NATIONAL BESTSELLER (The Globe and Mail)
A moving memoir about growing up with a gay father in the 1980s, and a tribute to the power of truth, humour, acceptance and familial love. A true "It GOT Better" story.
Alison Wearing led a largely carefree childhood until she learned, at the age of 12, that her family was a little more complex than she had realized. Sure her father had always been unusual compared to the other dads in the neighbourhood: he loved to bake croissants, wear silk pyjamas around the house, and skip down the street singing songs from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. But when he came out of the closet in the 1970s, when homosexuality was still a cardinal taboo, it was a shock to everyone in the quiet community of Peterborough, Ontario—especially to his wife and three children.
Alison’s father was a professor of political science and amateur choral conductor, her mother was an accomplished pianist and marathon runner, and together they had fed the family a steady diet of arts, adventures, mishaps, normal frustrations and inexhaustible laughter. Yet despite these agreeable circumstances, Joe’s internal life was haunted by conflicting desires. As he began to explore and understand the truth about himself, he became determined to find a way to live both as a gay man and also a devoted father, something almost unheard of at the time. Through extraordinary excerpts from his own letters and journals from the years of his coming out, we read of Joe’s private struggle to make sense and beauty of his life, to take inspiration from an evolving society and become part of the vanguard of the gay revolution in Canada.
Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is also the story of “coming out” as the daughter of a gay father. Already wrestling with an adolescent’s search for identity when her father came out of the closet, Alison promptly “went in,” concealing his sexual orientation from her friends and spinning extravagant stories about all of the “great straight things” they did together. Over time, Alison came to see that life with her father was surprisingly interesting and entertaining, even oddly inspiring, and in fact, there was nothing to hide.
Balancing intimacy, history and downright hilarity, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is a captivating tale of family life: deliciously imperfect, riotously challenging, and full of life’s great lessons in love. Alison brings her story to life with a skillfully light touch in this warm, heartfelt and revelatory memoir.
About the author
- Long-listed, RBC Taylor Prize
- Short-listed, Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
ALISON WEARING's first book was the bestselling, internationally acclaimed travel memoir Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey. Since then, she has dedicated herself to music, dance and theatre, and her original one-woman shows, including a stage adaptation of Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, have won awards across the country. She lives in Stratford, Ontario.
Excerpt: Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad (by (author) Alison Wearing)
Partway through the writing of this book, I called my father to ask if he and I could have a cup of tea together and talk about a few things.
“Sure, that would be terrific!” he replied, his voice bouncing with enthusiasm, so I travelled into Toronto a few days later with a notebook in my bag.
My dad knew I was writing a book about growing up with a gay father. I had sent him early drafts of the first chapters, and while he had squirmed initially, asking if I wouldn’t mind waiting until he had gone dotty before I published anything, he agreed that it was indeed an important story and would do well to be out in the world.
He just wished it didn’t have to focus so much on him.
I arranged for us to talk because I had reached a bit of an impasse, having written all the scenes that I knew were important to telling my side of the story and feeling the need to broaden the narrative’s perspective. I knew little about my father’s early adulthood, except what one gleans from passing mentions of university days and commentary on old photos, so I had questions about that period of his life. And I knew that he had comeout during the vanguard of the gay revolution in Canada and I wondered if tying his story into that cultural and political history would give the book the wider vision I was seeking.
So we had tea. Earl Grey, I believe, with milk. And toast with Marmite. Between sips and bites, I asked him about his childhood—when did he first have the hots for a boy?—about his years at university—did his time at Oxford, the stomping grounds of Oscar Wilde (among others), give him the freedom to consider the possibility that he might be gay?—and about the gay revolution in Canada—was he at the famous Toronto bathhouse raids protest and what was it like? We talked for hours, our conversation spilling over into all sorts of other topics along the way. I made a few pages of notes.
“Ultimately, this is your story, Dad,” I said towards the end. “So is there anything else that you feel would be important to include?”
My father mentioned a few books I might read—academic treatises on gay social and political movements, the odd novel—and I jotted them down. Then he looked away pensively, inhaled sharply and opened his mouth, as if to add something. But instead of speaking, he simply held both posture and breath. Without explanation, he then got up and disappeared to his basement, reappearing a few minutes later with a small box, which he placed on the kitchen table.
“You might want to look through this,” he said, and walked over to the counter to begin preparing dinner.
I asked the obvious.
“Oh, just a few papers,” he replied. Casual as could be.
I peered inside: newspapers, magazine clippings, notebooks and loose papers. The first page I pulled out was filled with my father’s inimitable scrawl. It was a diary entry dated January 31, 1980. I read the opening sentence aloud: “‘Last night I made it with a Roman Catholic priest.’”
My dad shrieked and turned around. But instead of running over and tearing the page from my hands, he melted into a coy posture and cooed, “Oooh, I remember him. He was so cute . . .” Then he giggled and returned to the task of making dinner. Duck à l’orange.
I looked back at the collection of yellowing pages and realized what it was: a writer’s dream. The Mythical Box, the treasure trove containing priceless original documents, the journals, the letters, clues and confessions. Everything necessary to inspire and inform a literary portrait.
Or, in this case, finish one.
LONGLISTED 2014 – RBC Taylor Prize
FINALIST 2014 – Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
“Truth—even when it was brutal when first disclosed more than thirty years ago—becomes an interesting story with time. It becomes art that engages people; that makes them laugh; that resonates with their own untold stories. It can heal.... In Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, Wearing deftly picks apart the complex knots of family—the love, the adventure, the myth, the hurt, the betrayal.”
—Sarah Hampson, The Globe and Mail
“[Her] family’s long journey from turmoil to acceptance comes to vivid life in Wearing’s new memoir.... An engaging and poignant account.”
—Andrea Gordon, Toronto Star
“A loving tribute to [Wearing’s] dad and a touching coming-of-age story in and of itself.... A tenderly honest and notably humorous account.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Part memoir, part history book, part diary and all parts heart. Alison Wearing weaves a tale that celebrates the complexities of who we are and the families we hold close. Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is painful, tender, poignant and—most important—beautifully honest.”
—Brian Francis, author of Natural Order
“This exquisitely written and deeply compassionate memoir tells the story of a family and a nation at a turning point in their sexual and political awakening. The scope of events and emotions may be operatic, but Alison Wearing captures them all in details that are intimate yet revealing, heartbreaking yet joyous. This is a book for every daughter who loves her father and for everyone who chooses to live (and love) openly and freely.”
—Kamal Al-Solaylee, author of Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes
“Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is a universally appealing memoir about everything that matters in a family and to a person. It will appeal to you if you have a gay parent or a straight parent or any parent. If you have a child or were once a child. If you are passionately interested in social history or all you really want is a compelling, beautifully written story with just the right mix of everything—compassion, discovery, recovery, the occasional (OK, on one occasion) accidental ingestion of hallucinogens on Christmas Day, music, humour, grace.”
—Jamie Zeppa, author of Every Time We Say Goodbye and Beyond the Sky and the Earth
“Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter had me in tears: first of laughter, then of sadness, then of wonder at life’s strange and marvelous fragility. It is a book both beautiful and true; about the longing for family and for home. Alison Wearing is a hugely talented writer.”
—Alison Pick, author of the Man Booker Prize–nominated Far to Go
“With great skill and tenderness and a gorgeously wicked sense of humor, Alison Wearing tells her family’s story from every angle, allowing all to speak with their own voices. This is an important historical document—a portrait of gay life in the 1980s with its bravely fought battles for equality—that doesn’t flinch from showing the collateral damage of homophobia, which still today affects and afflicts the families of so many who are struggling to come out. But it’s also a timeless memoir written by a loving daughter who is finding her own way in the world and learning about the need we all have not just for acceptance, but for true understanding.”
—Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club
“Alison Wearing is blessed with the eye of a lyric poet, the ear of a comic novelist, and a heart capacious enough to tell a complicated love story. Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter caught me from the beginning and held me until its touching conclusion.”
—Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean and The Mourner’s Dance
Entertaining storytellingAlison's father liked to sing show tunes while skipping down the sidewalk in Peterborough, Ontario. Somehow, it was still a shock to everyone when he came out in the 70s.
Alison looks back on her mother's situation with great sympathy. "My father flitted in and out of the nest of our lives like most men of his time, but I thought of my mother as the spiral of sticks itself, her limbs the very twigs that held our home together. It never occurred to me that she might have been less than fulfilled in her role as Circle of Twigs, that there might have been things she wanted to do in her life besides shop for groceries, make spaghetti, load the dishwasher and do our laundry."
A book full of heart.
Jack's Rev: Confessions of a Fairy's DaughterBravo for this book! Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad is both an open and honest autobiography and a heartfelt tribute to author, Alison Wearing’s, own father. Thank you so much to Random House Canada for providing the advanced reading copy as a gift bag treat at the Book Blogger Lovefest 2013, which Penny and I were lucky enough to attend in February (better late than never!!). This book alone made the 4 hour train trip from Windsor to Toronto worth the time!
Growing up Alison thought that everybody’s dad enjoyed listening to show tunes, baking French pastries and dressing in silk pajamas on Saturday. And that is not a gay stereotype– that was just “Dad”. In the 1970’s being gay was not openly discussed nor was it just another way of living. There were no quirky gay characters on TV, no constant debate about gay marriage, no Gay Pride parades. It was hidden lifestyle and if you were found out there could be devastating consequences. Joe Wearing was always attracted to men but society told him this was wrong. Pushing these feelings aside he did what was expected of him– got married and started a family.
The book is divided in to 4 parts—the longest being “How I Saw It”—Alison’s view on what it was like to have a gay father who came out of the closet in a time where it was sooooooo not acceptable to do so. She describes her early family life as a happy one telling amusing little stories of her childhood living in Peterborough, Ontario in the 1970′s. Hers was like any other “normal” family– she had fun with her brothers, lost a beloved pet or two, learned all of the Canadian Prime Ministers and read Anne of Green Gables. When Alison was about 9 or 10 her dad began to travel– a lot. He would spend more and more time away from home until eventually her mother announced that he would no longer be coming home. It was every kid’s greatest nightmare– her parents were getting a divorce. But then the reason… your father is gay…BAM…Bombshell…Alison now had a family secret that she felt needed to be kept hidden.
“How He Saw It” was the next part– her father’s perspective. It was mostly made up of direct quotes obtained from her father’s “blue box” where he kept bits and pieces of memorabilia from his days living as a “straight” man. There were articles by famous gay rights advocates and politicians, newspaper clippings from the days following Operation Soap (a massive coordinated police raid on the bath houses of Toronto in 1981 which lead to gay-rights protests that would eventually become the now world-famous Toronto Pride Parade) and un-sent letters and diary entries written by Joe describing his feelings– good and bad– about what living an openly gay lifestyle would mean. Reading this really made you feel the internal struggle that this man was going through. He loved his family dearly, he respected his wife but, he could no longer live a lie.
It might have been different had The Box disclosed a secret life, an unresolved past, a trail of lies, brutalities and shame. But when my father came out, his secrets were all set free. Through the alchemy of honesty, they had transmuted into truth. And, ultimately, truth is a gift of liberation, however painful it might be at the time.
“How She Saw It” was the shortest part. It was mostly extrapolations of conversations Alison had with her mother, Anne, when she went to live back home with her in her late 20′s. Anne was a very private person and had never really spoken about what had happened to their family after Joe left. She remarried soon afterwards and Alison assumed that her new husband kept her from having a relationship with Joe. This was not the case. Anne was humiliated by the fact that she allowed the marriage to go on as long as it did and chose not to look back once she left (she has since made peace with Joe and now has a decent relationship with him and his partner of 31 years, Lance).
Last, but not least, was “How We See It Now” a summary of the positive ways this family has accepted and dealt with a situation that could have tore them apart. In the end Joe’s honesty to his own true self was more important that what everyone else thought. It made him a better father and the “being gay” didn’t really change anything. He was just “Dad” and they loved him—prancing, show tunes and all!
An interesting read to say the least! Hats off to brave men like Joe Wearing who made it much easier for the children of today become more tolerant of just another way of loving. Gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, transgender– love is love no matter how you do it! 4 stars.
Once I got a handle on the crude logistics [of understanding what "gay sex" was], I discovered that, gay or straight, the maxim is the same: when it comes to our parents’ sexual practices, we’d rather not think about the details. And for good reason: they’re not meant to be any of our business.
Other titles by Alison Wearing
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