Every now and then I catch myself speaking or laughing and I will hear my father’s voice. And as much as I hate it, I can’t deny that I am my father’s son. From the shape of my eyes and nose to the bad varicose veins on my legs….I was definitely made of his genes. And for the past few years I have been thinking about him. Wondering where he is and what he has been doing.
Because my father is 17 years older than me, he would be of the generation that would find computers and facebook a little intimidating. Hell…I can remember when I first started working with them back in the 80’s at The Tampa Tribune. Those black screens with the space-aged green fonts seemed like something out of a movie (“War Games” to be exact). So, he would probably have shied away from ever actually using a computer to find his son. And most likely he didn’t want to find me at all.
You see, my father was a longshoreman. He wasn’t a big man. He was actually kind of thin and spry. Don’t get me wrong…he was strong, but not that big in stature. The last time I saw him was Thanksgiving of 1991 at his mother’s house. By this time in my life, I had already come out to everyone in my family. I was living a gay lifestyle and working in gay bars. My father had even come to pick me up a couple times when I was stranded after a drag show at Rene’s (the popular black gay bar in Tampa). So, it was no big deal that I was in drag or had a boyfriend. He had even gone to school with a well known drag queen in town named Zara. But what happened at that Thanksgiving dinner would change our relationship forever.
My earliest memory of my father was my fifth birthday. My grandmother, Carrie, had told me that he had called and said he was going to come see me for my birthday. I remember taking a bath that afternoon. I never wanted to take a bath back then, but I wanted to look good for my father. I put on my Sunday best. I would run and go peek out the front window every time I heard a car go by. This went on for hours. I remember my grandmother making me come and eat a late lunch because he still had not arrived. Then it was getting later in the day. I had tried watching “Underdog” and a couple of other cartoons to keep myself busy until he arrived.
Finally it was after 5 PM and I decided to go wait on the porch. I remember rocking in the chair. It was really warm out and the gnats were swamping the yard. I sat there and waited all day until the sun went down. My father never showed up. This would become a long series of disappointments my father would supply throughout my life.
A few years earlier before that dinner, I was living with my gay cousin Michael and a friend, Godfrey (who went by the drag name Apollonia). Michael (who was also a drag performer named “Michelle Holiday”) had lost his job and was pretending to go to work everyday. Apollonia survived off her drag shows and her boyfriend. I was working as a DJ and drag performer. I happened to call Michael at his job at McDonald’s because my uncle Herb need him to come pick him up and was informed he no longer worked there and would I ask him to return the uniform. After confronting Michael, I told him and Godfrey that I was moving out. We were going to lose the apartment if we didn’t have the rent. Michael was unable to get another job immediately so I moved in with my friend Christie Matthews. Apparently, Michael and Godfrey went to my father and Uncle Herb and told them that I had moved out and left them with the rent. My father and Herb gave them the rest of the rent and I guess my father started harboring ill will towards me.
Fast forward to 1991 and my father shows up to Thanksgiving dinner at his mother’s house with his current girlfriend. Grandma Sally always had a big meal at the holidays. Even my adopted gay brother Anthony Evans was invited. Now, my dad showing up with his girlfriend doesn’t sound like a problem, but his ex-wife, Teresa and the kids were there. I noticed that he had been drinking before he got there. He was very abrupt with me when he arrived. But like most dysfunctional family dinners, the main event was saved while we were eating. My father proceeded to tell me that I had ruined his name (since I am a junior), I needed to go out and get a real job and stop hanging around all those faggots before I caught something.
Ironically, the year before I had received my diagnosis of being HIV+. I had no intention of sharing that fact with anyone in my family. I already felt like an outsider since I left home at 16. At the time when my father verbally attacked me at the dinner table, it seemed to have come out of nowhere. I was told later that he was still mad at me for moving out on Michael and Godfrey and felt that I was irresponsible. But this was laughable, coming from a man who didn’t have a permanent residence himself. I sat and listened for about ten minutes and then I went off.
“You gotta lotta nerve! You ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of!” I said.
He gave the same look he did when he punched me in 1980 when I stopped him from beating on Teresa in their kitchen. I remember sitting on the floor after the hit and singing “We Shall Overcome” and him cursing at me. So, I guess he was about to hit me again, but my grandmother wasn’t having it. She threw him out of her house on that Thanksgiving. And that would be the last time I saw my father.
When I describe my parents, I always say that they seemed like my older brother and sister who were always in trouble. Mainly because I was raised my mother’s mother until she died in 1982. It’s funny how life can be like a stacked set of dominoes. You do one thing and it changes so many others’ lives.
My mother was the only girl out of three children. So, my grandmother kept her under lock and key. She was very strict with her and wanted her to go to school to become a teacher. But it was the 60’s and my mother had other plans. She wanted to see Jimi Hendrix live. She wanted to be a part of the Psychedelic Movement. So she got pregnant on purpose and my father was the poor victim. He really loved her and she ran off with a boyfriend shortly after having me. He didn’t know anything about raising a child. So, he took me to the one place he knew I would be safe and loved….my mother’s mother.
Unfortunately for him and all the rest of the women he came in contact with from then on, he would never truly fall in love again. He would become an abusive and womanizing man that had kids all over town.
So, on April 22nd, 2013 I opened up my facebook account and found a message from a girl named Lakiria. It read: “Miss Teresa misses you and loves you. Please call her.” At first I was going to ignore it, but then I noticed the number had an 813 area code. That’s Tampa. So, I called it.
The joy in Teresa’s voice was so wonderful to hear. Apparently she and my brothers had been searching for me for a while. My step brother, Adrian and his girlfriend, Lakiria came across my facebook profile and decided to write me. I cannot tell you the emotions that overcame me when I started talking with Theresa, my brother Adrian, my brother Anton, my brother Anthony and my Uncle Rudolph. They were all so glad to finally reconnect with me. It had been 21 years since I had spoken to or seen any of them.
But it was a bittersweet opening conversation with Teresa. You see, my father had died in 2006. So, I finally had my answer. The man that I had despised for all these year was gone. But of course a part of me wishes that I had worked things out or at least got to tell him that I am married now. I believe I have found my purpose in life. I have a family of friends who love me and believe in me. I have a life that I am proud of. But this conversation was reaffirming to hear. My real family still loves me and they are proud of me. Teresa even told me that she has been walking around the house singing “Bitch You Look Fierce”. Her and Lakira are now the biggest Jade Elektra fans.
My father’s death left so many questions. I wonder if he ever got to see any of my accomplishments. Did he ever hear any of my records? Did he ever see me in a movie or on television? Did he ever know that I really understood him and why he did the things that he did? Would he have embraced me if I had told him that I was HIV+?
Well, a part of me thinks he would have. Teresa told me that he died of AIDS.
A part of me was shocked, but not surprised. For as many women he had slept with it wasn’t surprising at all. But my Uncle Rudolph shed some more light on something else I had no idea about. My father, like my mother had started doing heavy drugs and was shooting up. And at his funeral, the family discovered that he had three daughters that we knew nothing about. And since he got around - a lot - there’s no telling how many more are out there.
To put the kids in order of age…..it would be me, Von, Jerome, Anton, Anthony. These are the brothers I knew about. We didn’t have the same mothers, but there was no denying that were Alfonso King’s children. Out of protest of not having a father around when I was growing up, I changed the spelling of my name in grade school. Then it became my professional name when I started acting and modeling.
I guess the thing that I regret the most with both my parents is that I never got to tell them that I forgave them. They were two young 17 year olds who were making the best decisions that they could at the time. They had no idea that what they did that day I was conceived would change the rest of so many lives in the aftermath. And although many have said they were horrible parents, they taught me a very valuable lesson……how not to live. I just never got the chance to tell them that I loved them regardless of the mistakes.