Father’s Day is a time to celebrate the connection between dad and child, but not everyone in the queer community is lucky enough to have a strong bond with their parents. Lush Oxford Street manager Dave Parry talks about his relationship with his dad, and how it turned his perception of gender stereotypes on its head.
My small town, handyman dad taught me that actually, you can be who you want to be and there's no such thing as conforming to gender stereotypes and sexuality, as long as you're happy. He taught me to be soft, vulnerable, authentic, genuine and full of laughter. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but now I’m in my thirties and our relationship is one that I truly treasure.
Childhood memories with my dad are admittedly few and far between. When he was doing maintenance work in the local caravan park he used to let me put the caps on the screws after he’d finished. Child labour under the ruse of a fun game. I remember running around laughing while he tried to grab me and rub his stubble on my face and the pranks he’d play. Once, he literally traumatised us by proclaiming Santa had come and taken Christmas away during the night when he had actually moved the entire set-up, tree and all, into the garage to be discovered later by a trio of tearful snot-ridden kids.
It can’t have been easy, dealing with my mum leaving when we were young and all of a sudden being solely responsible for three young children. Particularly while bearing the emotional weight of a broken marriage and the pressure of a maintenance business that grew too quick too fast. When we were younger, my dad was the typical bread-winner working hard all day to provide for his family, so this new task of also home making meant a lot of very basic repetitive meals, nights with grandparents and difficulties all around.
After a short while we moved to live with my mother and her partner in the Midlands, and time with my dad became fixed to limited times during school holidays. Half-terms and the endless stretches of the summer holidays found me back home with my family in Wales, reconnecting with friends and tumbling through sand dunes. Trips to Woolworths were always a fave, but alas, gone are the days of a Woolie’s Pick ‘n’ Mix. In between the sporadic visits my dad began to piece together the remnants of his life without us and built something new. A new wife, new kids.
Not being the most stereotypically boyish child was never all that much of a concern to me. My most formative memories of being raised by my mum with three sisters involved experiencing the strength of women, but as two new brothers entered my life I started to notice that their household became more stereotypically ‘manly’, strewn with power tools, conversations about football and DIY projects, all things that felt alien. Dad would want me to help pull down a shed, while I didn’t want to get dirty. It was a distinctly different atmosphere than I was used to, and I began to feel inadequate.
Hindsight provides the perspective I didn’t have as a kid. My dad was never concerned with such things as gender stereotypes. He always had a power tool in hand, but as a child he’d buy me whichever toys I wanted, never thinking twice if it was a My Little Pony or a Power Ranger. The primary issue here was me being unsure of myself, and what that meant in regards to the relationships around me.
The rough patch of our relationship happened when I was still at school. He compared my results with someone else’s unfavourably, which hurt a lot, considering that my studies had slipped due to me having to spend time caring for my mother who was dealing with cancer at the time. It took a good few months before we spoke again, and this conversation ended poorly, with me expressing that he didn’t know who I was at all, and to be fair, that was true. Our lives had taken two different paths with very different effects. I wasn’t like his other sons, all rough and tumble, and looking back I realise I didn’t share any parts of myself with my dad and had become insular. Separate. I had never really allowed him to get to know me.
We didn’t talk again for years until I was eventually convinced by my sister to try and rebuild our relationship. It was, frankly, terrifying. After school I felt I was finally free to express myself as who I actually was and I had spent my late teens coming to terms with navigating my sexuality and self image in a way that felt authentic and true to myself. I didn’t know how I would fit back into the male-centric narrative of my father’s life. Turns out, I needn’t have worried.
I don’t remember there being an awkward phase where we learnt how to navigate our new dynamic, it was instantly full of laughter, openness and respect. My dad instantly understood who I was and I had no desire to hide anything from him. We were equals and friends as well as father and son. My dad is a man of humble roots. We’re from a small seaside town in North Wales, where there isn’t a diverse community and everyone knows each other’s business. He’s a proper salt of the earth handyman, will do anything for anyone (give him a call if you ever need a window fitting), but he never once blanched at his colourful, expressive gay son as he made his way around the small village.
I’ve never had to come out to my dad. I’d never felt the need to conceal who I was, and it was just an accepted part of me. While we were driving in his van one day he simply said “You know I don’t care if you’re gay, just as long as you’re happy.” This stuck with me more than I think he realises. I’ve always considered myself incredibly lucky to be part of a family that just understand who I am, and I’ve not had to battle my way through tumultuous family relationships regarding my sexuality like many others in my community have.
I actually don’t think it was ever really about being accepted by my dad. It was about accepting myself. It’s only when I came to the table with a firmer sense of self that I could really contribute to our relationship and share more parts of myself, allowing a relationship to be built in earnest.
I love my dad. He taught me that there are no expectations when it comes to what makes a person who they are. He taught me to laugh and keep moving when things get tough. I feel an immense sense of pride when people recognise that I’m my dad’s son and when I get to walk side by side with him in our town. There are the occasional stretches when we forget to call, or don’t see each other for a while for one reason or another. Life in London is busy and I’m far from home, but I know that I have a place there with him to head back to if I ever need to. It doesn’t matter, because I know he’ll always be there for me.
I suppose I’d better give him a call, eh? Love you, pops.