An Evening with Dr. Karen McClintock and My Father’s Closet
Ben Anthony, Community Engagement Coordinator
Ohio History Connection
The McClintock family appeared the same as many Midwestern, post-World War II booming suburban families. Dad was a veteran with a job at The Ohio State University. They had a little brick house at the end of a quiet street and Mom worked at the local library and raised the children. It wasn’t until thirty years after her father’s death that Dr. Karen McClintock found herself reading a journal entry from her father describing having sex with another man and she set out to find the gay father she never knew.
The Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) works to preserve and present Ohio’s LGBTQ history. Along with collecting, displaying, and researching historical materials, there are many additional ways we engage the LGBTQ community to tell the story of Ohio’s gay history. That is why we are very excited to host Dr. Karen McClintock to discuss her new book, My Father’s Closet, on April 19th.
Dr. McClintock is an acclaimed psychologist and author whose research focuses on eradicating sexual shame. She began as a minister working with grieving HIV/AIDS patients and medical staff during the AIDS crisis before she was even aware of her father’s own secret life. My Father’s Closet is her chance to discover the story of her own family’s secrets and tell a complicated tale of infidelity, heartbreaking loss and loyalty through love. We were able to read an advance copy of the book and speak with Dr. McClintock.
Located in Columbus, My Father’s Closet is ultimately a story of a family that loves and respects one another. In a genre that all too often suffers from salacious, lowest-common-denominator tales of intrigue and infidelity, Dr. McClintock’s background as a psychologist and minister sets her narrative apart. My Father’s Closet deals honestly and openly about what develops into an incredibly complex family history. Dr. McClintock’s parents keep her father’s interest in men and eventually his long-term relationship with a man named Walther secret for practically their entire lives. As Dr. McClintock reminds us, her parents “were very good at this shell game” of secrecy. Eventually though, those secrets take its toll on both parents. A mother forced to live a celibate life and a father forced to live with the fear of shame and losing the family he loved. As Dr. McClintock described, “His staying in the closet was essential to staying my parent.” This is a story too nuanced to allow for a constant protagonist or antagonist and Dr. McClintock’s years of experience explain that exquisitely.
The story is a wonderful example of the many types of love in the world. As Dr. McClintock explains, her father and mother did share a love, “A kind of love that is full respect and regard for the soul of the other person; and they had that till the end.” However, the love between Walther and Dr. McClintock’s father is just as palpable. We know they met while working at Ohio State together and shared their love of the arts and New York City. When their relationship is abruptly (and heartbreakingly) ended, we see through tragic grief the depth and sincerity of her father and Walther’s love. Finally, we see the love of family. Dr. McClintock shares the story of a charmed childhood and a father that “believed in me and was delighted I was living my life.” Through the eyes of love, we begin to understand Dr. McClintock’s complicated and practically unknown family history. That is probably why when we asked Dr. McClintock what she wants to say to today’s LGBTQ community, she simply responded, “We need you to keep loving and we need you to keep speaking the truth.”
Please join us to hear Dr. Karen McClintock discuss her story and answer your questions April 19th at the Ohio History Center (800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211). Doors open at 6:30pm, event begins at 7pm. Please stay for coffee, cookies and discussion after the program. Complete event information can be found at www.ohiohistory.org/myfatherscloset. The Ohio State University’s Trillium Press will release My Father’s Closet April 15th. You can pre-order your copy now at www.ohiostatepress.org. For more information about the book and Dr. McClintock visit www.karenmcclintockauthor.com.