My father was an outdoorsman. He called himself a hunter, and he was, but one-on-one he would confide that he really just enjoyed being in nature. As he got older, he began leaving his rifle in the truck before trekking through the woods to sit, surrounded by nature and alone with his thoughts for a few hours. Hunting was just a pretense, an excuse to wear camouflage and disappear into the trees.
My father also liked to tell stories. I imagine he used his time in the woods to collect his thoughts and spin them into a yarn with just enough exaggeration to make them entertaining without losing credibility. We trafficked in stories, he and I.
My father passed away two weeks ago. It was sudden, unexpected. In his last months I was his primary caregiver and during this time we became closer than we’ve ever been. He was my father, and in a way, he was like the little boy I had quietly accepted I would never have. Two weeks have passed, and everything still feels upside down and inside out.
The stories live on, though. Over the past months he began sharing stories that were new to me. They were stories he held back, waiting for me to be old enough to hear them. He told me about our family’s tenuous connection to the JFK assassination, about seeing strange lights in the sky and the way they moved unlike anything he had seen or heard of. I listened, watching his face the whole time. He was a master of tasteful exaggeration, but what I saw in his eyes was honesty.
I was driving him home from dialysis one day when he told me what would be his last great story. When I was little, only three or four, he began selling photos to wildlife magazines. He told me about seeing coyotes and mountain lions – animals that weren’t supposed to live in this part of the country, but nevertheless resided in the woods behind our house. One of the magazines was looking for photos of a particular bird, a bird my father had seen several times during his outings. He packed up his camera and set off into the trees.
Hours passed and eventually he spotted the bird. He snapped a few photos, concentrating on his subject, before realizing that a quiet stillness had descended upon the forest. The bird flew off, he packed up his camera and headed home.
The film was developed, and he showed the pictures to some of his friends, fellow outdoorsmen. One of them asked what was in the background, behind the bird he waited hours to see. He looked closer and broke out in goosebumps. In the background was what looked to be a very tall, very slender man, completely covered in hair. It appeared to be walking towards my father before stopping and changing direction, avoiding confrontation. The consensus was that he had accidentally photographed Bigfoot.
I asked about the photos and he frowned. He had sent the entire roll of film to the magazine; the photos have since been lost. I asked why he had waited over 30 years to tell me the story. He answered that he didn’t want me to be afraid. He wanted me to grow up loving nature like he did. He wanted me to feel safe. That wouldn’t happen if I thought there was a monster in my backyard, so he kept quiet and instead told me and my brother to stay close to the house when we played outside.
The best stories teach us lessons. I’m now realizing that this, the last story, teaches the lesson I need now. Like many queer men, I had a complicated relationship with my father. This story tells me he always loved me and protected me, and that’s why he waited to tell it. It took 30 years to become close enough for him to tell me, but the message behind his actions has always been there, just waiting to be said.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.