Laura Hall is the author of the new memoir Affliction: Growing Up with a Closeted Gay Dad. She lives in San Francisco.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and how long did it take to write it?
A: My father’s last words to me were a request that I turn back the clock. Three years after he died, I felt a story brewing in me.
I stopped in a bookstore on my way to work and picked up a book on writing. A former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, someone whose writings my father had admired for years, was the author.
I boarded my train and began to read it. A fellow passenger, an elderly man, noticed what I was reading and told me that the author led writing workshops in San Francisco close to where I live. I signed up that day.
One of her first writing prompts was titled "my dad’s clothes.” In no more than 2-3 minutes, my title became "my dad’s closet," and the idea of my book was born.
My first approach was a biography of my father and how society had mistreated him. Three years in, a writing coach asked me, “But where’s Laura in the book?”
I began looking at myself, my life, my behavior, my choices, and how they related to my parents’ star-crossed marriage. This introspective journey took me on an additional three-year journey.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: My father told me that when he was a teenager he knew he was different than other boys and that he considered his homosexuality an affliction. Once he came out to me, keeping his secret became my affliction.
Q: What impact did it have on you to write this book about your dad?
A: In looking deeply into my parents’ lives and marriage, and at my father’s past before he closeted his sexuality, I learned and understood far more about them than I knew when they were alive.
Their struggles and sacrifices came into sharp focus in light of the fact that they rarely complained about the hardships of life. I could see that they never gave up, despite major setbacks, and that I could persevere in writing my book despite the emotional toll it took on me.
I discovered the thread that connected me to my lifelong fear of abandonment, that at some point early on I sensed that my father didn’t wholly belong to us.
For much of my life I thought I had some kind of affliction, fearing men’s betrayals and abandonment. Once I understood the root cause, that my father’s heart always partly belonged to another, or longed to have it belong to another, that he always had one foot out the door, I was able to strip away my own self-judgment and being irrational around men.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
A: Aside from petty quarrels from time to time, my relationship with each of them was strong, loving, kind and respectful all my life. They loved me unconditionally and fiercely. I consider them exceptional human beings and parents.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am writing essays and preparing slide shows for talks. My interest is in sharing my story widely for the purpose of helping to heal injustice towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I have a happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life. My husband and I have been together for three decades and have a loving marriage.
I work at the Environmental Protection Agency with mission-driven co-workers, all of us serving EPA’s noble mission of protecting human health and the environment.
I am the mother of one happily married daughter and mother, and the grandmother of two independent granddaughters.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb
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