Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Honor of Uncle Lee


"We were raised by wolves."

Every family has favorite lines, those things that someone said at a party, at Thanksgiving dinner, during a drunken wedding toast. These lines get repeated and eventually say so much to (and for) all those who were there the first time they were uttered.

At my sister’s wake people, well meaning I’m sure, kept asking why she had killed herself. I guess to find a way to wrap their minds around it or to simply have something to say. At one point my baby brother told one of the poor well meaning inquisitors …

"We were raised by wolves."

I fucking hate him for having sole credit for one of the best lines ever – in a family of sarcastic bastards no less. How dare he assume my role! I’m the oldest, I took the most crap, I should get all the best lines …

Actually I’m glad that line is his. He keeps it all in and I know that line is often the only thing he needs to hear to keep the top from popping off. Sometimes he’ll call me and simply say “So Di, how were we raised?”

"We were raised by wolves."

And on we go …

I’m not going to go into a lot of family drama anecdotes – you’ll just have to wait for the book. My father was a drunken abusive nut case, my mother was clinically depressed – she slept while her husband abused her children and her oldest child tried to raise them and protect them.

Neighbors would call the police, my aunts and uncles would beg her to throw my father out but in the end nothing happened and we did our best to survive.

As I got older I did what many children from abusive homes do – I drank, I experimented with drugs, I was promiscuous. When the people who are supposed to love you more than life itself clearly don’t you have very little self esteem and you act out.

Let me tell you I was one hell of a ball of rage and crazed bravado. I was very bright, very articulate, and I looked older than I was.

During this time I would hang out in Manhattan a lot. Bensonhurst, Brooklyn didn’t hold anything for me. I was a teenager in the late 60s and “the city” was the place to be. Lucky for me I loved books and art and theater. I would spend all day at museums and the “big library”. My Mom’s brother, Uncle Johnny, worked for a sightseeing company and I’d go by his post in midtown and he’d put me on the tour bus or give me money for a Broadway matinee. Uncle Johnny had his issues, all my aunts and uncles did, they were the elders of a family full of people who didn’t talk about anything. He’d ask me if I was “OK” and I could always tell by the look in his eyes that he really wanted me to say “Yes” and I did. At this point I had given up on the idea that adults were any more powerful than I was, in many ways I knew better than they did.

Uncle Johnny had a roommate, they shared a wonderful apartment full of books and music and art on the Upper West Side. Uncle Lee was the coolest guy I had ever met. He looked like a movie star, he could sing and dance and when he asked you a question he waited for an answer. He looked into your eyes when you spoke.

Uncle Johnny and Uncle Lee didn’t spend much time with the rest of the family. It wasn’t until I sought them out that I got to know them. I didn’t realize at first that they were lovers; I didn’t really understand what gay was. I barely understood straight sex even though I was having it all the time. My understanding of the world was very closed minded Bensonhurst mixed with an episode of ‘Cops’ shot in the worst trailer park you could imagine.

Since Uncle Lee worked nights – he was in the theater! – I spent a lot of time with him during the day. He’d take me to lunch, he’d go with me to see a play, he’d get me books and then ask me about them after I read them. He convinced me to be more careful – he told me I was too smart to treat myself the way I did.

Years later I learned that Uncle Lee tried to get involved in helping me, and my brothers and sister. Since he wasn’t “family” he didn’t get very far and Uncle Johnny couldn’t or wouldn’t back him up. I don’t blame Johnny – there was so much insanity going on at so many levels in the family. And how much can you do when your sister, the mother of the children you’re trying to protect, keeps telling everyone that nothing is wrong.

Uncle Lee is always there in my memories – I’ll read a book and wonder if he’d like it, I’ll hear a Broadway tune and think of him humming along, I’ll take a photo and wonder if he’d see something in it. I loved that most about him – he saw things, he paid attention, he was invested in the world.

Yesterday I thought of Uncle Lee and I was so furious and so frustrated.

In my daily need to know what’s going on in the world I came across this –

An excerpt from John McCain’s NY times interview:

Q: President Bush believes that gay couples should not be permitted to adopt children. Do you agree with that?
Mr. McCain: I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no I don’t believe in gay adoption.
Q: Even if the alternative is the kid staying in an orphanage, or not having parents.
Mr. McCain: I encourage adoption and I encourage the opportunities for people to adopt children I encourage the process being less complicated so they can adopt as quickly as possible. And Cindy and I are proud of being adoptive parents.
Q: But your concern would be that the couple should be a traditional couple
Mr. McCain: Yes.

Really Mr. McCain? Mom and Dad/male and female/boy and girl – are the only way a child can be raised successfully? Really?

I’ll spare you all the quotes where McCain tried to back peddle. He basically said that when all else wasn’t available then he guessed it would be better for a child to be with gay parents than no parents. What a guy! A humanitarian even!

I don’t know what might have been if Uncle Lee and Uncle Johnny were married. Hell they weren’t even out. Lee was always the roommate. Would Uncle Lee have had more say? I assume so. All the other spouses did. Would Uncle Johnny have been happier if he could have lived out loud with the person he loved? I’m sure he would have been.

What I do know is that Uncle Lee was a huge influence in my young crazy life. He saw things in me that I assumed were of no value and he made them important. I was important. He wanted me to be safe, he wanted me to be happy and he tried his best in an impossible situation to do all he could for me.

And that is a parent.

So Mr. McCain – in honor of Uncle Lee – I respectfully wish to tell you to go fuck yourself and the dinosaur you rode in on.


(the image is from familiesjoinedbylove.com)

55 comments:

Jay Simser said...

Tears and laughter! - Once again. I raise my glass in toast to you and to your Uncles. How lucky you (and they) were. j

fermicat said...

Hooray for Uncle Lee. I am glad he had an influence on your life. And sorry that he didn't have all the opportunities that straight people take for granted.

Jay said...

McCain was doing what he always does. Simply taking whatever position he thinks the crowd in front of him wants to hear.

You were lucky to have somebody like Uncle Lee who was able to be a positive influence in your life.

Dianne said...

thank you mr.simser - I'll clink a glass with you anytime

fermicat - what a beautiful comment, thank you

jay - I know but even his back peddle was insulting. He's so painful to watch, hope a lot of people see it. and thanks :)

Linda said...

As a former police dispatcher turned ambulance dispatcher, I have seen a lot of "straight parents" totally mess their kids up in one way or another (as sadly, seems to have been the case in your family) so why on earth people still seem to think that the only way to raise a child is with one male and one female in attendance is beyond me.

Love, respect, concern, encouragement, laughter, hugs, kisses ... those things can come from two men and two women just as easily - if not sometimes more easily - as from a man and a woman. Come to think of it, I think we single parents are able to provide those things also!

John McCain needs to wake up and smell the Macchiatto!

And you're absolutely right, the moon is indeed gorgeous tonight!

Charlene said...

what a great post~~~

Raven said...

Beautiful, wise, tender post. Uncle Lee is smiling in heaven and so proud of his surrogate daughter. I'm glad he was in your life. I just don't understand the kind of bigotry that people like McCain and their ilk spew while pretending not to be bigots. They have to know that what they are saying is stupid and irrational, don't they? Can they really be so ignorant and crazy?

Thanks for this beautiful post. You are at your most eloquent here and that's very, very, very eloquent.

Michelle said...

To Uncle Lee..You done good!!!!

bobbie said...

Thank you for this post, Dianne. It proves once again my argument of Nature vs. Nurture. Nature wins every time.

There is so much I'd like to say about your youth and praise for the few wonderful people in it. Thank God for Uncle Lee! But your point concerned Mr. McCain.

There are many people out there who look at Mr. McC. and think he looks like a kindly old grandfather, and they choose to put their trust in him without really listening to his hemming and hawing. He was once a "good guy", wasn't he? But the man has changed drastically. He has lost his credibility. He is no longer to be trusted. My son says he is now nothing but a cartoon of his former self. He has no "stand" on anything (including gay adoption).

I'm sorry. I start and can't stop. You get the idea. Anyway - Thanks.

Richard said...

Dianne, you continue to reveal the soul of a poet, the heart of a lion and the wit of a scholar. I cannot express how well this was written and how clearly you depicted your childhood, your relationship with your uncles and your displeasure with our current homophobic culture.

Please tell me you've at least got an outline going and this is in it somewhere.

Your continuing biggest fan.

Rich

Dianne said...

linda - remember when single parents were looked at with such suspicion? I'll never forget Qualye and his feud with 'Murphy Brown' - I forget now how old your kids are - but for me to be a single Mom in the 70s and 80s made me, and of course my child, second class. for a country that prides itself on family and community we sure spend a lot of time beating it down. thanks for your comment Linda.

thank you charlene - I hope you got some rest last night. hugs kiddo

raven - it's not like I haven't heard all the crap about gay parents before but for some reason this time it just hurt my heart and made me even angrier. this "ilk" (love that word, you can say it with a vomit sound!) preaches about family values but clearly has no idea what family is. thank you raven for always saying such kind things to me.

michelle - to Uncle Lee! thank you!!

bobbie - you can (and must!) start and not stop here any time you wish. and he has changed. I remember McCain on the Daily Show and the clear respect and fondness Stewart had for him and I always thought he was a decent man and I certainly respect his service to the country BUT he has given away too much of himself, I think even he knows he's absurd and pathetic - that's why he appears to have aged 20 years since the campaign started.

Dianne said...

richard - you snuck in there while I was sippin' my coffee. Your support and incredibly kind words mean the world to me! I'm considering a book of short stories or essays. If only real life would stop sucking out my energy force ;)

Real Live Lesbian said...

I continue to be amazed that some folks consider their way the only way to do things...especially when some of them have created such a clusterfuck out of it....marriage and childraising, to be exact.

They suppose us to be worse at loving than they are because we don't do it like they do. But honestly, I think any love is better than no love. Perhaps that's the lesson from Uncle Lee.

Fabulously told. Great story. I always enjoy your writing!

Matt-Man said...

Good post. If only everyone grew up with an Uncle Lee in their life. As for McCain? He's a dick twizzling fuck nozzle. Cheers Di!!

Dana said...

You know, although I tend to be a bit conservative in my politics, like RLL, I wonder how anyone can justify denying a child two (or even one) loving parent. So many of us who grew up in "traditional" homes would have been much better off having parents who cared, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation was.

Daryl said...

Dianne .. I am right there with you: FUCK YOU VERY MUCH Mr McCain ...

Ga ... what a total asshat ....

My cousin Herb's 'roommate' Bob was equally wonderful and I am sure they too would have had a happier life if they would have 'lived outloud' (I am loving that and will be using it a lot with props to you, of course).

I am glad you survived ... I suspect your 'childhood' is what made you the compassionate person you are ... proud to know you!

:-Daryl

Ivanhoe said...

That's why I love you - you just say it like it is :o)
When is the book coming out?

Dianne said...

RLL - I join you in the amazement! how the hell people think they can define and label love and family - makes me so angry.
I'm so pleased that you liked the story.

thanks matt-man - I wish I had been older and calmer when I knew Uncle Lee but I suppose he entered my life when he was meant to.

dana - parents who care - exactly! and family and love need not, should not, be a political issue - it's a human issue and human rights should be universal
and Happy Birthday again

daryl - thank you - you made me smile and get a bit teary - so many uncles and cousins to wish a better life for! I am at a place in my life where silence is just not an option.

awwww ivanhoe - thank you. I don't know any other way but like it is - I'm best when I don't try to censor or 'fix' myself.
I love you too :) - you've become a good friend.

Odat said...

Thank you for sharing that story......I'm glad you had someone watching out for you too.......You turned out just fine!

Peace

Knight said...

I wish I knew Uncle Lee. He sounds like an incredible person and I'm thankful you had him in your life. Actually, your description of him sounded a lot like how I see you.
I wish I knew you better.

McCain has disappointed me in many ways as the campaign progresses. I want to sit down with him without anyone else around and ask if he really means these stupid things he says or if he is getting confused in his old age.

If you wrote a book I would promote the hell out of it.

Jeni said...

What a great post, Dianne! You are so right that it is better to have two parents than just one but it doesn't make a hill of beans of difference if the "two" are male and female, two males or two females! All that counts in the end is having parents (or sometimes just a parent) who really loves, care for and helps a child throughout the growing years into becoming a responsible, loving, caring adult! Wish I'd known you "Uncle Lee" and Uncle Johnny too, as they sound like really great people.

meno said...

Part of this made me laugh. In my family, all i have to do is a brief "Arrroooo" and we all know that i am implying that since i am a wolf, my daughter was raised by wolves.

If i were a blessing sort of woman, i would bless Uncle Lee, and since i am a cursing sort of woman, i will curse McCain.

Knight said...

You know, my visual of Manhattan in the 60's is based off the movie Hair. I realize that movie was made in 79 but I'm still singing the songs and picturing a mini Dianne dancing and doing drugs with Hippies in Central Park. I'm so jealous.

CG said...

I'm giving you a standing ovation for such a moving and heartfelt post. Totally agree!! I am so thankful you came through your adversity and became the great person you are now.

Sparkling Red said...

Thank goodness for Uncle Lee! When your parents can't or won't parent you, it's so important to have other caring adults in the picture. Every little gesture or word from them becomes a great gift.

McCain is an ignorant dolt - or perhaps I'm being too generous.

the teach said...

Mo pointed out to me the stupidity of John McCain's statement about gay adoption a few days ago. Put your hands together Dianne, even if you don't pray and hope that such a dick doesn't get into office in November! :(

Dianne said...

odat - it's so funny you say "I turned out fine" - another little routine my brother and I have is one of us will say to the other "we turned out fine, right?" and the other will always answer "well we turned out".
Peace Odat

oh my knightie - I truly just plain love you - and we WILL get together and we WILL finalize the adoption. I hope I'm a bit like Uncle Lee was, I try to be. And whenever you pass Bethesda Fountain picture me there - I often got stoned there with the folks. I also used to hang out by the Plaza entrance, I'd first visit the horses and then I'd walk over and mock the rich folks.

thanks jeni - Lee certainly was a one of a kind type of guy, Johnny was a sweet soul but he and my Mom and the rest of them just had way too many demons - which I've never really understood since my Grandmother was wonderful. Ahhhh family - such a puzzle.

meno - I hope everyone laughed a bit, that always makes me feel good. I'm sure, just like witches, that you are a "good wolf" - I've read enough of your parenting adventure posts to be pretty sure of that.

cg - thank you!! so much :)
I used to try and write from an objective perspective but it's not for me, I can only present from the heart and soul. I had a journalism professor who told me, 30 years ago!!, to stop trying to twist my talent and do what I do best. That was a lesson that took a long time to learn.

Dianne said...

sparkling red - you're being too generous!! LOL

mary - I am doing all I can think of to spread the message of how BAD McCain is for this country, for the world. When he's not taking kids away from gay people he'll be bombing the crap out of countries left and right - and I barely exaggerate. Anyone who can sing a song about bombing people isn't qualified to be a person, let alone to lead any.

Ron said...

Awesome post, Dianne!

What a wonderful tribute to Uncle Lee!

I just LOVE the way you write, dearlady!

To me, parenting has nothing to do with whether it's a man/woman, man/man, or woman/woman.

It's the care and love that goes into raising a child.

I know this topic brings up a lot of strong opinions within people.

ONE being...how a child may be judged or ridiculed for having same sex parents, once they grow up and go to school with other children.

My opinion on that is...we are ALL judged and ridiculed for something in school.

Going to school can be difficult for any of us, for many reasons.

But unless something like this (same sex parents) is placed into the world, how does consciousness expand?

And I would like to say to Mr. McCain...

Having the physical presence of BOTH parents (a man and a woman), does not necessarily mean a successful family.

Because on a much deeper level...we each possess BOTH qualities.

Thank you for sharing this, Dianne.

What a consciously wise lady you are!

Hilary said...

Thank goodness for the Uncle Lees in the world. The kind and the caring who know what it really means to be a parent. Beautifully written.

Tink said...

McCain is an asshat... and I'm so glad you had such wonderful uncles in your life. If only the rest of your family had been so loving.

Queen-Size funny bone said...

Parenting is loving unconditionally and that trait comes in all genders, colors, sizes etc. Politicians need to catch up with the rest of the world.

tt said...

Sweet girl...I don't have to words to express the emotions I was feeling when I read this. If you had been in front of me, I would have simply reached accross and held you for what would have probably felt like a hundred years. No wonder you are so good at expressing yourself...Uncle Lee, possibly w/o even knowing it, gave you an outlet...permission to persue something other than what the wolves were teaching you...I think he fueled a fire in you learn and teach.
Even now, I'm having trouble trying to say what's in my heart of hearts. (shitfuckdamn :))
Gaaaa...you continue to make me reach...and I love you awful!

kenju said...

Why don't you tell us how you really feel, Dianne!?? LOL

YOU GO GIRL!

Tammy said...

Wow! What a powerful post! Wonderful!

Minnesotablue said...

I can understand your compassion and empathy for others Dianne. Having lived the life you have has given you a strong sense of what true values are. Bless your wonderful uncles for showing you a better life and being there for you when you most needed them.

ETK said...

I'd like to reiterate, second, stand behind, agree with, and whatever is necessary to allow me to completely and blatently plagerize. Well, with a minor edit:

So Mr. McCain – in honor of Uncle Lee – I wish to tell you to go fuck yourself and the dinosaur you rode in on.

Dianne said...

ron - what a wonderfully insightful comment, thank you so much for sharing all that. I think it is the most serious I've even 'heard' you and I love discovering a new side to you - I have become so very fond of you ya know :)
and we do all possess BOTH male and female qualities - yet another spectrum of being human.

hilary - thank goodness for them indeed! thank you hil :)

tink - I'm so glad you came to visit! I left you that silly comment about 24 hour colon care and then thought to myself - she'll think I'm an asshat, she doesn't know me - I just hoped to make you laugh.

queen-size funny bone - and I hope the world starts to really hold politicians accountable for what they say and do! thanks so much for such a wise observation :)

tt - oh shitfuckdamn! don't f*ing make me cry, I'll smack ya so hard. I love you too!! and reaching is good ... keeps us limber ;)

kenju - I KNOW! I'm such a shrinking violet. I really have to work on opening up a bit hehehe
thanks kenju

tammy - thank you - if even one person reads it and re-thinks voting for such a hateful ass then I have done a good thing.

minnesota - I appreciate that. I realized in thinking about Lee that some of what he instilled in me took such a long time to come out but it was there. It has made me less results oriented and far more interested in the larger picture and the longer term.
Man it sucks to start getting smarter when you're old ;)

Dianne said...

etk - I think that means we have a quorum! Yay!! Let's take it to the convention. Could you just see us? and tt too. and the flamingos. stand right up in the middle of the Republican convention - "Mr. Speaker, from the great state of humanity we wish to nominate Mr.McCain to go fuck himself"
poetry my sweet girl, it would be poetry.

Karen said...

Tough words there. I am going to steer clear of the political or moral discussion and just add that you were very lucky to have someone like Uncle Lee in your life.

the walking man said...

Thriving in adulthood is the best answer to a poor childhood.

Fuck McCain.javascript:void(0)
Publish Your Comment

Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hi Dianne! Thank you for sharing this heart felt experience in your life. Luckily you had Uncle Lee and he was a great influence. One would think that in today's society one would be more open minded. I am not political nor do I ever want to be. So the only thing I am going to say about the McCain issue is, I have a hard time with people who do not stand behind their convictions.

Dianne said...

karen - Lee was very special indeed, thank you :)

mark - Yes it is!
there appears to have been some issue when you published your comment - did blogger not want to swallow "Fuck McCain" - hehehehe

Lisa - I don't even know what McCain's convictions are any more. Thank you for your kind words about my story and about Lee.

Anndi said...

When I come across someone as wonderful as you, I always know there were some damn fascinating people in their lives as they grew up.

Uncle Lee was a gem.

I'm glad he stepped in and gave you the love a parent should give their child.

Cherie said...

I'm so glad that you had an adult around besides the wolves who cared about you and even tried to counsel you into a safer lifestyle. I've had the honor of knowing a few "Uncle Lees" both gay and straight.

I never could be constrained by "thinking inside of the box." Some things in the box are good. Some need to be taken out with the trash, and there's a whole universe to explore out there! So much to explore, so much to learn. How can one do that stuck in a cardboard box?!

Thank you Uncle Lee for helping Dianne to expand her world and see that there's more out there than the wolves.

Reb said...

Wow, Dianne. I am so glad to be getting to know you through your blog. I am glad you had Uncle Lee in your life, he sounds like a wonderful man.

May the McCain's of the world each be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels. That or stepped on by the dinosaurs that are inhabiting their worlds.

Dianne said...

anndi - thank you, what a wonderful and lovely thing to say. you are, as Nana loved to say, a "good soul"


cherie - what a great image the cardboard box is, but you're always smart. And I'm loving your visits - I miss our connections.

reb - he was, he was. And I am ejoying getting to know you as well. It is one of the best things about blogging, reinforces my belief that there are so many kind and smart people in the world.

Smarty Jones said...

What cool uncles! I am especially loving your comment at the end.
"So Mr. McCain – in honor of Uncle Lee – I respectfully wish to tell you to go fuck yourself and the dinosaur you rode in on."
Classic!

DivaJood said...

I just realized I forgot to add you to my blog roll. But this is an amazing post. I love it.

Dianne said...

smarty - thank you! I must admit I love that line and would love even more to deliver it in person.

jood - I'm terrible about keeping my blog roll up to date. I did a grand redo of it for my 100th post and tried for a bit to stay current and well then ... life is so constant!
I'm so happy you liked the post, thank you.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Dianne,
I am so late to this beautiful, thought-provoking piece of writing.

My goodness but how could uncle Lee not take an interest in your when you were a girl?

I'm so glad you wrote. Firstly, it allows us to know you better and secondly, you make such a loving argument on behalf of gay marriage and adoption. If "loving" and "argument" are not considered an oxymoron, that is. ;-)

Thank you for a great post. I'm so dead-tired tonight but if I have a chance tomorrow, I would love to link to it.

Peace & love,
Gina

Dianne said...

pagan - ya know, a comment from you feels like a hug. Loving argument is a perfect description. I was reading McCain's interview and then doing some research on his wide variety of 'opinions' on this subject and Lee just appeared. I could smell his cologne, hear his voice, see his amazing eyes and I was so angry and felt such hurt.
I am so sick of the ugly behavior in this country. It's the same as someone being hateful and disrespectful in my home - it just isn't allowed.
Hope you get some rest dear friend.

The Quiet Rage said...

Some of the most intelligent, caring, and compassionate people I know are gay. My older sister hung out with the "theatre group" and I was exposed to all sorts of alternative personalities early on. Never once did I feel threatened by them for any reason. Personally, I never could understand the rage the heterosexuals hold against gays.

I believe that the people who publically bitch about the gays the most are the closet homosexuals defying their inner drives.

byrningbunny said...

This was so well written! Well said!! You know I'm in total agreement with you. : ) I hope you were lucky enough to keep in touch with Uncle Lee as you grew up. It seems like so many of the influential people in childhood didn't usually stick around for the craziness!

cathy said...

damn you, dianne! you made me cry AGAIN!