Steven Fales

Steven Fales
Steven Fales -- Actor/Writer/Producer

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chapter One - "Happy Anniversary" from OXY-MORMON MEMOIRS: A Love Story with Footnotes

I'm diligently working on Oxy-Mormon Memoirs: A Love Story with Footnotes*. Here's a sneak peek at Chapter One. I hope it grabs your attention. I have many drafts of the book I'm working from. I hope to finally get this book finished and on its way . . .

*Signed depiction releases have been purchased to mention Emily, the kids and her mother.

"Steven and Emily just before getting engaged." Utah, Summer 1993

OXY-MORMON MEMOIRS: A Love Story with Footnotes
by Steven Fales

Chapter One -- “Happy Anniversary"

            I was working from the fourth floor of the new city library in downtown Salt Lake frantically finishing up the final draft of a new solo play I was writing (for someone else) so I could submit it to this highly competitive theatre workshop at Sundance—a tiny blue pinprick in the reddest state in the Union. Utah makes Texas seem liberal. Getting accepted would be a much needed break in a career that seemed to have peaked and was now going downhill fast. There was just an hour left to put the finishing touches on this edgy new script about the founder of Mormonism’s enigmatic bitter polygamist first wife and then electronically submit it (with the $50 application fee I really couldn’t afford ) by the deadline that day. The library closes early on Saturday and like everything else in Utah it’s closed on Sunday so I was in a hurry to get it done when a call came in from my favorite drama queen Emily—the Kim Kardashian of Mormondom. Only tall, blonde and talented.  And the mother of my children. Our children. The perfect distraction.
            I was working from my unofficial corner office because I needed the library’s free WiFi for my ailing Toshiba laptop. It was dying. I think from a virus I got trying to download porn one night. Porn’s not really my thing (why watch it when you’ve lived it?) but it never leaves your laptop. Or your mind. At the dawning of the Great Recession I decided to get another forbearance on my student loans and discontinue my internet service in my studio apartment completely and just make do. Actually it had been shut off. At least my cell phone was still on. Thank you, Aunt Linda!
            It was December 15th. Just another cold, hungry day in the wholesome Mountain West—Zion. Mormon missionaries and the homeless love this new library. So do the tweakers. It could get really cruisy. But I had long outgrown that kind of old-school closeted behavior. I was in recovery. And on deadline.
            What did Emily want? I was the one who was always calling her. No, I couldn’t risk getting derailed. I could easily derail myself. I needed to get this script submitted. Then I could call her back. “There’s no Mormons like show Mormons like no Mormons I know.” Emily and I were both show Mormons. But this new show must go on!
            Earlier that fall I decided I would swear off my jealous mistress, arts and entertainment, and just hunker down and be a full-time dad no matter how excommunicated I was in Utah. Or how much it was their mother’s turf. Whether my kids knew it or not, they needed me. More than that I needed them. Home is where your kids are. In the words of Dr. Laura, “I am my kids’ dad.” It’s a documented fact that children who grow up without a father are ten times more likely to run into trouble from anxiety to underachieving to acting out in all kinds of destructive ways.
            Ours was not your typical broken home from the Mormon ghetto. My kids were lucky to have a dad. I was lucky to be a dad and still have a dad myself as challenging as my relationship continued to be with perfect Dr. Fales, M.D. Emily’s dad died when she was only sixteen—of AIDS. Em grew up in a fatherless house. But her mother documented everything in a national bestseller. And there were sequels. Lots of them. Emily’s mother was the most celebrated writer of Mormon Arts and Letters—a literary reality star. Memoir was the family business. My exotic mother—a trophy wife whose second marriage had just ended—was why this former Mormon missionary could handle his own Mormon American Princess so well. Sometimes.
            Just not right now. Don’t you dare pick up that phone, Steven.
            We were both sixth-generation—products of a dynamic blend of Mormon royal accomplishments and Mormon white trash secrets—on both sides. Oxy-Mormons. Nevertheless and notwithstanding we had really good kids. We got compliments on them all the time. We have a son and a daughter. Our son is the older. Their nicknames are Buddy and Gee-Gee. They get along with each other so well. Like Donny and Marie. They have my watery brown eyes—just not as intense. Emily has the most soulful, penetrating blue eyes to ever come out of Utah. Their eyes were a twinkling softened blend of us both.
            When they were little on those rare occasions we ever had to discipline them we’d warn them first, “One. Two. Three. Okay. Time out!” Then they’d politely march right over and plop themselves down in the corner of the room and recite Shakespeare, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” Or sing the full score to Annie Get Your Gun, “Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can!” Or just patiently wait five minutes until their lesson was learned and we were all back to laughing and jumping on the trampoline.
            “How do you get your kids to just go to time out like that and like it?”
            “Ancient Pioneer Secret.”
            The best years of my life were when we were a little family singing and dancing our way together through the apple orchards and blueberry patches and Connecticut Repertory Theatre (while daddy was still in graduate school at the University of Connecticut) picking out pumpkins or chopping down our own New England Christmas trees in the land of Martha Stewart. Just us. No parents. No in-laws. Being a busy, young dad provided the happiest moments of my life. I could never dismiss Mormonism for providing this bubble. Nor could I ever dismiss Emily.
It was when I moved us all back to Utah that the marriage blew up and the bubble burst.
But even after the divorce, Emily and I still did a lot of things together as a non-traditional family. Elaborate birthdays, family weddings, vacations to Disneyland, Christmas in New York with the Rockettes! All kinds of religious, educational, and cultural events—like the annual Greek Food Festival in downtown Salt Lake. We still made a great team. We had the same daddy-long-leg stride. Back in our East Coast days, we could throw those kids in the double stroller and rip through the Washington, DC mall in an entire afternoon—including the Smithsonian! We were exceptional parents together. She was more pop. I was more classical. I was New York. She was L.A. We balanced each other out. We were built for cranking out beautiful babies and making Mormon art. We were built for apron strings as much as showbiz. And yet our marriage seemed to be doomed from the start.
I clearly told her I was gay before we ever got engaged.
When we had the “divorce talk” with our kids they were just five and three. We thought we’d wait to tell them why we got divorced until later when it was more age appropriate. We didn’t want them to find out on the playground. Google’s a real snitch. So are Mormons. So after two years of our son asking every day to tell us why we primed the pump by letting the kids watch re-runs of “Will & Grace.” And when they were eight and six we sat them down and on one of his many visits home from New York daddy took the lead.
“Usually it’s men and women together. But sometimes it’s men and men together. And women and women together. And daddy seems to do best when it’s men and men together. Daddy is what we call . . . gay.”
Buddy ran out of the room and into the backyard. After a few minutes I went and talked him down out of the cherry tree. I don’t believe he was upset I was gay or should I technically say bisexual? It was because this reason blew the chances his parents might get back together out of the water. This was the same reason his mother’s parents got divorced. I was so relieved when Buddy said, “I still love you dad.”
When I mentioned to Gee-Gee that my being gay was also why I was excommunicated she paused and said, “That’s stupid.” That was my cue to teach them my “Excommunication Polka”! “Excommunication! Latter-day Saints on the run. Ex-x-x-x-x-com-mu-ni-ca-tion! Everyone else join the fun . . .”

Back in full-time Salt Lake I would now do my best to see my kids continued to thrive no matter what odds were stacked against us. Buddy was twelve. Gee-Gee was ten. The perfect time for a dad to really step up, right? This wasn’t my first time at the Salt Lake rodeo trying to be a good single gay dad behind the Zion Curtain. But I’d already lost too much momentum working in New York and being on the road paying traveling dues.
I would make amends for being a long-distance dad by meeting their needs. Make their dreams come true. Take them to rehearsals. Go to their basketball and volleyball games. Scouting. Braces. Ballet. Cello. Maybe start taking them back . . . to church?
I would retire from touring my old off-Broadway war horse Confessions of a Mormon Boy forever and go back to teaching middle school or community college . . . real estate? I would step off the “Mormon Boy” treadmill and rest by being a busy old dad—at 37. Stop trying to keep up with the sex object on the poster. Stop smiling so much. I would take my darn hairpieces off for good and just wear a BYU baseball cap. Let the gray show through and the Botox run out. Maybe put on a few extra pounds. Wear baggy dad clothes and glasses. Retire. From being fabulous.
After several full-time months back I was having a “showbiz slip” and taking a day off from being daddy by finishing up this new historical play at this award-winning, state-of-the-art library next to these large modern floor to ceiling windows with tiny snowflakes flurrying over quaint and oppressive Salt Lake City. Where the Mormon voters are cold-stone sober and the local gay activists get back at them—by drinking.
So I get this call on my cell. And since it was Emily vibrating, I picked up. You pick up when it’s the mother of your children and you are the non-custodial parent no matter what deadline you’re on. “Non-custodial” means you have basic constitutional visitation rights as a dad and the right to pay child support but not a heck-uh-vah lot more. Everyone pays lip service that your presence and opinion matter. But the Church and the courts favor mothers no matter how well you change diapers or how good your tuna casseroles turn out or how well you tell bedtime Book of Mormon stories.
You ultimately have no real legal say in anything. You’re a second-class parent. You don’t really exist. So you learn to work around it. You give up asking to see report cards or expect to be told about parent teacher conferences. And try to ignore that fact that even your immediate family sends their yearly Christmas cards to her.
So when the sole legal guardian calls, you answer—and hope for the best because she has all the power. And an even more powerful mother. I used my best inside library voice:
“Hi, Former!” We affectionately called each other “Former”. She had perky down better than me.
“Hi, Em.”
“Hey. Do you know what today is?”
I had to think about it, “Uh. No.”
“It’s our anniversary. Today would’ve been our fifteenth wedding anniversary!”
“Oh! Of course. Sorry. I forgot.”
“Well, I wanted to call you and wish you a happy anniversary . . .” She paused and in that pause seemed to play the most tender of movie soundtracks as she began to cry, “And thank you for our kids. They are so amazing.”
“Yeah, they really are. You’re welcome. How sweet. Happy anniversary to you, too, Em.”
“Love you, Former!”
“Love you, too. Uh. Bye . . . “
Emily and I had been divorced over seven years now. I thought it strange that after all this time she would cross that matrimonial fine line with her surprise call. It was something I would do.
Two weeks later she would call the police and do everything she could to bar me from ever seeing the children again.
And that script I submitted to Sundance was rejected.

Chapter Two -- "Whack!" from OXY-MORMON MEMOIRS: A Love Story with Footnotes

Meet a young gay divorced dad who used to try to control everything. The more he did the crazier things got . . .

This is the latest chapter I've been polishing for my forthcoming Oxy-Mormon Memoirs: A Love Story with Footnotes.*

*Signed depiction releases have been purchased to mention Emily, her mother and the kids.

"Gee-Gee, Daddy, Mommy, and Buddy." New York City, 1998

A Love Story with Footnotes
by Steven Fales

Chapter Two – “Whack!”

Daddy was back in Salt Lake and at your service whether he was Utah’s “Most Unwanted” or not. It had now been over seven long years since our Brokeback Mormon marriage abruptly ended and a week after Emily’s sweet yet suspicious post-divorce anniversary call. According to the official divorce decree (or “custody constitution”) Em and I rotated holidays each year. This year the kids were Emily’s for Thanksgiving and mine for Christmas.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
In my family Christmas trumps Thanksgiving like mommies trump daddies in still-Victorian Utah. I humbly spent this Thanksgiving camped out with my latest local milk-toast sponsor and his gracious, simpleton parents (and a bland meal I’ve completely blocked out) knowing all would be rewarded with a warm and cozy Christmas with my two bright kids who I missed chronically.
As needy as it may sound missing my kids was a form of prayer. I constantly ached for them no matter where I roamed. A father without his children is always at risk. Their presence—just their voice—is a stabilizing force. Even a text from them is grounding. No lover on earth could replace them emotionally. I had tried again and again. Larry Kramer says in The Normal Heart, “It is not natural for a man not to love.” It is not natural for a dad not to be near his kids.  But this year Santa was about to bring my kids giftwrapped and all to myself.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
While spunky Emily was going to be flying to her mother’s in progressive Walnut Creek, California for a much needed holiday break, I was taking the kids to my mom’s 250 miles south in provincial Cedar City home of the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival. They would want me to add that they still talk about my “Astaire-evoking” turn in The Boy Friend and my ravishing “Player Queen” in Hamlet.

I was running late. Again. Yes, I know non-custodial-homosexual-bisexual parents should always be on time to pick up their kids, but it’s hard work packing the sleigh without any Christmas elves. Especially when there weren’t any fancy presents this year—except the ones I got from the thrift store or made with the hot glue gun.

This year there would be no new leather coats or chic scarves or dresses or navy blue blazers from Bloomingdale’s or colorful iPods. I didn’t even have an iPod. I still didn’t have an iAnything. I’m a PC gay. But with Emily’s help I’d already figured out something cool and inexpensive for the kids. Rechargeable generic digital cameras she got from a friend. Dumb. My provider ego was bruised but it would be okay. I hoped. Barely. I didn’t expect any gifts for me. A dad's job is to give more than to receive. Ideally.

The seashell recession wreaths I made—and insisted that the kids help me with—for my mom, dad, Emily, and Emily’s mom looked spectacular. I had all the living grandparents and their mother covered for Christmas for next to nothing. Whew! The cream-colored clam and midnight blue mussel shells were from my walks on the beach in Marina Del Rey during my run in Los Angeles. The pink scallop shells were from wading in the Atlantic during my run in Provincetown. All of them sealed with hot glue and love on dark wood branches twisted into circles from Michael’s handicraft store. The sand dollars and blanched starfishes were like white bows and ribbons, the finishing touch.

The kids hated making them as much as they hated scrapbooking with me. I pushed them too hard to make them perfect. Hot glue burns little fingers. And it's embarrassing to have a dad who can scrapbook better than the mothers of your friends—or your own mother. Emily would want me to mention that she has always been jealous of my impeccable penmanship--cursive and block. Because when I write something down it usually happens. It's a Mormon thing. She was once at the top of one of my short lists.

Perfectionism and well-meaning, passive aggressive control are two of my greatest character defects.
I was now responsible for making Christmas fun for two amazing, precocious, pre-pubescent children who I’d spoiled rotten on credit the year before. My dad would want me to add that precocious does not necessarily mean mature. Ahem.
I hated being relegated to the role of Disneyland dad, but it was the overcompensating position into which I seemed to back-slide best. All those years and years of living extravagantly! Webster would want me to add that “prodigal” means extravagant. I didn’t spend money on a fancy sports car or a chick magnet apartment, I spent all my disposable income on my kids and the next round of publicity photos. Okay, and a few mini-boyfriends. Where were those boyfriends now?
This year I barely had enough money for gas, but I still had lots more homemade fun up my sleeve. It always took time for the kids to warm up to my ironically less-permissive parenting style, but they had made the transition before and they could do it again. No one could argue that daddy wasn’t fun—when he had money. No matter how he dreaded their learning curve or how depressed he might feel daddy would make the yuletide gay.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
When I arrived to pick up the precious Christmas cargo, Emily was annoyed I was late but still pleasant. She had a hot meal ready for us that we scarfed down. She had mastered my mother’s gravy recipe. Emily looked stunning. The new Em! She had it goin’ on! We have always looked ten years younger than we are thanks to all that good, clean Mormon livin' together in our 20s. All that work she had done after the divorce was pitch perfect. I never needed boobs back in our day. I was a leg man and she had legs forever. Her house was immaculate as her new teeth! Remodeled and ready to sell. I did not approve.
Earlier that fall, I helped orchestrate a day where my out-of-state dad and I helped rebuild the deck, transform her backyard and make all kinds of electrical and plumbing repairs. I also helped re-paint the basement that was still stuck in the ʼ70s. I had mowed that lawn and cleaned that kitchen countless times since our divorce while visiting. Who taught Buddy how to load the dishwasher? Who taught him how to mow a lawn and get the lines in the freshly cut grass just so?
She had let me store my boxes of books and files in the side storage area above the gardening tools when I originally moved to New York. I’d moved them by now after a little fight we had that ended with an expletive. I had just asked a few simple personal questions about whether she was drinking or something and she hung up! Imagine! We made up and spent many non-traditional family birthdays and holidays there with the kids. Including last Christmas with her mother. We had a nice flow. It worked. “What are we getting your mother for Mother’s Day, kids? The new Margaret Cho DVD she wants or the latest Augusten Burroughs? Okay, both!"
I’d even brought boyfriends by like the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, the BYU cowboy, and the Texas oil billionaire. She was still best friends with my ex- fiancé even though I wouldn’t have anything to do with him. She had even dated a good friend of mine from graduate school. He got his heart broken. What was he thinking? He couldn’t upstage me even back in Connecticut! He might have had the big narrator part in Dancing at Lughnasa, but my role as the singing scoundrel dancing dad was flashier and underscored the title of the play!
I loved our  . . . her little four-bedroom cottage in winter, her Christmas lights perfectly illuminating her perfect, long icicles. The Mormon Church had recently re-roofed her shingles. They were always watching out for her. Who sat quietly and watched the kids in the congregation when she was asked to be the keynote speaker at church that first Christmas after our divorce with all of her fervent, sentimental testimony? She knew how to play her single-mommy card just right. With her famous Mormon mother she had them wrapped around her little finger. I would have done the same thing. She took the stage and all the praise and sympathy for playing the role of the poor ex-wife of that homosexual. She took all our friends and professors from BYU with her. She could have them.
Emily’s house was one of the few middle class houses in an upper-middle class suburb of Salt Lake called Sandy. Upon our return to Utah, the four of us had lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment for a year while I taught drama at a posh private school called Waterford—where A-list Utahns like the Huntsmans send their kids to be groomed for Ivy League success. I subsidized teaching by waiting tables at Macaroni Grill and auditioning for local Shakespeare and did several commercials which helped Emily and I take a Caribbean cruise. That ship sure sailed. Especially when she realized the crabs I gave her near the end of our wedded bliss did not come from a toilet seat in Puerto Rico like I said, but were from sparkling underground DL, Salt Lake City. I’m not proud of that. Or that I gave her chlamydia. It could have been a lot worse.
The shipped also sailed on my idea for starting Mountain West Repertory Theatre. I re-wrote her mom’s first Mormon musical The Order Is Love for the season starter starring Emily. We did a promising staged reading, but the divorce the next month delayed things a little. And no matter how youthful she still looked she was just a little too old to be playing a teenage ingénue.

          Between the reading and divorce there was the big birthday bash I threw for Emily. All of her friends were there. Emily’s friends outnumbered mine ten to one. Could they sense that this was my last housewarming hurrah? They would all soon swoop in and console her. One single mom from South Africa moved in with her high strung little boy for a while. It was a unbearable for Emily and the kids but it was great for her friend. Where was her ex-husband?
We still joked that I should one day direct Emily in Mame. She’s that good. Who dragged her to audition with me for Connecticut Repertory Theater? She walked away with a double nomination for best actress in a musical by the Connecticut Drama Critic’s Circle one summer. Do you know how many Tony Award-winning regional theaters are in that little state alone? It was a big deal. I was getting the master’s degree at UConn so I could one day teach at the Lord’s University but she had the talent. And now the kids. I should have taken them to a Huskies game--but I wasn't at UConn for NCAA-winning frivolity. We watched the Oscars and the Tony's in our household.
By harnessing the help of friends and family, I pushed through my vision to renovate a fixer-upper on the right side of the tracks even though I knew I wouldn’t be living there for long. The equity in that house soared immediately. That house would not exist if it weren’t for me and I had signed away any ownership without a second thought. Suzie Ormon would never have approved.
I knew back in Connecticut that our marriage wouldn’t last. I didn’t want it to blow up on the East Coast where we didn’t have any family and Emily didn’t have any close friends. I could never get her to fully engage in my East Coast dream. She actually thought New Jersey was a borough of New York City. How can you be living in the Tri-State Area and not know NJ was one of those states? How can you join in jokes about the Garden State without that distinction? This house was my subconscious parting gift. Within two months of moving in, I was excommunicated and on my way out. It was more devastating than I could have ever imagined--and it's well documented in Confessions of a Mormon Boy. But we got through it and kept the ball rolling for our kids.

          Emily and the kids were set—the popcorn ceilings and three layers of old wallpaper stripped and replaced. The kids had a house they could be proud to bring their friends home to after school. It became the fun house on the block with the slide and trampoline in the back. And the mysterious, meticulous dad who had moved far away.
Deep inside I felt it was still my house. I couldn’t let go of our family. I kept our old family portraits close to me wherever I camped out. I’d even leave them up when a trick came over. Emily had started taking all of our photos down. And her new photo shoots with the kids dressed in stark existential black left me out. Who wears black in Utah? That was my color.
Fine. I’d just take more colorful photo shoots with the kids myself. I color-coded our turquoise wardrobes in Central Park. “Come on, kids. Daddy’s getting new headshots. Put on your smiles and let’s have fun! Get in the row boat.” I recommend MAC Studio Fix.
I wanted the kids to grow up with piano lessons like we both did. My musical inspiration came from old Mormon hymns I learned to play as much as Cole Porter. So I strong-armed Emily’s mom into letting us “borrow” her big, black, rarely used Yamaha grand piano for the kids. The piano was dusted off and reluctantly shipped from California to Utah and landed in Emily’s front room. Why on earth did she send it back? As if to undo anything I had ever put into motion! I felt erased. That piano was an investment in our kids’ musical futures. A hyper creative family needs a piano. And it looked fantastic there by the fireplace. Now it was egregiously gone.
Daddy made music happen in addition to taking my son to Utah Jazz and BYU football games not to mention that hokey hockey game when the Olympics came to town. And I made sure I took my daughter to Ballet West regularly and bought those tickets to the first national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie. We’d watched the movie a thousand times. “Raspberry!” I was supposed to become the next gay Sutton Foster. And all those Sunday brunches at Market Street Grill after live performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I couldn’t stomach a regular church service. But I was going to show them the very best of our people and how to dress up.
They sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” one Sunday.
Buddy leaned over, “Not as good as Judy Garland!”
Like a good gay dad I coached, “And who was her daughter . . . ?”
He calmly retorted, “Liza Minnelli.”
He knew who Shirley Bassey was, too.
A Christmas before, I dragged them to see the 360 voice Mo-Tab Choir sing backup for Audra MacDonald. She was the only black girl there. Her hunky new Mormon husband and I were in a Church propaganda film together back in our BYU days and a staged reading in New York for ASCAP in front of Stephen Schwartz about the cultish Salvation Army where he was featured but I was the male lead opposite Eden Espinoza. How is Hair's Will Swenson's cool ex-wife these days? Had they both left the Church yet? They attended a lavish party I threw in my four-bedroom sublet on W. 83rd St. They brought their newborn son. Will said, "Wow! Fales is livin' large!" Now I was living small. Epic Fales.
I’d made their braces happen, too, with a major discount from an orthodontist fan and his wife who had been at my big opening night off-Broadway—professional courtesy. And who was it that paid for Gee-Gee’s first ballet and tap classes and cello lessons? Who was there at many of Buddy’s first soccer and basketball games even though I was living in New York? Who had guest taught art at Buddy’s school? Who was there at his presentation about Kit Carson? I'm in the photos next to Emily’s mother.
And then there were the gifts I’d given Emily—like the limited Lladro Cristus statue I gave her for Christmas two years after our divorce that used to sit showcased on the glossy piano—the generosity of the damned. I could really use that $500 now. Strangely, she had not taken that statue down, but it felt like she was systematically edging me out as I was inching my way back in. My Piscean intuition was telling me what I wanted to deny.
I was panicking inside. I had just moved back. How could this be happening? It was all supposed to be getting better not worse!
I guess I could understand why she wanted to sell and leave these and other “perfect” memories behind. Especially after the break-up with her perfect straight ex-Mormon apostate-atheist 6’4”, blond, muscular super-model-good-looking boyfriend of five years with that stupid new Acura who had slept with her in the four-poster pine bed we got as newlyweds. I baby sat for them all the time. Boy did he milk her. Talk about a narcissist! He would want me to add that he was five years younger than she and cheated on her so badly it made me look like a saint. I waited years before fooling around and not until the very end! I heard he shot blanks anyway. Thank God, Joseph Smith and all the prophets! The last thing I needed was for my ex-wife to get pregnant on me. He had taken them all house-hunting just as he did her wrong. To think I had ever suggested we could be workout partners!
How dare he buy that basketball hoop for my son and then split never saying good-bye. My crushed son gave up basketball after that. He’d adopted the jerk’s favorite team the Sacramento Kings. I’d been to BYU summer basketball camp when I was 14 and hated it. My dad made me go to butch me up. But if basketball was my son’s dream, I was all for it. I had no problem with my son being straight. Or my daughter.
Who bought Buddy that Michael Jordan Bears Jersey—35—during my extended run in Chicago? Who attended Gee-Gee’s volleyball games when I was back in town networking the last year at in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival? Volleyball was my favorite sport to play even though I was afraid of the net. Boy could I bump and set even if spiking was my weakness. My boyfriends would want me to add that my overhand serve is actually really, really good.
Above all, this was our kids’ home. I’d come back from New York and had re-painted their rooms: Buddy’s was tan, Gee-Gee’s was butter-cup yellow, Emily’s was lime green—all with crisp white trim and new swirling textured ceilings I called “Starry, Starry Night.” I bought Gee-Gee new white furniture to match her room. And that collectable Barbie. And the countless souvenirs, F.A.O Schwartz toys and presents and Gymboree and Gap Kids clothes. All those collectable shoe ornaments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my membership discount. The stained glass I had shipped to Em's mother for Mother's Day. It arrived broken.
The years of show posters and prints of Tiffany stained glass we’d collected and framed looked great on the walls, especially the fantasy art puzzles we’d mounted next to the  “Shakespeare’s Island” print signed by James Christensen, “The play’s the thing!” We’d spent that entire Christmas vacation one year in Connecticut putting those puzzles together. Douglas Sills signed our Scarlet Pimpernel poster “To the Fabulous Fales Family” right beneath the tag line, “Seduction! Scandal! Betrayal!” Douglas and I were both good. We never had that affair after that staged reading in Stratford, Connecticut on our partners.
My pictures weren’t up but my presence was everywhere. I’d planted those yellow narcissus bulbs in the yard after the divorce to punctuate my existence! “And then my heart with pleasure fills/And dances with the daffodils.”
I kept the kids stocked with the latest children’s books from Eloise to Olivia and the latest Broadway cast recordings from Spring Awakening to The Full Monty to you name it. Buddy would want me to add that when I read him Harry Potter and used my “scary voice” for Voldemorte he had nightmares for a year. I was forbidden to even read bible stories to them now. My dad had read Shakespeare and Edgar Alan Poe to me. I was just doing what my dad did—except I didn’t make them memorize The Book of Mormon. The book not the Broadway cast recording. “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’!”
I tried too hard. And daddy didn’t take care of himself. Daddy had no savings just snowballing debt. He had three assets: a son, a daughter, and an award-winning solo play he had run into the ground and didn’t have the gumption or confidence to perform anymore. I’d lost my oomph. The show had been professionally filmed live off-Broadway, but I couldn't get the six camera HD film edited and sold. I'd run out of steam when my team relapsed. Never do business on an AA handshake even if they work for HBO. The book made me a Lambda Literary Award Finalist (the gay Pulitzers), but the sales of the companion book to the stage play was paltry. It needed to be on Kindle. Gay book stores have died out and my gay publisher Alyson Books went bankrupt—one of the oldest in the country. Was being gay now out?
What about their sweet nerdy friends next door, the helpful snooping Mormon neighbors, Buddy’s scoutmaster that lived down the street? What about their world-class public elementary school? Their teachers loved me! A few blocks away was Falcon Park where I’d take them to ride down the grassy knoll in the red wagon and where we’d play catch with the baseball mitts I’d bought them. And the scooters we’d race around the perimeter of the park as well as Manhattan’s West Side Park. Those rubber wheels had seen a lot of miles. What about our ABBA sessions as I’d spin and dance with both kids in my arms in the big back family room to “Honey, Honey”, “Angel Eyes” and “Ring, Ring” until we were all sick from laughing? Daddy might have been a little hung over but he showed up!
Like when I trimmed the trees in the yard with a chainsaw. Daddy had been up all night the night before and the night before that. Those cherry trees were now butchered but they were mine. Ha! I was never forgiven for allowing them to eat those cherries even though I knew they had worms. Can’t a dad play a practical joke without being crucified? Can’t a dad get any credit for trying his very best to make some memories! So what if I’d stepped on Emily’s toes a little. I’m the dad! My son sure as heck wasn’t even if Emily was now calling him her “little man”. Yuck.
And furthermore why was his mother now letting him and everyone else get away with calling Buddy “Chris”? No one consulted me about this! His real name is Christian! Do you hear anyone calling me “Steve”? I named him when I blessed him in front of the congregation back when I still had the priesthood. Just like I’d picked out the name of our daughter with Emily’s full approval. Tara—short for Taralyn. A hybrid of my mother Terry Ann and her mother Carol Lynn and a dash of Marylyn Monroe. All strong women. To think we had considered frilly “Annalise”. When Tara popped out she was born a woman. My fatherly intuition took over and that was that. "So let it be written. So let it be done."
 I knew this noble soul we were entrusted with. Just like I knew my son when we saw that first ultrasound. He had his mother’s brow and the weight of the world on his shoulders. But I blessed Buddy with the gift of humor to shield him from a Maleficent world. I blessed Gee-Gee that she would like and celebrate being a woman in a family with penis envy. Fathers are given a special mantel to bear their responsibilities and burdens and meet the physical and spiritual needs of their offspring. It takes nine whole months to earn each new mantle. I looked great for having had two kids.
And she never consulted me about the mindless video games. One day they just appeared without warning ready to prematurely deteriorate our children’s brains. I’m not good at Mario Brothers Donkey Kong whatever. I could barely play Atari’s Asteroids. The trampoline (on which we wrestled and played “Got Your Powers!” as they’d laugh and try to grab my baseball cap off my balding daddy head when I wasn’t wearing my Confessions hairpiece) and their first email addresses (so I could keep in touch) were my idea, thank you very much! And the cell phone that they were to share. Start using them.
I had shown up for their baptisms when they were eight even though I was excommunicated. Buddy knew all the correct answers in his interview.
“Did your mom teach you all of these answers?” the bishop asked.
“No”, buddy responded.
“My dad.”
I’d bought them each those leather-bound and gilded name-engraved scriptures. They cost a fortune. Come on! I wrote a lasting love letter on the inside of each set like my mother had done for me. Sister Pearson had never been a Mormon missionary. Neither had her mother. I knew all the Mormon questions. I’d failed the queerest one.
And those birthday extravaganzas I threw for our daughter? Her friends still talk about them. There was the one party with the red carpet going into the house with the white stanchion velvet ropes leading to a tea party with the cute, handmade Marshmallow Rice Krispie nests with chocolate eggs at each place setting with the strawberry milk as tea. The next year was even bigger. I’d planned a year in advance to reserve the fabled Lion House at Temple Square for that taffy pull. Buddy chose to wear the Daniel Boone Raccoon hat instead of the pioneer bonnets like all the other girls. Good call. I’d rented that 14-passenger van to transport all the girls in her class. Can’t a gay dad get any credit for being a little too fabulous?
I had paid for their tuitions for that children’s self-esteem course based off my own Landmark Forum. Est for kids! I couldn’t pick them up because Emily forgot to sign the permission slip as the sole legal guardian. Those kids, however, left having a glimpse of daddy’s big transformation. He never went back to escorting again. My sex work experiment was now years in the past. (See Confessions.) They learned language and tools that would help us communicate and would be useful down the line. Like right about now. Emily brushed it aside after taking the course herself. I got everyone to take it, but I spoke recovery and “transformation” alone. Am I playing the victim? Sorry. That's what I took the course to overcome. Yesterday’s transformation is today’s ego trip and tomorrow’s relapse. Ahem.
            With her permission I’d dog-proofed the back yard and got the kids the cutest Boston Terrier you’ve ever seen. We adored “Rocky”, especially Gee-Gee. He soon became known as “Snorty.” Kids without a dad around should at least have a dog, right? She got rid of the new family pet within a few weeks and replaced it soon after with a dog of her choice—a tiny, nervous Mini-Pincher. At least it wasn’t a cat. But it’s worse than a Chihuahua! They named him “Joey” after Friends. Why were the kids allowed to watch re-runs of Friends? I was their friend! Why did my daughter seem to love I Love Lucy more than “I Love Daddy"?
And Buddy! I had been to his Boy Scout Court of Honors and I made the best tin foil dinners in his scout troop. "Go, Raptors!" The secret is the canned cream of mushroom soup. I was an Eagle Scout. "Kaw! Kaw!" Of course they let me go on that overnighter even though I was gay. I endured those straight GOP buffoon leaders for my boy. I was perfectly appropriate the entire time and I fit in that excursion to the middle of Nowhere, Utah just before my Boston run. I know how to get dirt under my fingernails when I have to. I had a dad. And who helped him with his Pine Wood Derby car? Who sewed on his patches for his Cub Ccout uniform? So what if we lost the pine wood derby. His car looked amazing! "I was a gay scout when gay scouts weren't cool."
Whose old prince charming high school madrigal costume did he wear for Halloween? I sewed on all those pearls on by hand. Who bought Gee-Gee's yellow Belle gown? The Disney Store made a killing off me. How many times did I help pass out that candy while their mother took them around the neighborhood? I oversaw Easter Egg coloring before that big Easter Egg hunt at the Mormon dentist's wife's annual blow out. I had such a crush on him not her. Remember the Godiva bunnies when you were little, kids? No? It cost me $50 dollars to overnight that big box of Valentines that one year so they would arrive in time. Daddy got distracted but daddy delivered.

          What about all those calls from daddy in the morning just as you were about to go to school? How did calls go from daily to weekly to monthly? Was it me or Emily?
          Emily had all the holiday decorations from our years of collecting. I was the one that couldn’t get enough $9.99 Victorian houses on sale at the Christmas Tree Store back in Hartford. She had over twenty. I missed the Christmas Churches in our village and Friendly’s Ice Cream we used to take the kids to. And those Yankee Candles all over the house? Some of them came directly from the factory in Deerfield, CT we had toured on our way to a weekend retreat at UConn professor’s Queen Ann in Vermont. Daddy was Christmas, dang it! I let the Grinch steal it because I just let her have everything.
She had all jurisdiction over our media archives, too. She had the video camera. She doled out a fraction of the photos and family VHS tapes but there were others I wanted and needed and the divorce decree left it all out. Why hadn’t I seen this coming?
She was changing. Emily was not supposed to change. Nothing was supposed to change!
This house was where it all happened. To me it was a sacred temple. Without this house I had no base. I had even left behind all my power tools as well as the minivan—which she totaled.
Whenever I’d sub-let on my many long stints back in Salt Lake waiting for the next career hoop to jump through I always made sure it was kid friendly and there was room to spend the night. We'd agreed. No alcohol in the house. At least not in my part of the house. Some of those homes were breathtaking. I always landed on my feet. But it was not the same as Emily’s home base. Please give me a break. Do not sell it. It, like me, was irreplaceable. Even with everyone working overtime to fill my void, none of her uncles or any church leaders could replace me. Not even my dad. I was expendable everywhere else. Don’t make me expendable as a dad. Please don’t excommunicate me from my kids. Please don’t disrupt this world I helped create. They are half of my DNA. You can’t change that!
Besides the market had crashed. Not a good time to sell. Where could she possibly move to that she could afford and that would be better than what she had right now? My greatest fear was that she would flee Utahrded Utah altogether and move in with her mother in California. The kids and I would be sunk. The quality of their lives and educations was at stake. And me.
Maybe it was time for me to let go and stop trying control my actress ex-wife by peeing on her fire hydrant. Mormons are personally responsible for fixing the world if you haven’t noticed. Is that where I learned to play God? Maybe that wasn’t my job anymore. She could take care of herself.
Why did I over pay her $1,000 for recording that miniscule sound cue in my show? Why did I arrange for a former lover to covertly hire her to do that industrial? Why had I once taken her headshots to auditions and hand them to casting directors with my own? Why did I help arrange for her to speak at that gay Mormon conference? Why did I still see dresses in shop windows that I knew she would look great in? Why did I still think of her when I smelled “Coco Chanel” on a woman at an HRC event? That was the fragrance I picked out when we were married. Did she ever think of me when someone else wore Hugo Boss? No.
She still had our matching wedding bands tucked away for safe keeping with our saying, “Be beloved” engraved inside. She was going to give one to each of our kids someday. Why wasn’t I holding onto them? They travel light. Did she think I’d pawn them?
I’ve never pawned anything. Things have just been stolen from my storage unit when I’d fall behind on payments and they changed the lock. Honestly. That golden railroad pocket watch that belonged to my great-great grandfather was stolen along with my Prada shoes. I’d have to give Buddy my pewter mug from my mission to Portugal someday instead of that watch when he finished his Eagle Scout. My grandpa had given me that watch when I got my Eagle Scout. I was the firstborn and my middle name was his grandfather's and his first name "Heard". Buddy was getting so close to his Eagle! Star. Soon Life! Gee-Gee would be getting her mom's stunning diamond wedding ring someday. It was my grandmother’s. Emily finally gave it back to my “Native American” giver mom and to this day my mother is wearing it. Oy!
I still felt guilty we never had that third child. Buddy had always wanted a little brother to go with his little sister . . .
Maybe it was time to focus on myself—and let go of my obsessive need to be an extraordinary, exceptional, manipulative ex-husband. It was time to just keep trying to be an extraordinary, exceptional, sober non-custodial dad. Show time!
Ho! Ho. Ho . . .

It was getting dark by five o’clock as we headed outside to stuff the car with the kids’ ten-day supply of luggage, coats, and travel pillows. I looked up. There were heavy, black storm clouds, like a tsunami of ice ready to crash down on us. It was so cold you could smell the snow rolling in. I was hoping to beat the blizzard—but it was just now breaking. Shoot!
"Hurry up everybody!”  We needed to get past the Point of the Mountain at the south end of Salt Lake County quick or we could get stuck. It’s steep and the inclement weather can make it so treacherous. No one wants to get stuck out there by the prison. We’ve had family there.
I drove a dinky new little silver Hyundai Accent that my dad co-signed for after I’d been sober for a while. I’d wanted an affordable clunker. Dad twisted my arm to buy something new and over my head. My waify car wasn’t built for this kind of snow. I didn’t have chains or snow tires. And the roads weren’t even plowed yet. Darn it!
We had to get to my mom’s that night in Cedar City. I might have considered waiting out the storm if my father, Dr. Fales, hadn’t taken an entire day off from his needy second wife and his medical practice in Las Vegas to drive his Escalade two-and-a-half hours north to take me and the kids skiing for their first time. I learned early in life that you don’t keep an empire building workaholic baby-boomer raging. I mean waiting. Disappointing or inconveniencing my perfect Mormon dad was something you just didn’t do. He regretted me coming out enough. That’s what he told the Miami Herald.
I had planned this ski trip for over two years. It was important to me to introduce my kids to things they had never tried before. Most kids their age in the neighborhood had already been skiing. So I was introducing them to a sport that was as common in Utah as surfing is in California. I was a dad of firsts. Like sushi and Wicked. Alcatraz. Skiing, like roller-blading, would be one to add to all the others.
Okay. Okay! I’ll admit it. I keep score. And I was taking risks leaving this late. I was a risk taker in a long line of lucky risk takers. Our favorite board game was Risk—and Monopoly. This risk would be considered minor. Both sides of my family would condone it. Mormon pioneers had risked everything for Utah. So could I.
So the kids and I gave their mother hugs, “Merry Christmas! Give me a call when you get to your mom’s, Steven.” And we were off.  The second I pulled out of the drive way in our bobsled I knew this was a really bad idea. The roads were slick with ice and the snow and sleet were pummeling us. Crap! This wasn’t just another little storm. This was the End of Days!
When skies were blue and roads were clear I loved to cruise along and calmly reach back with The Carpenters CD playing and affectionately squeeze my son or daughter’s calf or ankle and reassuringly look in the rear view mirror and wink, “I know you’re there. Your daddy loves you, sweetheart. I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation and the only explanation I can find . . .”
But as the car skidded back and forth out of the driveway and through the rush hour holiday traffic I was freaking out! Would I slide into someone else’s red tail lights before I even got to I-15? My hands gripped the steering wheel, white knuckled at ten and two. Two and ten! The radio was turned way up to hear the traffic reports. The windshield wipers were going crazy. The defroster was on full-blast. Snow was piling up on the side mirrors. I was terrified we’d get in an accident on my watch. Flip!
Near tragedy had struck before on my watch. Gee-Gee spent ten days in the ICU after a horse accident when I took the kids to visit my father in Las Vegas a few summers before. It was clearly my dad’s negligence but I never should have left Pa alone with the kids. That horse stepped right on her chest when he dropped her sliding onto the back of his saddle. I was in the house getting ready for a legitimate business dinner with an investor when it happened. Gee-Gee made a full recovery. But something about her grew up too fast after that. She was different. The trust fund she got out of the insurance did not let us all off the hook. I would not put Emily or the kids through that again.
Why was I driving in a storm?
As I’m driving in the blizzard at five miles per hour trying not to stress out or think about accidents past or future—using all the recovery tools and skills of this new round of still fragile sobriety, my sweet, adorable twelve-year old son who is sitting next to me in the passenger seat pulls out his cell phone before he could buckle his seat belt and starts texting his friends. Probably that he’s already having a really bad time.
How dare he text on non-traditional family time! He knew the rules. This was a hot-button issue for me and he knew it. We’d been having this power struggle for months. He wasn’t supposed to be texting, not first thing and not during the perfect storm. I needed a little help here. "All hands on deck!" The pilot had just illuminated the “No Cell Phone” sign and I needed a co-pilot. Emily used to be my wingman. All electronic noise-making devices needed to be turned off and stowed away.  Now! Or this flight attendant was gonna go all JetBlue on everyone. Beverage and phone service was interrupted indefinitely!
I hated the sounds that gosh darn flippin’ flip phone made. I’d already replaced it once when Buddy lost it at the beach on our family vacation housesitting in Santa Monica: another blowout to Disneyland (Their third time. They had been to Hersey Land when we they were little. That’s where daddy’s world famous magnet collection started. They had been to all the parks at Disneyworld when they were really little. That’s how Buddy’s sword collection and Peter Pan fetish began. Oh. I took Buddy to see Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan, too! At the Bushnell. At five he sat enthralled throughout the entire thing when other kids fell asleep. He also sat enthralled when I was in a second Equity production of King Lear!), Knott’s Berry Farm (Boy had it gone downhill since I was a kid. The Log Ride was broken! And Snoopy? Really? Yawn.), the Santa Monica Pier (I rented those bikes.), the Hollywood Bowl (With the Star Wars finale with light sabers.)  and a Catalina cruise (Golf carting all over the island and then snorkeling). We didn’t have time to tour the Queen Mary (where my mother treated me to my first lobster at that nice restaurant). They were bored throughout. “If you don’t start pretending to have a good time, kids, then how am I going to take you to the Pyramids?”
L.A. couldn’t compete with the blow out vacation two years before during my extended run in San Diego. The San Diego Zoo and Sea World with a SAAB convertible we ran around in thanks to a gay friend. There was Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon with my dad. There was Lagoon Amusement Park with my mom. There were water parks. The gondola and zip line at Snowbird’s Oktoberfest, the “Alpine Slides” and rock wall at Park City, the windmills in Palm Springs, ad infinitum und ad nauseum, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera . . .
Nothing could surpass NYC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Natural History Museum. All those Broadway shows from The Lion King to The Music Man. The American Ballet’s Balanchine Nutcracker. The American Girl Doll Shop. The NBA Store. Serendipity. Oh, we ate out too much. Too much fine dining. I taught them which forks to use. Buddy downed that raw oyster! These were good, cultured kids.  So why then did they always seem to act so bored?
Maybe because I am listing too much right now. This was on top of child support and keeping me camera ready in a ruthless gay media on a solo performer’s salary. Daddy had just begun to swear off his sugar daddy fans who enthusiastically helped “sponsor” in his message and finance his role as a dad but really just wanted to get down his pants. Daddy wouldn’t put out in the end so that’s why he was learning how to eek another season out of in his worn out tennis shoes. Gosh I missed those checks for thousands. The whole country was going out of business just as I was growing up.
Eyes on the road, Steven. The Phone!
When I took him to work on his Life Saving Merit Badge, he left his phone precariously close to the community pool. He let me have it for pointing that out to him. What the heck? It wasn’t even his phone. It was on loan. Did he want me to put together a new contract for him to sign with my terms and conditions? I promise I'm not as understanding as Sprint call center representatives in the Philippines.
Who were these people he was texting anyway? Don’t parents have a right to know? Or was it he texting his mommy already? I originally got that mobile phone so both kids could call me on the road any time and bypass their mother. I’d seen Emily screen my mother’s calls. I kept an 801 Utah number so I was only just a local call away no matter where I roamed. I may not currently have internet service but we had family cell phones. And gym memberships!
Under the present circumstances and hazardous road conditions the phone needed to be off.  My request was reasonable. He was testing my boundaries. And as my parents and their parents would say, “I’m not here to win a popularity contest.”
“Put the phone away. Please.”
“Oh, dad.”
“I mean it. Put it away! Now.”
“Okay. . .”
He groaned as he rolled his eyes and put it in his pocket and huffed. Did I mutter under my breath like that to my parents? And hadn’t he learned by now to read my mind and anticipate my every parental whim like my dad required?
We skidded and my split-frazzled concentration went back to the slushy road. I glanced over and he's slyly pulled it back out texting undercover close to his body next to the door incognito. Did he really think I couldn’t see?
Gay dads can see everything.
“I told you to put it away. Now turn it off.”
“Ugh!” He begrudgingly turned it off.
“Now roll down the window and wipe the snow off the side mirror. Please.”
Inside I am freaking out! My eyes are glued to the road. My heart is pounding. He helps move the snow. I still can’t see.
“Thank you, son. Okay. Now roll it back up.”
We weren’t even to the highway yet. No, I'm not pulling over to the side of the road to meditate. The Dalai Lama would want me to add that meditation is a luxury for people who don’t have kids.
As if the cell phone addiction weren’t enough my son reaches down and pulls out these huge headphones specially designed to block out parents forever. What was he listening to now? Was it that Green Day CD with the Parent Advisory Warning? I liked that CD! I bought it for him when we boycotted Target.
But this was no time for Green Day!.Not even Karen Carpenter.  Maybe Olivia Newton-John. I thought to myself, "If one of these huge semi’s starts to slide into our lane with its truck horn blaring and crash into us I need to be able to shout out the orders. I want the last thing they hear from me to be, “Hold on, kids. I love you!”
It was time to be the dad.
“Buddy? Take those off.”
No answer.
Son! Take the headphones off now.”
“So you can hear me.”
So you can hear me!
He took them off and—
My son had never sworn at me before. He got this from his mother.
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, in that moment, all the fathers in my family tree all the way back to the primordial ooze called Adam came to me and I channeled them. All the pioneers who had ever crossed the Plains. All the Faleses who had ever fought in the Revolutionary War. All my Viking and Celtic-caveman forefathers who had ever sired sons and daughters into existence rose up from deep within my gonads and whispered, “Do not let this fine young man defy your authority and get away with this act insubordination.”
My right hand instinctively flew 90 degrees with precision accuracy and the requisite strength to bring order to the car. It landed right in the middle of his tender, innocent, belligerent man-boy chest. No fractures or bruises. But it temporarily knocked the petulant wind right out of him. The riot was over.
But at that moment I knew I had blown it. This was not the way I wanted our ten-day Christmas vacation to start. My emotional bank account with the kids was long overdrawn. I was more broke than Greece.
Once the aftershocks rumbled through the car and the defiant tremors ceased we slowly drove past the Point of the Mountain in silence. I calmly gave my American-idiot lecture. Then I apologized in advance that this Christmas just might be hard—it was going to be at my mother’s. But if you haven’t had at least one bad Christmas growing up you never grew up. And boy did I grow up.
The kids cried themselves to sleep—stunned at the display of their father’s testosterone. I was shocked, too. Gee-Gee would want me to add that when I grabbed Buddy's ski cap and threw it in the back it hit her. The brown ski cap with the white NYC logo I gave him. Hers was the same but pink.
I had never hit my son before. I got this from my dad.
In good weather I could get to my mom’s house in about four hours. That night it took me ten hours as I zeroed in to find the tire tracks of the 18-wheelers whizzing by in front of us so I could drive us semi-safely home in their wake. I felt so isolated on the ice . . .


Steven Fales is the writer/performer of Confessions of a Mormon Boy available on iTunes and Amazon,com.