This is my father. We call him Big Al. He's a factory man - runs a machine six days a week.
When I was in third grade we left him. Mom woke up my sister Alisha and me in the middle of the night. We were having a sleepover at a friend's house after a full two days of playing. We weren't going home, mom told us, we're going to a new house. One without dad.
A lot led up to this moment - workings I'd known nothing about. I'd later realize moving day was a long time coming and how important it was that it finally did.
In recent years my relationship with my dad has become much less complex. I've always known him, but not in the way a son should know his father.
My memories of living under his roof are snapshots filled to the brim with scenery overload. The sound of his beloved chicken wings sizzling on the stovetop, the sight of him shrinking in size as I tagged along on his runs throughout town, the Hersey's Kiss he gave me when I visited him after his arrest.
When I was home last week I went to visit him. It was the most time we've spent together since I moved him into a motel. His house was foreclosed on. That was in 2011.
We chatted for about 45 minutes outside his trailer. It sits behind a one-story motel off Highway 52 in Lafayette, Indiana. I'm not sure I can even call it a motel. There's no sign and I haven't noticed a rental office. It looks like one though. Perhaps it was in a previous life.
One of the first things dad asked me when I saw him was what I thought the Supreme Court was going to decide about the recent hearings on gay marriage.
"You do know I date boys now, don't you?" I ask him after giving my answer.
"Here, let me put my surprise face on," he says, waving his hand over his face, widening his eyes and dropping his jaw.
"Have you always known?" I ask.
"No," an answer that surprises me.
"When did you realize?"
"You posted something on Facebook… about how you were sad your barista wasn't gay, too."
I smirk, thinking that sounds like a very Jason thing to post.
"How's your book coming?" he asks.
"Pretty well. I've be focusing on it a lot more."
"So it's about how you've reconciled with your alcoholic father? I didn't realize we ever broke up…"
His words are slightly shocking. He knew I was writing about him. He's done recorded interviews with me for the project. At the time it was more about a young man's journey to find a time when his dad was a good person. I've since realized my dad is, in many ways, a good person. His comment about not realizing we needed to reconcile was very pure.
"Well," I start, "we never had a big falling out per se. But we've never been close. I was young when we left… When I helped you move and told you I forgave you, my biggest fear was that you'd ask, 'Forgive me for what?' I felt like I need to say it, so I did."
He blinks his eyes. I wonder what he's thinking as I continue.
"I think because I'm the youngest of the kids, I've experienced the least of you. That's why I have a different view of you, I think, and can more easily see you in a different way."
Dad mumbles "umhm" before moving on to another question.
"The other part of your book is about reconciling your sexuality with being Christian. How do you do that?"
I'm taken back by the question for a few reasons. Dad has rarely remembered basic details of my life over the years: birthday, year in school, major. It's clear now he's followed me enough online to know the book has morphed into something new. Moreover, this question falls outside the only ones he's asked me for years - "How are you?" "How are your siblings?" "Where are you living now?"
His open interest in my life is surprising and welcomed. This question about how I can be both gay and Christian is one I avoided for years. Now I address it head on.
"It's hard," I say, "I'm still figuring it out. I haven't totally reconciled both yet. Sometimes I wonder if I gave up too early… or if the Lord handed me over to my sinful desires. All I know is that I'm happy now. I'm no longer thinking about how I'm going to kill myself when I lay my head down at night. That feels really good. My plan is to keep on keeping on… and if God decides to change my heart or bring conviction, I guess He will. But I'm happy and I hope to stay that way."
"The media is trying to make is be okay - saying that gays are born gay. But I don't think that's true."
With his comment, I get slightly defensive.
"There's also the theory that because you were absent from my life… my need for male attention and affirmation as a child turned sexual once I hit puberty."
(I pulled that from a book I read as I was trying to de-gay myself during college).
I wasn't trying to make him blame himself, but I guess I wondered if he did.
The conversation continued to twist and turn from there: more about my being gay and Christian, my new job, his friend Mike and their weekend fun, the fallout between him and my three siblings.
As the sun began to set I had to get on my way. Dad and I hugged goodbye. As I climbed into the car I hear him say, "I love you, bud," before disappearing into the trailer.
The whole visit was surreal. I never got upset or uncomfortable. I've learned not to be afraid of tough conversations.
I'm not sure where we go from here. All the cards are on the table for the first time. He knows I love him. I know he loves me. After years of being unsure, that much is known. I'll take it.