“Dad?” Pause. I wait for him to react to my voice.
It is almost lunchtime. We are at the coffee shop, our family business for the past 30 years.
There is only the two of us, sitting at a table by the large window facing the street outside; the bitter smell of coffee lingering in the air as our only company.
Home is around the corner, the back and forth of a three minutes walk forever encrypted in our DNA.
Home, the place in rural southern Italy where I grew up, before life took me elsewhere over twenty years ago.
“Dad,” I hesitantly say again, (secretly hoping that the moment will pass, like many times before). Not this time. This time, he looks up from his crossword and I immediately know that the wait is over.
“I am gay.” I say in a heartbeat, and then I truly breathe, for the first time in my life.
I am not sure what to expect. Silence descends between us. My dad has always been a man of few words, almost stoic in his personal search for privacy.
In my family, we don’t do emotions. Emotions are unspoken truths better left forgotten. Therefore, I pick the ‘Corriere della Sera’, the Italian national newspaper, and I open it at random, feigning interest in home affairs.
In truth, my heart is beating so fast that I fear it is about to explode in my chest.
This is when I hear him. “Are you happy?” he asks, as he scribbles something down on his crossword.
There it was, the question not my brothers nor my mum ever asked when I came out to them a life time ago.
This wasn’t necessarily because they didn’t care, but because they worried more about what the neighbours would think if they ever found out, or my dad, for that matter. To a degree, we are all products of our environment.
I look at him across the table, with his green eyes framed in a map of wrinkles, placidly resting on me.
I nod, and then I smile. I can’t talk. I know that if I say a word I will burst into tears, which in the latitude where I am from would be simply unacceptable for a 43 years old man. So, I try to find refuge in my newspaper.
“You know" – he says, without looking up from his crossword – "When I think of homosexuality I see the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel; all the perfect beauty of this world under a single roof.”
There is a pause. Then he talks again: “Michelangelo; he was gay, right?” I nod, still speechless. “Well", – he adds – "You are in great company, aren’t you?”
End of discussion.
Minutes later, we decide to head home. We know that lunch is ready, as always, at 1pm. Mum gets very upset if we let the food go cold on the table. It’s an Italian thing.
I help my dad close the heavy metal shutter of the shop. While I do so, I imagine a door closing and another opening inside myself.
Life and light flowing in where before there were only doubts. It dawns on me that we shouldn’t allow our fears to rule our world.
I have lost years of valuable time with my dad. I have allowed other people’s perceptions to cloud my ability to see what was right in front of me from the start.
My dad cares deeply about me. He has always and he always will: “Let’s go” I say, making a head start. I need time to process what just happened.
As we walk along the street, I feel this 73 years old man, who is right behind me, gently patting my back for the first time in years, because we never touch each other unless we truly mean to.
His hand on my back is all the care of this world in a single touch and all the love I’ll ever need.