After a Fashion

Dreams from Your Style Avatar's father

Willard Cummings Moser
Willard Cummings Moser

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My dad, Willard Cummings Moser, was born Jan. 28, 1930, and died by his own hand Sept. 6, 1974, when I was 16. He's been on my mind all week. Though I think of him every day, the anniversaries of his birth and death weigh heavily on me. He was 44 when he took his life – too young, too soon. It astounds me that I am 54 now, 10 years older than my dad was when he died. And when I think of the things that I've experienced in the last 10 years (many of the biggest highlights of my life), it seems to compound the tragedy. My dad was gay but didn't come out until his late 30s. And he did burst out of the closet, using the same dramatic skills he learned as a Presbyterian minister and as an English professor. I feel he was one of the self-loathing gays who hated who he was. With his revelation, he single-handedly broke up our family, but he was still my dad, and I loved him dearly.

Since infancy I was obviously gay, too, although I didn't know to label it as such until much later. As a pre-adolescent in the late Sixties, I was deeply curious about my dad, but by the time he'd moved some trick into the bed he and my mother had shared, I was insanely curious. Once, perhaps disingenuously, I made breakfast for the two of them and, knowing they were still asleep, popped open the lock on their door with an ice pick and brought in a large tray of breakfast goodies. Instead of the cheery "good mornings," I expected to hear, my dad was livid (and rightly so). He read me the riot act in stentorian tones strangely edged with a bit of hysteria. Not comprehending what I'd done, I wept copious tears while running to the sanctuary of my bedroom. In retrospect, the moment reminds me of a scene from Mommie Dearest in which Christina enters her mother Joan Crawford's bedroom, ostensibly to bring her a drink, while Joan is making love to a boyfriend. But surprisingly, it was my dad's trick (I call him that with contempt) who came to comfort me.

As time went by, we moved from the family home to a grand Spanish villa on East Mulberry Street in San Antonio. It was true culture shock to be yanked out of white suburbia and thrust into a primarily Hispanic school for eighth grade. Most of the other boys seemed so much more mature than I did, but the education I was getting at home was mind-boggling. My dad and his trick began running in some very tony circles, and their public antics, including drunkenness and vicious fights, became public knowledge. My mother was disturbed by the circumstances we were living in and filed for custody, and in the blink of an eye, we lived in Seattle, far from my dad. Eventually my dad was fired from Trinity University, and that was the beginning of the end. Never again did he hold his head up with pride, and his mental condition went from bad to worse. They moved to Houston and my dad wound up taking a string of jobs such as selling vacuums and working as an apartment locator. Suicide attempts were common occurrences as his love affair fell apart. They were still living together, barely, when I left my mother's home and moved back with them. By then I had figured out why I felt so different all my life – I was gay, too. My brother Scott, who had moved down to Houston earlier, and I watched the disintegration, wondering what would happen.

My dad's trick disappeared, along with many of his remaining possessions, and my dad, brother, and I moved to another apartment. Scott found a job and moved out, and my dad and I moved to a smaller apartment. My dad seemed to be buoyed by being hired at the University of Houston and establishing a new, supportive circle of friends. But I also knew of his manic evenings at Mary's Lounge (we often went there together, though I was underage), and the secret phone calls from his now ex-trick. Life seemed good until I got kicked out of school for showing up in full drag on Halloween. The intellectual side of my dad was furious with me, but the funny, loving side of my dad thought it was hysterical. In many ways, I then became my dad's keeper. and I encouraged his new friends and new activities in the arts world. He was one of the original founders of the Houston Poetry Guild, and all seemed good. Until one afternoon when the phone rang, and it was the authorities calling to see if I was "the one whose dad blew his brains out." Unfortunately, I was. But fortunately, over time, I would remember him as the brilliant, generous, witty spirit that loved me dearly.

I feel surrounded by death right now. With my own terminal condition on my mind and many friends grief-stricken by the death of Esme Barrera (I did not know her), compounded by the passing of my friend Rick Johnson, it is with great sorrow that I found out this morning (Friday, Jan. 20) that my old friend Charles Gentry is on life support at Brackenridge, unresponsive. I knew Charles had a dangerous, unpredictable medical condition, but that was easy to forget when I was with him. He's one of the kindest, smartest, sweetest, and handsomest men I've ever known, and his bright smile always makes me swoon just a bit. But he has that effect on everyone he meets. To use a very appropriate cliché, to know Charles is to love him.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Willard Cummings Moser, Presbyterian minister, My dad's trick, Mary's Lounge, Halloween, Esme Barrera, Rick Johnson, Charles Gentry, Mommie Dearest

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