross dresser coming out of the closet to his adult children and admitting he is a long suffering woman trapped in a man’s body. (“Trans”-“parent”, get it?) It’s filled with nudity, including full frontal, and people running around having sex with people they’re not supposed to be having sex with, including two happily married soccer moms having a fling together at their long repressed lesbianism and a drug addled caucasian female who arranges a ménage à trois with two African American men and explains to them that when they are finished with her she wants to watch them “do” each other. That’s when they throw her out of the house.

They have their principles.

I’m not making this up. I honestly don’t believe I could if I tried and I’m kind of proud of that.

As you might imagine there is a lot of yelling and swearing and tears in all of this but, oddly, no comedy at all, not a single chuckle or even a smile and I honestly can’t see where any was intended.

My wife and I are old enough that none of this shocks us. We’re not particularly offended by language and we don’t even lament the loss of cultural dignity and decency as much as we used to because, frankly, that train left the station long ago. We’ve sort of gotten used to it. We’re just tired of TV shows with no likable characters, no reason to care and nothing to smile about.

And, we’re tired of being told that depravity is normal and there is no such thing as a lie when it serves our own selfish desperation.

This is what passes for comedy now. It’s what we celebrate.

Because it’s easier to lower our standards than to raise our expectations.

Dear Little Thing…

Until I read this letter a couple of days ago I’ve excused myself from passing judgment on abortion. I don’t like it but I’m a man, it’s not my body and I have no right to an opinion.

Sorry, not my table.

Besides, morality is largely subjective, isn’t it? Who am I to tell you what’s right or wrong for you?

Then I read this letter written by an unidentified woman and posted on the social site, Reddit, and reprinted in Cosmopolitan. The writer is having an abortion tomorrow.

It’s a letter to her unborn child.

Little Thing:

I can feel you in there. I’ve got twice the appetite and half the energy. It breaks my heart that I don’t feel the enchantment that I’m supposed to feel. I am both sorry and not sorry.

I am sorry that this is goodbye. I’m sad that I’ll never get to meet you. You could have your father’s eyes and my nose and we could make our own traditions, be a family. But, Little Thing, we will meet again. I promise that the next time I see that little blue plus, the next time you are in the same reality as me, I will be ready for you.

Little Thing, I want you to be happy. More than I want good things for myself, I want the best things for the future. That’s why I can’t be your mother right now. I am still growing myself. It wouldn’t be fair to bring a new life into a world where I am still haunted by ghosts of the life I’ve lived. I want you to have all the things I didn’t have when I was a child. I want you to be better than I ever was and more magnificent than I ever could be. I can’t do to you what was done to me: Plant a seed made of love and spontaneity into a garden, and hope that it will grow on only dreams. Love and spontaneity are beautiful, but they have little merit. And while I have plenty of dreams to go around, dreams are not an effective enough tool for you to build a better tomorrow. I can’t bring you here. Not like this.

I love you, Little Thing, and I wish the circumstances were different. I promise I will see you again, and next time, you can call me Mom.

The woman who wrote this is obviously a person of sensitivity, intellect and skill. I’ll even assume that she has a great capacity for love because she seems to understand how it feels, if not exactly what it means.

Mom is ending her beloved Little Thing’s potential for life because it’s inconvenient.

Little Thing will never open his or her eyes to the dazzling rock show of light and sound that celebrates the moment of every birth. She’ll never feel the warm rush of delivery from her mother’s womb to her mother’s arms.

Little Thing will never suffer fear or confusion because Mom spared him of all that inconvenience.

He/She/Thing will never cry or laugh or decide what tastes It likes or doesn’t like.

She/He/It will never be excited or fearful, nor consider Little Thing’s future possibilities.

After tomorrow nothing will be possible.

There will be no Little Thing.

She/He/It is inconvenient.

The beauty of youth is in its innocence.

Youth believes in forever and happy endings.

The harshness of age is in its wisdom, the bitter pill of learning that as much as our younger selves still cling to hope and miracles, the truth is some people can’t be fixed.

Getting older doesn’t make us less tolerant. It makes us sadly less naive.

After 60 years of looking for excuses I’ve decided that very bad, destructive people need to be put away for life. I can’t care anymore about their personal problems. I’m sorry for them but we just can’t afford to give some people a second chance.
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Arsonists are like murderers. They should either be executed or locked up forever. They blew their shot at happiness, decency and contribution.

Some of them never had a chance, of course. Some grew up in families so screwed up they never had a shot at personal salvation. These poor souls suffer more internal pain every week than most of us will deal with in our entire lives.

That’s tragic in every sense of the word but here’s what’s worse:

We just can’t afford to care.

Some of them must be sacrificed because our abilities are limited and we must make decisions.

That’s the ugly truth.