I slice through the New York Strip like butter, revealing a glorious pink medium-rare center. I inhale the aroma wafting from the steak and almost drool just from the combination of garlic and thyme.
Dad lets out a chuckle from across the table. “So what did they say after your thesis defense?” He asks just loud enough for me to hear over the energetic chatter of other customers here in the steakhouse. “They didn’t enjoy all the puns, did they?”
“Oh, they loved the puns.” I say after swallowing a piece of the steak. “Okay, maybe they complained after the third Terminator reference, but it worked out in the end.”
Dad smiles through his thick black mustache. Creases and folds form on his face, which is something that I’ve never noticed before. I guess he’s getting older now. Or maybe it’s because I barely see him anymore, and any changes, big or small, will immediately look foreign to me. He struggles to slice a small piece of his rib-eye, incredibly well-done as usual, and chews meticulously so his dentures wouldn’t fall out of his mouth. He sighs and stares at me, making me stop right before I eat another piece of the steak.
“Thank you.” Dad exhales deeply as if saying those two words managed to take the wind out of him. “Not just for buying me dinner for the first time… Thank you… for still coming to dinner with me.”
I chomp on the next piece of my steak and chew slowly. This is the fifth Father’s Day dinner we’ve had where it was only me and Dad in attendance. Maybe I’m just more forgiving than my other siblings and Mom.
“It’s nothing, really.” I shrug. “I can’t really say no to good food…” I raise my glass of water in the air. “Happy Father’s Day!” I exclaim before placing the glass down a little too quickly.
We both go back to our steaks. Every so often, Dad would break the silence between us with small talk, but I offer short replies in between rounds of chewing my food. All around us were happy diners, smiling and laughing warmly at one another. Each table, like ours, has a father-figure sitting down on it that attracts all the beaming grins and chuckles from their respective families. Seeing Dad just sitting there making polite small talk, however, seems incredibly surreal.
“Is something wrong?” I finally ask. Dad jumps in his seat, taken aback by my question. “Normally you’d be complaining about Auntie Cynthia or doing something embarrassing by now, this is really concerning—–”
“I know you’re gay.”
I freeze mid-sentence. I haven’t heard my dad say that word in decades. His face looks more determined now. This is what he wanted to talk about all along.
“Dad, this isn’t the time—-”
“Your Auntie Cynthia called me on the phone and told me all about it.” He snarls, a chunk of steak flying from his mouth and lands on the edge of my plate. “Do you know how embarrassing that is? Apparently all your aunts and uncles and cousins already knew about it. And it seems like I’m the last to find out… When did you come out?”
I don’t know where to start. I never expected him to bring this up.
“What’s wrong?” He asks. He scans my face for any answers but I continue to stay stoic. “Son, I’m doing the best that I can to be a father here. I’m here if you need to talk about it.”
“Dad,” I start to speak, my voice quivering just a little bit. “There’s nothing to talk about. Now come on, you’re making a scene—-”
Dad drops his cutlery on the table. The clanging of the metal causes dissonance with the vibrant energy around us. His breathing becomes erratic. The façade he had earlier is now gone, revealing the frustration he’s been hiding all along. This is the father that I remember.
“I have every right to know this as your father!” Dad half-screams, slamming his fist near his plate. I could feel the gaze of a few people around us. “I’ve done everything that I could to make sure none of you went hungry. The least you can do is treat me like your –”
Something inside me snaps.
“WHY DO YOU THINK I’M STILL HERE?” I bellow. More diners turn their heads but they eventually return to their tables. Dad tries to speak again but I quickly cut in. “Don’t you think I know that? I get it. You’ve sacrificed so much for us. No matter how much I hate to admit it, I can never say that I’m not your son!”
“Then what’s with all the secrecy?” Dad interrogates. His nostrils flare and his eyes grow wide. I feel inclined to be intimidated, but I’m not a teenager anymore. His hands flail wildly, making him appear larger and threatening. I know his game. As he realizes that I’m not flinching, he switches tactics.“What, do you think I hate gays? You’re my son, I would never reject you for being–”
“Our Florida Vacation, 2007.” I reply with confidence, crossing my arms. A few shades of color drain from Dad’s face. “After we saw Cousin Dylan propose to his boyfriend in Jacksonville, you told me that if you ever find out that I was gay,” All the air vanishes from my lungs, forcing me to inhale sharply. I clear my throat. “… you would break legs, chain me up by my ankles and hang me from the ceiling.” Dad tries to speak but nothing comes out. “Well?” I throw my hands up gesturing for him to say something. “Was I supposed to think you liked gay people after that?”
“I…” Dad stutters, averting eye contact. “I was drunk. That was just a joke—”
I roll my eyes. “You were sober! You spat on Dylan when he tried to hug you. You kept calling them ‘faggots’ as we drove away—” An exasperated sigh manages to sneak its way out of my mouth as I place my hand over my face. “‘I was drunk…’ what kind of fucking sorry excuse is that?”
Dad looks like he just ran out of steam. He sits on his chair with slump shoulders. I have never seen him look so defeated. “I…” he starts softly. “I just want you to tell me. In person. Not through text or on the phone. Not through someone else. I shouldn’t have to hear this from your relatives. This is something that you should be telling me face to face. I’m just… Just trying to be a good father–”
For a moment I feel like I should believe him. His face reverts back to its old, wrinkled self. His furrowed brows soften, and a small frown develops on his lips. I feel the need to forgive him, but something holds me back. I’ve heard him apologize before. I seen him apologize to Mom countless times. I’ve forgiven him so many times myself, and I always end up disappointed in both of us.
“And I’m trying to be a good son.” I add. “This is the least I can do. I can spare an hour or two with you for dinner. I tell you things about my life.”
I can see our waiter walking closer to us. A concerned expression forms on his face for the first time this evening.
“But I’ll choose what I want to tell you.” I declare. “On my own terms… When I’m ready, not when you ask me.” I point at him as he dares to even open his mouth to talk. “This isn’t about you… and it never will be.”
I can’t even tell if I forgave him or not. I don’t feel like I did, and I feel like it was a lukewarm answer. But it seems like Dad’s shoulders relax a bit. He sits back on his chair once again, staring up at the ceiling. I do the same. The ceiling itself isn’t interesting. The long light fixtures that hang from the ceiling and drop to about 4 feet above each tables are nothing to cry home about. I don’t know what Dad is doing, but I just need to make sure the tears welling up from my eyes don’t fall and flow down my face.
Before the waiter could even speak, I hold up a hand to him. “I’m sorry about all that noise, we were just having a moment.” I try my best to fake the happiest grin I could plaster on my face. “Can I also get one of your drink menus? I think my dad just needs something to drink.” I wink at the waiter, who winces immediately. Once he walks away from us, I sigh heavily before returning to my plate.
Dad raises an eyebrow. “You don’t know how to wink. You’re just like your Auntie Cynthia.”
I smile. “There we go. That’s the dad I know and love.”