After Paul Fishman came out, his relationship with his dad wasn’t quite the same. So he decided to take him on a father-son trip to Pride NYC for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and to learn the history of LGBTQ+ rights.
I was 10 the first time I visited New York City. It was December and all I remember was it being so cold and windy that I could barely breathe. You know the feeling, right? It’s like when you get the wind knocked out of you, but worse, because for some reason you chose to be in that cold frigid air. I took this trip with my dad, a born and raised New Yorker who wanted to show his firstborn the ropes of New York City and boy-oh-boy, was I ready.
We were staying in Times Square at a fancy hotel with dark green wallpaper and lots of chandeliers. To this 10-year-old it was everything! Our room was big, with two full-sized beds and a view of the lights and magic that attracts so many to the city. It was at that moment I decided that I would someday follow in my dad’s footsteps and live in New York.
I eventually lived in NYC for nearly 6 years (10-year-old Paul sure knew how to get what he wanted) before it chewed me up and spit me out. New York is where I lived when I came out, and it’s where I had my heart broken by a boy for the first time. My dad was always the one who was on the other end of the phone giving me advice when I dated women, but for some reason the change of gender managed to put a pause on that piece of our relationship. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are, and always were, very supportive of me, but there was still this shift that I couldn’t seem to understand.
That’s why I decided that I would invite my dad on a father-son trip of a lifetime.
I’d practiced this conversation a bunch in my head and I knew he’d say yes. It would go something like this. “Hey dad, I’m going to New York for Pride and I thought you’d like to join me. It will be fun.”
My heart started racing. Why was I so nervous? “Just ask him to come, Paul” I thought, “it will be fine.”
You’ve reached Jay Fishman’s voicemail.
“Hey dad, call me back, I’ve got a fun father-son trip idea!”
Seven years ago I came out to my parents. Via email. I think I still have it, but I’ll spare you that awkward moment. Actually, that wasn’t really the first time I came out — but that was the time that stuck. I had first come out a few years prior, in the car with my dad. I had made a big deal about wanting to talk to him and he asked me if I would go on a ride with him. It was totally anticlimactic and he wasn’t surprised. I really wanted him to be surprised! That might be part of the reason it didn’t stick. I was stubborn and not ready to succumb to the fact that others had me pinned before I had fully figured it out.
Let me give you a little background about who I am.
I was put through the wringer as a kid; by bullies, by my parents, really by anyone who had an opinion about me. Yes, I loved to play with Barbies, and yes, it seemed apparent at a young age that I had a proclivity for the fabulous things in life, and yes, all signs pointed to gay. But I hated being told what I was and I hated being made fun of for it. No one in my position likes being made fun of, obviously, but I particularly despised it, and I had to prove them wrong! The ones that hurt me, that had no right to tell me what I was or wasn’t. The ones who didn’t love me. So I went on to prove them wrong for the first 25 years of my life. Until I couldn’t do it any longer.
It was 2010 and there were three defining factors about my life: I was 75 pounds overweight, in financial crisis (hi New York, you’re cute, but expensive to live in), and in an emotionally abusive relationship with a woman. I had to get out, so I did. This was the first time I came out. You know, the time that everyone wasn’t surprised and some even said “we’ve been waiting.” The nerve! So, because I hated people telling me that they knew me better than I knew myself, I attempted to prove them wrong. Again.
I jumped back into that reliably dysfunctional relationship with the verbally abusive woman for nearly another year. We moved in together, we went through the motions. It was killing me. God, I was so stubborn, but also, I was deep in my suffering stage — the point in my life where I was willing to sacrifice my well-being to stay comfortable in the trauma that I lived in. Whether it was a bully telling me I was a girly-boy, the kids in college asking if maybe I thought I was gay, or this woman telling me that I would never find happiness, I had found comfort in being criticized. It was my safe space, until it wasn’t.
And that’s when I came out for the second time.
For some reason, even though I was still the same human, my parents and I had to go through a relearning process. We had to relearn how to communicate, relearn boundaries, and relearn how to be a family. In reality nothing really changed, but at the end of the day we still had to work at our relationship. My parents, products of the ’80s AIDS epidemic, were just scared that their son would become a statistic, but they didn’t know how to say that. They didn’t have much to worry about. I wasn’t one to go out and party, but I was going through my gay adolescence: when you wait to come out until your late twenties (for real and for keeps this time) and it feels like you’ve truly just discovered your body.
Fast forward to now: it’s 2019, I live in California, I just celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary with the man of my dreams, and my dad and I have built our relationship back to where it was. I felt like something was still missing, though, so I thought it would be fun to bring my father with me to Pride in New York City. And not just any Pride, this was the 50th anniversary of Stonewall— a violent social uprising that marked the first steps towards LGBTQ+ civil rights in this country. Doesn’t it just sound like a dream of a father-son trip?
I really wanted to have a conversation on my podcast The Road to Self Love with my dad about what it was like to be on the other side of my journey to honoring my sexuality. The ups, the downs, the all-arounds, and I felt like taking a trip back to the place it all began would be particularly potent for this discussion. I also wanted to learn a little more about LGBTQ+ history, and felt like my dad wouldn’t mind the history lesson either.
This was the first time that I was taking care of the travel arrangements, and for a hotel I decided on 11 Howard in SoHo. I loved arriving to a room with a view, and also one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept on. Seriously, the bed was so good. I’m actually a Tablet Plus member, and my privileges included a room upgrade and a $50 food and beverage credit, so not only was I able to treat my dad to a luxurious hotel room, but to lunch, too.
Since I wanted to give him the full taste of Pride, we took a walking tour of LGBTQ+ History that started and ended at Stonewall — which was not only impactful for my dad but really inspiring for me. I am so grateful for my LGBTQ+ family that came before me and paved the way for the rights and freedoms that I have today. The most impactful part of the tour, however, was at the beginning when the guide asked each of us to share what we’re proud of. Most people said things like, I’m proud to be able to be married, I’m proud that I just came out, but I got to say that I’m proud to be here with my father. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have such supportive parents. I am fully aware that it is a blessing and this moment at the beginning of the tour really solidified that for me. The entire group made a noise that cannot be described other than one of pure heart warming elation. My dad was officially winning the Best Dad award at that very moment.
On the tour we learned about places like Julius’ Bar, the oldest Gay Bar in NYC and also the place that three years prior to the Stonewall riots, in 1966, was part of the “Sip-In”. A historical moment which supported overruling the current law that did not allow a bar to serve alcohol to homosexuals. We visited the spot where St. Vincent’s Hospital used to be, the only hospital in the city that wasn’t actively turning AIDS patients away during the epidemic. The guide took us to 3 different churches that welcomed all people regardless of sexual orientation — even one that created a safe space for misplaced LGBTQ+ Youth. We even visited the apartment building where Eleanor Roosevelt and her partner lived for many, many years.
After the tour, dad thanked me multiple times for taking him on it. It was really such a perfect moment of our trip. In fact, I’d have to say that this was the best trip to New York City that I’ve ever been on.
The Road to Self Love
Listen to the podcast episode that Paul recorded with his father, where they discuss coming out in a religious family, Stonewall, Pride50, parenting LGBTQ+ youth, and more.
Paul Fishman is a Self Love Coach and creator on a mission to empower and inspire humanity to love unconditionally. Through sharing his journey of coming out, losing weight and regaining control of his finances, Paul hopes to foster connection around our similarities which he believes truly outweigh our differences.