Cassie explores dad/son dynamics

CASSIE-NOVAHello, all. The other day I was flipping the channels on television and stopped to watch half of an episode of The Facts of Life. Then I realized something: My first crush was a girl. I know, right? I was just as shocked as you. I think a lot of young gay men probably fell for the rough and tough Jo Polniaczek. She rode a motorcycle, she always had grease on her face and she looked like she could whoop some ass. She was awesome.

I remember my dad asking me if I thought Blair was hot. He made quite a few comments on what he would do to Blair, given the chance. I just said, “Nope! I like Jo. I think she’s the prettiest.” Remember, I was like 10 years old. I’m sure my dad knew by me choosing the only butch one of the girls that eventually we would have a talk that I’m sure he didn’t want to have. You see, I left a breadcrumb trail that pointed to me being gay. OK, maybe not so much breadcrumbs as flashing neon lights.

My dad and I are not close. We love each other, we just don’t have a lot of need to be around each other. I see him once or twice a year. Throughout my childhood and adult life, I have disappointed him. I wasn’t butch, I hated getting dirty, I couldn’t care less about fixing cars, and I refused to work outdoors in the heat. These are all things that I know my dad equated to “being a man.”

When I was 12, I told my dad I needed money for something, he said I could go to work with him on this construction job he was doing and help him. He said he would pay me like 5 bucks an hour — a huge rate in the ’80s. I agreed, and he woke me the next morning before the sun came up to go with him to work. The morning was already warm — summers in Texas! Go figure — and he told me, “You see that big pile of bricks? Separate the broken ones and take them over there to the Dumpster, then bring me the unbroken ones and set them right there.” He pointed to a spot about 100 yards away. I had no gloves or wheelbarrow, so I was to just carry bricks all day.

I started out with the best of intentions. I picked through this huge pile of Acme bricks; most of them were broken, so I had to walk all the way to the other side of the construction site to throw them away. I immediately hated everything about it. The broken bricks hurt my arms because I would try to carry as many as I could. The sun was sweltering, and there was no shade anywhere. My dad and his crew were working in the back of the lot, so I felt like I was totally alone in the sun. I don’t mind telling you that I am, and always have been, a wuss when it comes to the heat. By 11 a.m., it must have been close to 100 degrees. I kept taking breaks to get water from a yellow and red Igloo cooler on the back of my dad’s truck, and I swear that every time I took a break would be when my dad would check on me and tell me to get back to work.

By noon, I was exhausted and only about halfway through the pile of bricks. I want to tell you that I toughened up and had a Mr. Miyagi/Karate Kid moment and kicked that pile of bricks’ ass, but that did not happen. I tapped out. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was hot, sore and exhausted, and I took my ass over to the only tree on the lot and sat my little gay ass in the only shade I could find. A few minutes later, my dad and his crew broke for lunch. He asked me what I was doing…I told him I was done, that I would not be hauling any more brick today. He called me a fucking pussy, got in his truck and drove away, leaving me there while they went somewhere for lunch.

When they returned, I was exactly where he left me: under the tree, fanning myself with a piece of cardboard. He got out of his truck and gave me a look of utter disappointment. That look stays with me to this day. I sat there until about 5:30, then he told me to get in the truck. We drove home in silence and didn’t speak again for about a month. That was actually pretty normal. When you have divorced parents, a lot of time can go by before guilt or circumstance can make your dad come back around.

When I was 14, I needed money for a tux rental for a Valentine’s Day dance. Mom told me to ask my dad. (The parental units only communicated through me and my sister.) Dad said he would give it to me, but I would have to work for it. I figured this was another one of his attempts to toughen me up. I really wanted to look cute at the dance because there was this guy at school named Jason that I had the biggest crush on, so I agreed to mow an empty lot and he would pay for the tux rental (about $80). The lot was about four blocks from my dad’s house, so I pushed the lawnmower over and was going to get to work. What he failed to tell me was that the grass was up to my shoulders and there was trash everywhere.

I got trash bags and filled three of them. I stared to mow but I couldn’t do it. The mower couldn’t handle the undergrowth. I either wasn’t strong enough to get the mower over the tall grass humps, or the mower wasn’t the right tool for the job. Either way, the task seemed impossible to me, so once again I gave up. I hated that I was giving up, but I swear that I tried. I knew my dad was going to be disappointed again, but I was getting used to it. When I pushed the mower back to his house, he just shook his head and said, “I knew it.” The next day I got a job at Dairy Queen and have been making my own money ever since.

I’m not saying I was an angel when it came to my dad. I knew where he kept his rolls of coins he saved so I stole from him. Both my sister and I would steal from him, mostly to go buy chips and Cokes from the convenience store — one more reason for him to be disappointed in me. And I don’t think I ever apologized for stealing from him. I think we disappointed each other a lot over the years, and that might be why we — intentionally or unintentionally — kind of avoid each other even now.

Luckily, my dad’s second wife gave him the son he wanted. My brother Keith is awesome. He works hard, isn’t afraid to get dirty and is the fishing-buddy, car-tinkering, lady-loving, kid-making son I could never be. Keith and my dad are friends. What I do and who I love make my dad uncomfortable. I know he loves me and genuinely likes my partner, but I don’t need my dad like his other kids do. Having kids maybe makes you need your family more. I don’t know, there is plenty of blame to go around as to why we don’t see each other more.

Not all of my memories of my dad are negative. Quite a few times he would get me out of school to take me fishing by saying someone died. Those were good days.

I’m not sure where all of this came from. I sat down to write my column and answer a few questions and this came flooding out. I think this week I needed to help myself work out a few of my own issues. Thanks for indulging me.

Remember to always love more, bitch less and be fabulous! XOXO, Cassie Nova.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 04, 2017.