This is the third of three excerpted chapters from Michael Kearns’ just-released autobiography, “The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Huster?” now available on Amazon (you can read my interview with Michael here). It’s an often entertaining, often cringe-inducing, always honest look at a life that makes you say, If there was no Michael Kearns, somebody would have had to invent him. – Mark McNease/Editor
“We are all lucky to still have Michael Kearns with us,” Sir Ian McKellen says “now recording his private and public story with an honesty and humor that put most other show-biz autobiographies to shame.” THE TRUTH IS BAD ENOUGH, What Became of The Happy Hustler? traverses more than a half of century—from Kearns’ roles as ribald party boy to impassioned artist-activist to doting father. From the Seventies’ sexual revolution to the gay parenting boom of the Twenty First Century, Michael Kearns has defined nearly a half a century of American life: culturally, politically, and sexually. In many instances, he was not only at the forefront of the historical milestones, he created them.” From the description for “The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Hustler?”
FROM: ACT THREE: FATHER Chapter 71
Tia: “Ma damn foot’s caught in the door.”
We play this game, back and forth, and have for years, just to remind ourselves of our shared history; it’s one of the many ways we confirm our closeness. This PG-rated version of a knock-knock joke was taught to me by my step-grandfather, Poppy, the only male grandparent I knew. He tended to overcompensate for his harridan wife (my mother’s mother, who detested me) by being genuinely on my team. I think of him with great affection when Tia and I carry on the tradition of this flimsy silliness.
I have never been in a relationship, nor have I ever observed a relationship, like I have with Tia. Our connection to each other exceeds any connection we might make with others (and we both partake in some intense ones). There are only two incidents that could alter our earthly bond: marriage (Tia’s) or death (likely mine).
Love and death are the two most difficult subjects for a writer to talk about with a scintilla of clarity. Yet the combination proves irresistible: I find it peering at me from every page.
And those accusations of both my selfishness and my craziness in regard to adopting Tia often haunt me now more than they did when they were first verbalized. I often feel guilty that I have brought her into my death drama—an innocent baby who had no choice in the matter.
We talk about it, frequently joking about it. Before she goes to school in the morning, she says that she checks to see if I’m still breathing. Or she’ll sometimes say, without a trace of laughter, that if she calls me on my cell—at a time that she assumes it would be logical for me to answer and I don’t—“I think you’re dead.”
I have been as appropriately honest with Tia as I can be over the years, second-guessing my longevity, telling her only the details that she can absorb without terrifying her in the process. I try to maintain an upbeat demeanor without forsaking a strong sense of realism.
Two of her girlfriends lost their fathers—both to unexpected heart attacks, both younger than I am.
“I just want to live long enough to be a grandfather—that’s my goal,” I tell her.
“You’ll live to be eighty-five,” Tia proclaims, not joking but introducing a certain gravitas.
“Honey, what about my poor feet? I don’t think I can live twenty-five more years with this pain.”
“They’ll be able to make you new feet by then.”
I laugh. “It’s true, I suppose. I’ll be the grandpa with fake feet!”
As our years together have unfolded, it does seem that Tia may take the world by storm before I take my permanent leave. For so many years, my overriding fear was that I’d die before she was the age of emancipation. But it now feels like I’ll be chirping plaintively in an empty nest.
Aside from nurturing the Kearns family (changing my grandchildren’s diapers), I’ve established some goals: learn, teach, travel, read, take classes, get two or three more cats and at least one dog.
“You should get a husband,” Tia says, a suggestion that she’s been working on for years.
“I’m open,” I answer, not even halfheartedly.
I feel ambivalent about the man thing that previously consumed so much of my life. I count two and a half husbands: Thom Racina, Philip Juwig and Eric Lim (the half due to the velocity with which that marriage came and went).
“Is your daughter the love of your life?”
Asked by a man that I’m on a first date with, the question feels icky—too intimate and a bit confrontational, yet unquestionably astute. The dinner has been romantic and he’s as sexy as hell, but I decide it’s a trick question and I initially veer to the defensive track.
Even if the truth dilutes the frisson of the moment, I ultimately admit that it’s true: of the myriad friends and relatives and lovers, past and present, Tia is unequivocally the love of my life.
He seems to understand and then admits that he is “envious.”
Mr. Date doesn’t stop there. “Do you think her love has kept you alive?”
That’s a question I can’t really answer. It would put a lot of responsibility on Tia, wouldn’t it? I think she has been the great motivator, especially during times of despair. There is little question that she is something to live for. My responsibility to her as a parent is something I take more seriously than anything.
I will leave the planet longing for more time with Tia. I will likely continue to write, teach, direct and act, for either artistic or monetary reasons. But I have no grand desire in that department either, no desire to play King Lear. The only role I’d like to play into eternity is that of Tia’s father.