Fathers and Sons
“Four fags go into a gay bar and find out that there’s only one bar stool left. One of the gays says let’s flip for it. The other three say no, let's just flip it over.”
There were a few howls of laughter, but no one laughed harder than the large, red-faced man who’d told the joke. As was often his custom, Jack Thomas had imbibed just a little too much drink at the annual Thomas family reunion, and the event was rapidly degenerating – in large part due to Jack’s increasingly obnoxious behavior.
Janet, who’d warned Jack not to overdo it, had been giving her husband a cold stare for the past half hour, but after realizing that he was purposely ignoring her, she finally stormed out of the backyard and made her way into the kitchen where some of the women were talking.
“Sometimes, I just wish he’d drink less and keep his mouth shut,” Janet said, partially under her breath.
“Oh, he just gets carried away, but he’s harmless,” Lois, Jack’s sister, said playfully as Janet sat down beside her.
Out in the yard Jack flipped a few more burgers on the grill, took another swig of beer and shouted, “Four faggots walk into a bar and start arguing over whose dick’s the longest. The bartender finally gets sick of their arguing and tells them he has a way to solve their problem. He tells them to stick their dicks on the bar and he’ll tell them whose is the biggest. Just when they put them up on the bar, another fag walks in and yells ‘I’ll have the buffet.’”
There were a few more howls of laughter and Jack took another swig of his beer. Looking down, he saw his ten-year-old son Cory staring up at him.
“Hey Cor, have a burger! You need to eat your beef if you want to grow up to be a big strong man.”
Cory took the burger his father offered, but when his dad wasn’t looking, he set his plate on a near by picnic table and went into the house. Quietly making his way up the stairs to his bedroom, Cory flopped on his bed and stared at the ceiling.
Across town, ten-year-old Brandon Philips was sullenly sitting at the kitchen table, staring at his plate of spaghetti.
“Eat, boy!” Earl Philips, Brandon’s father, said. “Don’t act like a little girl. I’m tired of your moping around.
“Earl, leave him be,” Brandon’s mother, Marilyn Philips, said. “I told you he wasn’t feeling well.”
“You’re always coddling him; if you keep that up, he’s never going to be anything but a sissy.”
Ignoring her husband, Marilyn got up and began to take the empty plates to the sink. Reaching across the table she put her hand on Brandon’s untouched plate.
“Are you sure you don’t want to eat anything, honey?” she asked, giving Brandon a worried look.
Brandon said nothing and left the table, running out the kitchen door and down the street to the park.
Sixteen-year-old Cory Thomas gave the downbeat and the band launched into one of their quick marches. As he directed the Bishop Edward’s High School Band, his eyes scanned the stands where, as usual, his mother sat – alone. Although he knew what to expect, and had even promised himself he wouldn’t be disappointed, he nevertheless was.
After the football game, Janet waited in the school parking lot. As soon as Cory appeared carrying his band uniform, her face lit up and she gave him a warm smile.
“That was wonderful, Cory,” she said. “I think you’re the best drum major Bishop Edwards ever had.”
“Right mom,” he said, dropping into the front seat and tugging on his seat belt. “By the way, what’s his excuse this time?”
Janet turned the key in the ignition and took the car out of park. She drove silently for a few blocks. “Well, he and your Uncle Mike went to the gun club. They wanted to take in a little target practice; you know hunting season’s coming up,” Janet said, trying to keep the tone of her voice upbeat and nonchalant.
“He’s never seen me. Not once,” Cory said. “I guess it’s not masculine enough.”
Janet drove in silence until she they got home. After pulling into the driveway, she and Cory got out. In the house, Jack and his younger brother Mike were already home and standing in the kitchen.
“The band fag’s home,” Mike said, closing the door of the fridge after getting a beer.
“Mike,” Janet said, “there’s no need for that kind of talk."
“Aw Janet, you know I don’t mean anything by it,” Mike said as he twisted off the bottle cap. “I’m only teasing; that’s what we always called them when I was in high school.”
Hearing a snort, Janet turned to see her husband standing at the kitchen sink, laughing.
“And you’re just as bad, encouraging that kind of thing,” she said, frowning at Jack.
“It was just a joke, and it was funny,” Jack said, trying to suppress his smirk.
“Whatever,” Cory said, pushing past everyone and going up to his room.
Across town, sixteen-year-old Brandon Philips was surprised when his father took a beer from the fridge and put it in front of him.
“A game like that deserves a man’s drink,” Earl Philips said, grinning at his son. “That was one hell of a play,” Earl said, beaming with pride. “You showed those faggots how a real man plays the game. Those fairies from Central played like a bunch of little girls.”
Brandon took the beer and gave it a swig, just as Marylyn came through the front door.
“And just what do you think you’re doing, young man?” she shouted, rounding on her son.
“He played a man’s game today, and he deserves a man’s drink,” Earl shouted back, “and my son’s a man, not some wimp. I’m glad I got him into football when I did. If I hadn’t stepped in, he’d be wearing a tutu and prancing around.”
“He liked it Earl, and he was good at it,” Marylyn answered angrily.
“Well, the dancing he did today, getting those first and tens, is what real men do. Ain’t that right, boy?”
Brandon set down his almost full bottle of beer and left the room.
“Yeah, Mike, it was a great play,” Jack Thomas said into the phone. He’d been talking to his younger brother Mike, who he’d phoned during one of the commercial breaks in the game. Looking up, he saw his eighteen-year-old son Cory bounding down the stairs. “Yeah well, aren’t you glad they decided to lift the blackout?” Jack continued. “At least we didn’t have to watch that Queer Eye shit, or the home decorating channel,” he said, laughing and lisping the words, not noticing the look on his son’s face.
Hanging up the phone, he watched Cory head for the front door. “So am I ever going to see any of these girls you date?” Jack said, looking up at Cory. “I’d like to at least meet one of them – you never bring any of your friends around here. And on top of that, you’re never home.”
Feeling ambushed by his father for the hundredth time, Cory mumbled something incoherent and ran out the door.
“I don’t understand, Janet," Jack said as his wife came into the front door of living room to shout goodbye to Cory as he hurried across the lawn to his car. “I’d like to meet at least one of his girlfriends.”
Across town, eighteen-year-old Brandon Philips was in deep trouble. His mother, hearing strange noises from his bedroom, opened the door to find Brandon and his current girlfriend Stacy naked, in the throes of passionate sex. Slamming the door and running down into the kitchen, Marylyn’s hands shook as she got herself a glass of water. Sitting at the kitchen table, trying to collect her thoughts, she took a sip just as Earl walked in the back door.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he asked his pale faced wife.
Quickly telling him what she’d seen, she was just finishing when Brandon and Stacy – now both fully dressed – came slinking down the stairs.
“Stacy, I think maybe you should go home,” Marylyn said. “I saw your car in the driveway, so I know you drove yourself here. Brandon’s father and I need to speak to him.”
Quickly scooting out the door as inconspicuously as possible, Stacy was gone and Marylyn could hear the sound of a car starting as Brandon crept into the kitchen.
“Brandon,” Marylyn began, “I…
“Oh Marylyn,” Earl said, “For god’s sake! He’s a man; let him act like a man.”
“What are you saying?” Marylyn stood up, staring angrily at her husband.
“I’m not saying anything. It’s just that he’s a man. As long as he doesn’t bring any little Brandon’s home. You using protection, boy?” Earl said, stopping to look at his son.
Brandon, not sure what to do, nodded yes.
“There you go, it’s fine,” Earl said. “Just watch where you dip the wick boy,” he added, giving Brandon a wink. “At least he’s not bringing boyfriends home,” he barked at Marylyn.
Nineteen-year-old Cory brought down the last box from his room. Janet had watched he and his friend Jason carry boxes to both boys' cars all Saturday morning. Putting on a brave face, she’d offered the boys cold drinks and even helped Cory fold and pack some of his clothes. As he brought down the last box, he heard his father joking with his Uncle Mike that Jack thought it was high time for his little brother to get married.
“For Christ’s sake Mike, you’re thirty five. You know what people say about men over thirty who live at home and don’t get married? Find a nice girl.” Looking up to find Cory heading out the door, Jack continued, “and he’s another one: three squares a day, his mother makes his bed, does his laundry, no one bothers him, and he wants to move out. It makes no sense,” Jack chuckled.
Cory paused for a few seconds when he heard his father laughing. Janet smiled at her son, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodbye.
Across town, nineteen-year-old Brandon Philips switched off his computer and headed down to the kitchen. As soon as he opened the bedroom door he could hear his father’s angry voice drifting up the stairs.
“It’s not fair, Marylyn,” he was shouting, “I’ve given that company twenty seven years! If anyone deserved that promotion, it was me. I’ve worked my ass off for them. And on top of it all, who do they give it to? Ellis Avery, the token company fag. I swear Marylyn, if I didn’t have twenty seven years there, I’d go in tomorrow and tell them to stick their fuckin’ job.”
Twenty-two-year-old Cory Thomas came out of Hanson’s Pub smiling. He and his friends had been celebrating. Billy Hess and Andy Hummel had announced that they were going to have a commitment ceremony two months from now, in June. Cory was happy for his friends, if not just a twinge jealous. He’d dated a few guys, but so far things hadn’t worked out. His last boyfriend, Tom, seemed like he might be the one, but the more they’d gotten to know each other, the more they realized there were too many differences between them. Breaking up, they'd remain friends, but it wasn’t the same. Making his way down the alley to his car, he heard a shout: “Hey cocksucker, did you have a good time in there? Did it feel good to get it up the ass?”
Snapping his head around, Cory turned in the direction of the voice. With sudden urgency, he pulled out his keys and opened the door. Just as he was stooping to get in, he was grabbed from behind and slammed forward, his head rebounding from the jamb of the car door. Suddenly he was enveloped in pain, and his world went black as he lost consciousness.
Later that afternoon, the two police officers who’d come to the Thomas house sat in the absolutely silent living room. They’d just finished telling Janet and Jack how Cory had died. Janet was so stunned by the news that she sat unmoving, staring straight ahead.
Jack was also numb, but not so numb that he couldn’t speak. “A gay bar? A hate crime? Against my son? But Cory wasn’t gay. We’ve always communicated. If he was gay, he would have told us. He never said a word.”
Janet turned and glared at him, then she got up and left the room.
Across town, Earl and Marylyn Philips also sat in their living room with two police officers. Marylyn was sobbing. Earl paced the floor. “A murderer? My son? That’s just ridiculous. My Brandon’s a good boy – an all-American boy. His mother and I raised him right. He wouldn’t do such a thing. Officers, you've got the wrong man.”