by ASHLEY ORTIZ
Father's Day, 2004. I was 11 years old. My family and I had driven four hours from Connecticut to New Hampshire to celebrate the day with my father at a lakeside home that he shared with a male friend of his whom he had grown close to during that year. It was hardly my first time visiting their home in New Hampshire, but even amid their shared bedroom and having witnessed them embrace one night in the shadows of our nightly campfire, I had never registered them as more than just friends. This is why, on that perfectly sunny Summer's day in June as I lay on a hammock listening to the distant sounds of my cousins playing in the sand, I was stunned to hear the words that quietly and bravely slipped from my dad's mouth when he calmly approached me with a tear in his eye:
"Princess, I have something to tell you . . . I'm gay."
I can't remember exactly what I understood of the word "gay" at that point in my life, but whether it came from hearing my classmates use it to disparage our peers or the innate understanding that its existence in our life meant complete and utter change to our family dynamic, I instantly registered the word as synonymous with "bad." Before I could even manage to take a full breath, my eyes burned with tears, my limbs flailed uncontrollably in an attempt to push my father away, and my lips emitted painful screams calling him names I wish to this day I could take back. My family panicked as my tantrum worsened, and before I knew it, I was strapped in the backseat of our car preparing to make a premature journey back home; the sun still up, the freshwater waves still lapping at the shore where my cousins' abandoned sandcastles stood, and my dad trying everything he could to reach me through my tears to tell me that he was sorry and that everything would be alright.
It wasn't until an hour into my car ride home that I would come to that very conclusion myself. I still don't know what in my 11-year-old mind allowed me to realize that I was the one who should feel ashamed for how I had reacted and not my dad for revealing who he was, and I still don't know what compelled me to pick up my flip phone, dial my dad's number, and say, "I'm sorry, Dad. I love you. I am not mad at you anymore," but I did. What I do know for sure is that in that instant, our lives changed forever.