Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Bishop’s Daughter - A Father, A Faith, and A Secret.

Last week I did a brief post on former Episcopal Archbishop of New York William H. Moore. At the time, full access to the online article in The New Yorker was not available. Now it is: It is a long article that is lovingly written by his eldest daughter, Honor Moore. To me, it is a must read article for several reasons. First, it shows how crazy the stereotype picture of gays is and the stupidity of DADT when compared with reality - Bishop Moore had been a Marine and World War II hero, with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Navy Cross. Obviously, not one who had "compromised unit moral and readiness" as Elaine Donnelly would allege. Second, the story gives yet further insight into how gays of an earlier generation found themselves swept up into marrying and trying to conform to societal expectations. Especially when they had strong religious feelings. While Moore was 32 years older than I am, many things had remained the same up through the time I was in high school. Certainly in conservative Central New York we were years behind societal changes in place like New York City. Here are some highlights:

My father was born in 1919, the beneficiary of vast wealth. He was a grandson of William H. Moore, who, as one of the Moore brothers of Chicago, had made a fortune in corporate mergers at the beginning of the twentieth century. Until he went away to St. Paul’s School, at twelve, my father spent every fall until Christmas at Hollow Hill, a gentleman’s farm in New Jersey. He went to a private school in nearby Morristown, and played with friends he kept for a lifetime, taking long walks and riding his horse on the farm’s hundred acres, tending his dog and his pet roosters, playing tennis and golf. In January, the family migrated to Palm Beach, where they lived in an Addison Mizner villa, Lake Worth on one side of the house and a wide ocean beach on the other. There, between fishing and boating trips with the captain of his father’s yacht and occasional golf with his father, my father was tutored until the family returned home at Easter—to Hollow Hill and to their enormous Manhattan apartment, on the eighteenth floor at 825 Fifth Avenue, which had a view of the sea-lion pond in the Central Park Zoo.

By the end of the summer before his last year at Yale, my father was seriously thinking of making a life in the clergy, and so he had a talk with his father, who was unmoved. A young man in his position should take a year or two in business, my grandfather sternly advised, recalling that when he was at Yale, after reading Browning and Tennyson, he’d wanted to become an English teacher, had even written some poems. He’d got over it, as he was sure my father would get over this “ridiculous” idea of the priesthood. But he didn’t, and after he got out of the Marines, in 1945—a hero, with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Navy Cross, along with scars on his chest and back where that bullet went through him—he made plans to enter seminary, in New York. He had got married a year earlier, to Jenny McKean (the caption of a newspaper photograph of them on a date identified them, in bald summary, as “Marine hero” and “Boston socialite”), and he now had a child; he had returned from overseas less than two weeks after I was born.

This memory came years after my parents’ marriage exploded, when I was in my twenties. I imagine now that eventually, as my mother grew out of girlhood, she began to feel my father’s distance as a sexual complication. Having entered into what I now understand to be a marriage of their time, my parents had no language to explore what might have been wrong with their erotic life. Instead, they began to feel mutual disappointment. My mother, being a woman of her era, considered the problem hers. Decades later, I learned that when we were living in Jersey City each of my parents was visiting a “shrink” in New York. I had encountered, and repressed, the suggestion of my father’s homosexual desire only once. . . . Perhaps my parents were out, because I walked into their bedroom and no one was there. I could have been looking for a safety pin or a Kleenex, but this night the light in my father’s study was on, and suddenly, mysteriously, I was in search of something else. I don’t remember if the book of photographs was already open, or if I opened it, but the image I saw was unlike anything I’d ever associated with my father. The photograph, in black and white, was of a young man, naked, standing on a stony beach. The texture was almost grainy, and the youth was beautiful, dreamy, slightly sullen. I remember that he stood, three-quarters turned from me, facing out to the sea so that his genitals were obscured. I understood that if I turned the page there would be another photograph like this one, that this was a book of such photographs, but I did not want to see another photograph like this one, nor did I want to be caught looking at the book.

In September of 1972, my father was installed as diocesan bishop of New York. For its Christmas issue, Newsweek celebrated by putting him on the cover, photographed in a red cope and mitre, holding a gold crosier, or bishop’s crook, jewel-tone stained glass behind him. He looked like a Christmas card. In the photograph, his expression looks a little sad, and there is something close to the bone about the cover line, “The Church Faces Life,” and about the title of the article, “An Activist Bishop Faces Life.” The “life” under discussion was not his faltering marriage but the new reality the Christian Church confronted with the end of the heady nineteen-sixties.

Early in the winter of 1986, I went to an AIDS memorial service at the cathedral. It was a requiem, and as part of the liturgy the names of the dead were recited, a process that took more than an hour. As I listened, I heard the names of friends, actors and poets and artists I had known, and then my father preached. In his crimson chimere and white rochet, he climbed the pulpit and began. It was a sermon about sexual freedom, about the lives these dead men had lived, about the presence of Christ’s sacrifice in human suffering. This was not a new subject for him, but I had never heard him so fierce, so passionate, so loving. What came to me was this: Here is where I can come to find my father’s love. There is, I told myself, magnificence in how he can give, opening his long arms, practically weeping on behalf of these men, dead of a plague; here is where I can come to be close to my father.

My father didn’t accept that he was dying, and for that entire spring he travelled and preached. On March 23, 2003, four days after the United States invaded Iraq, he gave the sermon at St. John the Divine. (“Your fate will be determined by the power of millions of people of all faiths against the war and one solitary Texas politician being alone with Jesus. . . . This has to do with two different kinds of religions, it seems to me. The religion that says ‘I talk to Jesus and therefore I am right,’ and millions and millions of people of all faiths who disagree.”) But, in spite of treatment, the cancer steadily progressed. Two weeks later, my father received a terminal diagnosis.

As it happened, it was my father’s birthday, and his absence still sailed through me like a dark ship, alternating with images of his dying, and the visceral sense of his love that afternoon in his sunny bedroom, days before he died, when I sat watching him, imagining what our family might have been had we always had the love from him that I felt that day. Then the telephone rang. He had a confident voice. Andrew Verver (as I’ll call him) was the only person in my father’s will whose name was unfamiliar when we sat in the lawyer’s office the day before the funeral. Its mention had passed without comment, but later Rosemary identified Andrew as the man who had travelled with my father on a trip he took to Patmos the summer before. He would like to visit my father’s grave. He would like to see the videos that had been shown at the reception after the funeral.

Andrew had been a student at Columbia, a Roman Catholic. “I was considering being received into the Episcopal Church,” he said. This was in 1975. “I went to your father for advice. He was very helpful. At first it was a pastoral thing, and after a while we became friends.” His voice was soft in texture. “We were very close friends,” he repeated. “Paul came to my father’s funeral. My family knew him.” “Did he talk to you about his sexual life?” Two men in Greece, a beautiful night. “I was his sexual life,” Andrew said. “You were?” There was a silence and then we both began to laugh. “For a long time.” “I am so happy he had someone like you,” I managed to say.

On the first anniversary of my father’s death, Andrew and I drove to the Connecticut cemetery where he was buried, and, after finding the place where his gravestone would be installed, . . . Let’s go to lunch,” I said. And we got back into the car and drove to a café. When we sat down, Andrew pulled out a thick folder of letters, twenty-five years of letters, and I began to leaf through them. I’ve already asked Fr. Pridemore . . . to raise you from the dead—the strange line jumped out. “Raise you from the dead?” I asked. “What is this?” “We hadn’t seen each other for a while,” Andrew said. “There was a mistake. My name was on the list of those dead of AIDS read at that Mass, and Paul heard my name, that I had died. It was a mistake. A friend of mine had died, and I’d submitted his name.” “What happened? Did you go up to him afterward?” “I couldn’t get to him, but he called my number that night.” I had been at that service, and it was during the sermon that night that I’d felt my father almost transfigured in the power of his preaching. It was also that night, years before the discovery of his hidden life, that, feeling the love coming from him as he preached, I had decided to accept who he was, to take the love he gave when he was his truest self, when he was preaching. Now I’d learned that my father had preached that night believing a man he loved had died.

A memory: One Easter, in Jersey City, I am in my new finery, and there he is, dressed in white, accompanied by vested acolytes, sweeping along the dusty street on his way to the church; I get not a kiss but a blessing—my father’s hand raised, fingers poised and moving through the air in the shape of a cross. . . Just as I came to understand that his splendid vestments were not ordinary clothes, I learned that during the Eucharist the bread and wine were shot through with something alive, which vibrated and trembled, and when I watched my father, enormously tall, the color of his vestments blurry through all the incense, in all the candlelight, it seemed to me he brought all this about. It made sense that when he sang Gregorian chant his voice would break. He was being transported by what he called “the presence of God,” a force much more powerful than his physical body.

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