My Father Kept Secrets by Shelley Pineo-Jensen, Ph.D.
During the Harvey Milk era, all my father's college friends came out of the closet. Not my dad, though.
We traveled as a family to many places. My dad would help set up camp, or unload the car into a couple of motel rooms, Pineo family, party of 8. Then he would head out and be gone for hours, We rarely heard about what happened on his adventures.
Sometimes he would take one child with him. Whether to ward off danger or to appease my mother I cannot be sure. You couldn’t really question my dad then; he charmed his way out of most of life’s difficulties. You can’t ask him now; he's been gone since 1983.
Today, in 2021, my mother no longer exists in the water bag that still bears her image. Some nice weak-willed frail lady is there in her stead.
I went with him to see art movies at University of Washington. One time it was movies of clouds, waves, and plants sped up. I was about 8. It was boring as hell, very repetitive, but I remember the images very clearly.
One time, my mother watched him arrive in a taxi. One wonders where he got THAT money. He often said he was robbing Peter to pay Paul and borrowed money from me until payday. Five or ten bucks, birthday money, Which he repaid with ten percent interest.
She watched him making out at the front entrance of Donna and Foster's Lombard Street apartment with some fellow. When he finally came up, there was a large fight with no winners. She told some of her children about this at a much later date. She had no recriminations.
Later, it turned out, that all my father’s college friends were gay men, some married, some single. Back in those Seattle days, one very rich handsome friend picked my dad up in a very posh sports car, red. He parked in the alley and leaned on the horn We thought the horn must be broken but this was not the case.
My father came home with a hand-me-down box. In it were wonderful Golden Books, clothing, and a winter coat, far too large for me, that became MY winter coat. I had no idea before that moment that the coat I had been wearing was thin and that I was cold in it. I did not know that I could be warmer in a warmer coat.
Another of his friends was the wonderful charming kind beautiful Noel. Uncle Noel. One of my brothers is named after him.
Uncle Noel drove an English racing green Jaguar and wore saddle shoes and a letterman's jacket. He didn't know how to eat artichokes but we taught him. He read the funnies to me and let me stand on his feet while he walked around.
When Harvey Milk so ordained, Uncle Noel came out to us in a letter sent to Orange County from Yakima. He was in love with and living with Leo. This was my first knowing look at gay men and I thought "Well, if Uncle Noel is gay, then I love gay people."
I did not have the language to describe my own queerness. At age 6, I knew I was different. I talked to my father about it, telling him, “I’m different from the other kids at school.”
He asked me, “Do you want to be the same as the other children?” I do not remember the rest of the conversation, if there was any, because that question was all the answer I would ever need.
Being queer is tangled up with secrets secrets kept and lost secrets from myself secrets that permit the freedom to be the human that one truly is.
My mother knew what she was getting into with my father. She told me so herself, back when she was still present in that body. She loved my dad. She wanted him in her life. Even with his secrets.