My kid sister Ellie calls infrequently, and never at my office, so when my secretary told me she was on the line, I became immediately apprehensive. She's a bit of a hippy, Ellie, with no good habits but a kind and trusting heart. She's in her late thirties, and never married, though, I gather, with lots of men in her past. She's stayed in Chicago and keeps an eye–an unsteady and inconstant one, I've always assumed–out for our father since our mother died three years ago. Straight out of law school, I moved to New York, where I live today.
"Ellie," I said. "Everything all right?"
"I'm calling about Dad," she said.
"What about Dad?"
"You sitting down, Steven?" she asked. "I have something amazing to tell you."
"What? What is it?"
"Dad's gay," she said.
"A joke, right?" I said.
"No joke," she said. "When I visited him earlier today I discovered that he has a roommate, a guy in his late twenties or early thirties named Randy. I didn't quite get his last name. But I was there long enough to recognise that Dad and Randy are more than friends."
I don't recall the rest of our conversation before I hung up the phone. Ellie's phrase "Dad's gay" refused, as they used to say when I was a kid, to compute; the two words, Dad and gay, felt like opposed magnets, each fiercely repelling the other. I won't say that my father is the last man I should have expected to be secretly homosexual, but he was pretty low on the list. Besides, he's 67 years old.
He was not without his charm, our father, though he didn't waste much of it on Ellie and me when we were growing up. Until his retirement four years ago, he was the vice-president for community relations at the University of Chicago, which meant that he often represented the university at public functions, both intra and extramural. He dresses with care, is well-spoken, tactful.
He never said so outright, but I don't think he cared much for his job. The problem was the University of Chicago. If you weren't a great scholar or scientist, you were viewed there as little more than a servant. And my father, who is more than a bit of a snob, couldn't bear thinking of himself as anyone's servant.
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