“Eric. Buddy. Hi!” Dad picked me up at the Kansas City airport, taking my duffel and handing me a large coffee. “I got you a Starbucks,” he said, even though it wasn’t from Starbucks. (That’s how he refers to any kind of coffee.) We drove to Olathe with Billy Joel’s greatest hits playing in the background as I quizzed him about things like hunting, work, and even romance. He had been giving online dating a try: “Just one date the other night,” he said. “My first one since Mom.” I stared at him, anxiously awaiting his assessment. “She was friendly. Also a widow. It’s weird how there is a whole dating pool made up of people who have lost their better half. I think she wanted me to be like her husband. That’s unfair, don’t you think? Anyway, I sent her a nice text message the next day, but she never responded. Come to think of it, I’m guessing that was her landline.”
Dad likes to visit Mom together whenever I come home. “Carol, here’s your son. Here’s Eric. He’s making us proud. Doesn’t he make you proud, Carol? He’s off in the big city. But you’re there with him aren’t you? You’re keeping our boy safe, right? He’s meeting all these famous people, so you better keep him grounded. Keep his heart full and his head right. He’s still a good kid, don’t worry honey. Remember what we talked about last week? About his friend Joanie? He’s helping her with her music, so he’s being real generous. And he’s gonna land on his feet with a new job, just like what we’re praying for. We raised him good, Carol. You raised him good.” I stand back, because I’m in tears within minutes, realizing he does this each and every day.
When I landed in New York City for the first time, I had two voicemails. One from my mother, telling me she was excited for me and that she missed me already and that she was planning to visit soon. The next, from my father, telling me Mom had been in a pileup on the interstate and I needed to come back home. I accidentally deleted the first voicemail two years later, and I wept so hard, you’d have thought my mother had only just then died. These days, her death was more fact than feeling, as if having a dead parent was some milestone I had experienced and could talk about without much sadness. There was a week in late 2013 where I didn’t think of her until Wednesday afternoon—I went three whole days without thinking about my dead mother! I hated myself for considering that a good thing.
My father thought it was weird that I had dated Simon, since Dad was only a few years older than him. “Aren’t there plenty of hot guys your own age? What if he had become your boyfriend? What would he and I talk about? It’s like if I started dating a 30-year-old woman. Wouldn’t that be strange for you?” I had to explain to my dad that my dating preferences weren’t tailored to his norm: “Dad, I’ve dated older, I’ve dated younger. Some born in the 90s, some in the 50s. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn, with totally different emotional offerings. I think we gays have a good grasp on that. It’s kind of fun, really.” His response was terse and unexpected: “Eric, fine. OK. I get why it’s fun. I just wish you weren’t gay.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Dad said. “I’m happy for you and I don’t want you to change a thing about yourself. But do you sometimes wonder how your life would be different if you weren’t gay? Like, maybe you wouldn’t have felt compelled to leave Kansas. Maybe things here would have been good enough for you. I know it’s not the most appealing place to be a gay man. Or even a gay kid. But heck, you were a good gay kid here! Brave enough to come out at 16. Coming out wasn’t even cool in 2001! And now, being gay in Kansas still isn’t cool, and I wish you would just, I don’t know, stick it to the man again and be gay here. Or that you were never gay at all, so that maybe you could have just settled for what you had here, without feeling like you had to go searching for something else to make you happy. I lost you and Mom at the same time, and all I can seem to blame is distracted drivers and hot metropolitan homosexuals.”
I outlined for Dad my precise plans to start the management company, and assured him that I could get the clients I would need in order to pay the bills and build a sound reputation. “I’m excited for any young actor who gets you as a manager,” he said. “If anyone knows how to go from nothing to something, it’s Eric Condor!” I corrected him, stating that I would keep calling myself Eddy, just for business continuity. “This is probably your only chance to start clean,” he said. “So why not just wipe out any trace of Sam altogether? It sounds like you want some sort of comeuppance, but why not take the high road, be yourself, and kill him with kindness?”