As the day progressed, the bucking in my chest subsided. Idle conversation, ocean dips that soaked my parents’ shorts, a shared taboo experience — it fostered a closeness, warmed by their willingness to push boundaries, for a time, at least. Until Tarzan strutted in our direction, his large endowment at half-mast. My mother glanced up from her book as his fluffed genitals passed at eye level, less than two feet away.
She examined her nails.
“Mom? Time to go?”
“The sun,” she nodded, her voice strained. “The sun is too hot.”
That evening at dinner, our relationship shifted. We were comrades cloistered in a booth, emboldened by inhibition-free nudists. Laughter loosened us — Who brings a goat? Does he always strut? We hadn’t freed our undercarriages to the ocean breeze, but Little Beach had stripped a layer of emotional clothing, enough for me to reveal a painful secret.
Chopsticks down, I choked out a confession about a failed relationship that ended in an early midlife crisis. I had achieved my dream of the perfect marriage — an affluent gay couple, two high-profile jobs, two homes, two swanky cars — only to find it an illusion, depressing, empty.
My father, the first to well up, pushed at fried tempura. My mother, shoulders compressed, placed her hand on mine.
Our shared experience opened a dialogue.
Our vacations became a ritual — Italy, London, Australia, Prague. Over time, I removed layers of exoskeleton, revealed more flaws of my soft-bodied underbelly and what it meant to be a gay man. In turn, they revealed what it meant to have a gay son, their hopes and fears, misunderstandings and shame. And eventually, their pride.
Just as I have now come to love the beauty in the chipped edges of my mother’s shells, I came to see my imperfect self through my parents’ eyes and to know that I am a keeper. That I am enough.
Matt Knight is a San Francisco-based writer and intellectual property lawyer at work on two novels.