I just returned to my longtime home in Brooklyn, N.Y., after coming to my native Arlington for the painful experience of having to say goodbye to my father — attorney James Cribbs, a pillar of the community who died recently after a long exit from life.
My father and I had a complex relationship, because he was a stalwart conservative and a diehard Republican — and since I came out as a gay man about 37 years ago, our interactions were forever defined by the disconnect that comes with such territory.
For decades I have been removed from, and uncomfortable about, my hometown of Arlington because of my fractured relationship with my father. I could never actually justify any hostile feelings toward Arlington because it never did anything but embrace me. My friends from Arlington never for a minute made me think they looked at me any differently from when I was a high school football player and an integral part of the social milieu. But since then I have become gay New Yorker, a blue-state liberal, and I could not divorce my feelings about my father from the conservatism of Arlington.
My father and I were able to soften our standoff over the years. When I came home I was always embraced as his oldest son and enveloped in filial love that often transcends the differences that many families endure, no matter what the specific issues are. Dad never completely embraced what he referred to as my “lifestyle,” to my enduring chagrin. But we progressed, and when I eventually brought my then-partner down to Texas, he and his wife welcomed us into their home and he was as accepting of us as any other children with spouses would be welcomed.
When my partner subsequently broke up with me about five years later, my father insisted that I come down for the holidays, which I had not done for many years. In spite of his mixed feelings about my identity, he actually validated it by taking my side and expressing his anger about the breakup, as most parents would hopefully do.
Three weeks ago, when I was in Arlington for my father’s funeral, the outpouring of support, love and grief about his death was overwhelming. James Cribbs was not the easiest man to grow up with as a father, but his legacy of generosity to people in his community was indisputable.
I had countless people describe to me how he had helped them get jobs, gave them support for advancement in their professions, and provided them with legal counsel that helped them survive the difficulties of life.
Needless to say it was difficult — being immersed in that outpouring of admiration and love — for me to maintain my own “wall of defense” against acknowledging my father’s legacy. It was also impossible for me to continue feeling animosity toward Arlington, of which I am now publicly renouncing and toward which I feel unbridled affection.
In the loss of my father, whom I loved in spite of our differences, and in the pain that comes with such an existential experience of losing a parent, I have been given a blessing. I felt the love of that town — the part of Arlington that still exists as a community — and in the aftermath I felt the blessedness of forgiveness coming out of my heart. I am again able to embrace the community that (actually) never did anything but show me love.
My heart sang at seeing the Arlington police department’s deployment of motorcycle officers, who guided our funeral procession from the beloved First United Methodist Church where so many of my family’s life events occurred, to Rose Hill cemetery. It was a 10-mile drive along Division Street, and from what I could see, all the cars along the way pulled to the side of the road, in honor of someone who they didn’t even know. They were doing that thing that doesn’t often happen in other places: they were showing their respect.
I still don’t agree with the politics of Arlington as it currently manifests in voting patterns, although I am heartened by the changes that are happening through that city’s growing diversity. Again, I am now a New York liberal. But I love the kindness, the expressions of generosity, and the respect for traditions that I experienced when I was in Texas. The affection I feel for my hometown now is a love that transcends politics.
I am writing this as an act of redemption, and to show my respect — and my love — for that community and the Texas way of being that is dear to my heart. And I have to end by saying I miss my father. In spite of his flaws, I’m a better man because of being raised by such a generous spirit.