Transcript

10:

Double Lives
Transcript

Originally aired 01.17.1996

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

There's what we wish for and there's what we get. For Susan Bergman, the story went like this. Her father led a double life. On the one hand, he proudly described himself as a family man, a church organist, in a denomination that was so strict the women covered their heads, wore no make-up, no dancing, no smoking, no drinking, no going to theaters, no swimming with members of the opposite sex, even. Her father stage-managed things so they appeared to be the perfect blond-haired, blue-eyed, American family. But secretly, he was having sex with men. By all accounts, it was lots of men. Sometimes he would even fly off to New York, go to gay clubs there.

In 1983, he was one of the first victims of AIDS. They had barely named the disease. The symptoms weren't familiar. And he died before his children got the chance to ask him about who he really was and talk to him about how they should reconcile who he had pretended to be all those years, with who he was. What was real of their childhood?

Susan Bergman wrote a book about her family's experience. And on her book tour, a very particular thing started to happen. Gay men, who were still married or who had been married, started to contact her. They wanted to explain her father's double life to her. They wanted to explain their own double lives to her. And they wanted to offer her the conversation that she never got to have with her father.

Well, from WBEZ in Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Back once again for another hour documenting life in these United States. Today's program in four acts. Act One, gay men. I talk to Susan Bergman about her father. Act Two, a gay man talks to me in a parked car in an undisclosed location about why he thinks that his children don't need to know that he's gay and why he stays married. Act Three, we take all the heavy, very heavy themes about lying and families from the first two acts and rework them as comedy, if you can believe that. And finally, Act Four, the sins of the fathers pass on to the sons. Stay with us.

Act One.

Ira Glass

Act One, The Book Tour. Susan Bergman came to our studios, loaded down with evidence.

Ira Glass

OK, now you've brought in some tapes of yourself being interviewed on talk radio shows that I've got here. So this first one, do we need to explain it at all before we play it?

Susan Bergman

I think this was a caller that was, in some ways, typical of the response that I got on talk radio.

Ira Glass

Here we go.

Man

I have a particularly close connection to this sort of thing. I'm a gay father, divorced now. So I'm very close to this. In particular, I can understand your father's secretiveness and his pain. There's always the resentment that you had to go through the pain, that you had to hide, that you had to lie. And you live with that resentment. It really never quite goes away, even in my case, after you've come completely out and divorced and the whole bit. And the resentment lives on, that I had to do live that lie, that I had to lie to my wife, that I had to lie to my children, that I had to life to my family. And never be happy. Never, never, never know happiness.

Ira Glass

Hey, Susan?

Susan Bergman

Uh-huh.

Ira Glass

Can I just ask you, what was your reaction to-- when he was saying this, had it occurred to you before that your father would actually be resentful of the family for the secret that he was keeping from you?

Susan Bergman

He was angry at us a lot. But it seemed like it was more-- I mean I interpreted that as we were bothering Dad, or Mom was asking too many questions. Yeah. It's not one that had occurred to me. And I would have to contest that assumption that one has to lie or one is put in a situation where lying is the only appropriate gesture or response.

Ira Glass

Let's go back to this tape.

Man

And I hope that-- I don't know. Is there anything that I can help you. Any questions that I could answer. Because I'm still alive and I've been through it.

Susan Bergman

That's great. Boy, I hope I can do this without just kind of gushing all over you, because it's so great of you to call in and offer that. It's beautiful. I didn't get that chance with my father. I guess I would ask you--

Ira Glass

I'm just stopping the tape here. I'm just going to stop the tape here, because as you're listening, you're making the gagging signal at your own reaction.

Susan Bergman

Oh, I think that's so great. Oh, I think that's so wonderful. I was not in touch with the full range of the reaction until after I hung up the telephone and stopped the radio interview. And clearly, that man was hurting in a lot of ways. And the last thing I needed to do was have a fight with him on the air about being a liar, or whatever. Whatever anger I would have had towards my father didn't seem to me to apply to him. He was just some innocent bystander. So I just tried to be nice. And it was kind-- oh yeah.

Ira Glass

There's the thing that you wish for and there's the thing that you get. And if what you really need is a long talk with your father, the kind of talk where you get mad and argue, and maybe he gets mad, and maybe people admit mistakes, and maybe things get resolved or maybe they don't get resolved, and you learn that they won't get resolved. But if that conversation is what you need, then no stranger on a radio call-in show, however well meaning, is going to give that to you. It's a mockery of what you need.

But there you are. There you are. You're talking to this man, this stranger. And you find yourself asking a version of the question that you would most like to ask your own father. And you get an answer that is totally useless, because really it has nothing to do with you.

Susan Bergman

You said, you didn't want to share your quote, "real life," maybe. But why do you feel that you were forced to lie about that? How could your family have shared your life?

Man

You see the problem is that once you get trapped into doing the thing you think you're supposed to do at a young age-- I married at 23 because I thought it was-- I knew I was gay then already.

Susan Bergman

Hm.

Man

So did my wife, for that matter. She put it aside.

Ira Glass

Gay men sent Susan Bergman photos of themselves. One happy couple stands there in one of the photos in matching sweaters, raising glasses, smiling. The letter said that if her father had lived and divorced her mother, this is the kind of happiness he could have had. The letters that Susan Bergman got from the children and spouses of gay fathers, she said, seemed to be written in a completely different language than the letters she got from the gay fathers. It was like two different cultures, two different perspectives.

There are lots of books about men coming out, gay men coming out, gay women coming out. But nobody seemed to be able to remember a book that had been told from the point of view of the children and the wives that these gay men had left behind. And families who are in that situation felt this shock of we are not alone. And they contacted her.

Ira Glass

You brought examples of letters?

Susan Bergman

Yeah. The most poignant letter that I got, this woman says she read the book. "Our lives are so similar, Susan, that it was eerie for me to read." She talks about their background. They were all so fundamentalist. Our family wasn't quite fundamentalist. But this woman says, "Bible believing churches that started in their living room. We had six well-behaved, talented, athletic children in our prosperous and highly visible family."

"When my dad was diagnosed in 1988," she writes, "my mom kicked him out of the house and would have nothing else to do with him. Three of us moved him out of town, encouraged him to change his name, and lied about his mysterious disease and our parent's sudden separation. Now, they are both gone. And we are left to deal with the fraud that was our life."

They had just buried their mother-- when she wrote me this letter-- who had died of AIDS because the father didn't protect the mother at all. She says, "I'm writing to you now, not to pour out my heart, but to ask if my sisters and I can come take you out for lunch soon there in Chicago? There are not many like us who have suffered such circumstances. And I know in my heart that I should be able to hold my head high and talk about my mother's needless death without shame. But as of now, I can't."

That's the end of that letter. And I talked to this family at length, on several different occasions. They did come to Chicago.

Ira Glass

They did?

Susan Bergman

Yeah. Two of the daughters came. Some of the sons were not willing to even acknowledge that the parents had died of AIDS yet, one of them being a physician.

Ira Glass

One of the sons being a physician?

Susan Bergman

Yeah. But the interesting story that they have, as her father was dying, they spent hours and hours interviewing their father on tape about his sexual contacts. They got the names of all of the married men that he had been with in this three-city area and the addresses and the phone numbers, which he had. And they began calling those men's wives on the telephone, because they wanted to save lives, because they knew their mother was dying.

Ira Glass

And so they would call up these women and say, you don't know me but--

Susan Bergman

Yup.

Ira Glass

--my father has had sex with your husband.

Susan Bergman

Yes. I mean can you imagine that? I mean, of course they debated this among themselves. They thought this is none of our business. But when their mother got AIDS, they knew that this list of 100 married men were not taking any precautions with their own wives. And they started calling. And I said, "Well, what was the reaction?" I asked them to go on. And they said a lot of women hung up the phone them. And some would say, "Oh, thank you very much for calling."

Ira Glass

And as you say that, the thing that occurs to me is it's such a complicated act, because partly it's an act of compassion for somebody. And then partly it's such an act of vengeance against somebody else, and calling--

Susan Bergman

I know but--

Ira Glass

--out that man.

Susan Bergman

I mean if you lose your mother to AIDS, I can see why. I never had to do that.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Susan Bergman

But I'll tell you, in the town I live in, outside Chicago, there is a family, at least one, where the same thing is going on. The father is very promiscuous, a prominent man in town, has four young children. His wife has no idea he's a practicing homosexual. They have unprotected sex. And people in the community come to me and say, "What should we do? We've asked him to tell her. We're thinking about telling her. We want to protect her so that her kids have one parent." And when I talk to--

Ira Glass

And what do you tell them?

Susan Bergman

I say that's their decision. They're going to have to really think about that, because I don't know the people. I can't go into their lives just because I wrote some book on some related subject. If they're involved in the family system in some way, they have to make that decision. I have no idea. But when I talk to gay men about this book, who have read it and want to have a conversation, almost everyone has said to me, "Oh yeah, my main partners are married men." I said, "Well, you have to think about your own responsibility to the family then, I imagine."

Ira Glass

All these different fathers who contacted you, did any of them say, I'm sorry, I did something that hurt people and I'm sorry?

Susan Bergman

Well, no. Because there's a lot of talk trying to defend the position that's just newly being articulated in their lives. And I understand that they're building their ramparts or whatever.

Ira Glass

That position being, I was right to at least clear up this lie.

Susan Bergman

Finally, I did the one right thing. I left my family and became a true homosexual. That's the right thing, that's being defended in almost all of the letters.

This is a very interesting letter signed, anonymously yours. He says, "At the risk of intrusion, which is not my intention, I'm compelled to write you and express some gentle viewpoints based on experiences similar to those in your book, but admittedly little real knowledge of your life." I appreciated that acknowledgement very much.

"Based on your writing, however, I strongly feel that your father's life with you and your family was not the sham it may superficially appear. I see the story from a different perspective, as that of a tragic, often unconscious struggle by your father to love his family and not end up as one of nature's mistakes, which of course he wasn't. Were there no kisses of bruised knees, soothing of tears and hurt feelings, umpteen occasions of personal denial, dreams of success and happiness for you and the others? Would it be unreasonable to consider yourself doubly-loved, by a fractured psyche fighting desperately against the nature he was given? In retrospect, are not his intents as important as his failures?"

It's a beautiful letter in some ways. And in other ways, there are these irritants in these approaches. I shouldn't be so critical I suppose, but then to say to me, were there no kisses of bruised knees? Yes, of course. Yeah, I had a great Daddy in many regards. Yes, he was a split person. And I don't think that he enjoyed being split, and neither does this gentleman. But that doesn't make him a better father. And that's almost the thing that this letter is driving towards, like couldn't you be doubly loved, being loved by a homosexual father? No.

I think I was well-loved by my father. I think my father was a split person, and that that destroyed him and it worked towards the destruction of his family. By coming to understand that your family was structured around a lie, that who you were told you were and that the family was, has nothing to do with what you really are or were, that's very complicated.

Ira Glass

Susan Bergman. Her book is called Anonymity. Coming up, a gay father explains why he chooses not to tell his children of his double life.

Act Two.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Dad in the Closet. This next story isn't intended to answer whatever questions Susan Bergman might have about her father. It's intended to answer our questions about these gay men who stay in their marriages, leading double lives.

The man we found to interview for this has been married for 26 years, heads a support group, called Review, for men in similar circumstances. He was willing to be interviewed, but he didn't want me coming to his home and he didn't want to come to our studios either. On the phone, I understood this to mean that he didn't feel comfortable appearing in public like this. Later, he told me that I had misunderstood, that he just didn't want to drive that far. In any case, we met in a parking lot on Damen Avenue and drove to a quiet street, where I conducted the interview, in his car.

Jerry Walters

My name is Jerry Walters.

Ira Glass

Now let me just ask you, is it OK for us to use your name on the radio?

Jerry Walters

Jerry Walters isn't my real name. It's a name that when I used to work on a hotline, they said pick out a name that you're comfortable with and use that. And so that's what I've been using. Plus, it separates business from my club activities. So Jerry Walters is fine.

Ira Glass

This man is in his fifties, was a teenager during the Eisenhower years. He looked like any suburban dad. He was neatly dressed, in gray wool slacks, a sweater, and what appeared to be a clip-on necktie. He says he was always a good boy. He says he doesn't really get at angry people, doesn't know how to yell at people. Back in high school, he says, he was the kind of boy who'd go out with girls, but never make passes at them.

Jerry Walters

I graduated. I would date occasionally. And I did find somebody that seemed like a very nice person, that we had a lot in common. And we went out on a date. But that afternoon, after I met her in the morning, and that afternoon I had my first gay experience. And so, it was really kind of a red-letter day. I went bowling with her in the evening. And I was out with another man that afternoon.

So I thought well, the situation with the other man was scary and disappointing and painful, to say the least. And so I thought, well, fine. That's out of my system. I don't want any more of that.

Ira Glass

He went on to marry the girl, who he's still married to nearly three decades later. But soon after their wedding, he became increasingly obsessed with men. He found himself driving out to the forest preserves, where gay men were known to hang out. Men would walk over to his car. Men would try to talk to him.

Jerry Walters

And I would drive out of the forest preserve areas like a bat out of hell, to be perfectly honest. And thinking that, fine, I didn't do anything. So there's no reason for me to feel guilty. But I would end up with headaches that were so severe that I couldn't work. I would come home four or five days a week, and just be incapacitated with the pain. But then I was taking aspirins and Tylenol, and everything else. I got hooked on tranquilizers. And it's a scary thing.

When this obsession first takes hold, where first you are thinking about it, and before you know it, you are completely consumed by the thought of doing something with another male. You're not even sure of what you want to do. You're not sure who you want to do it with or where these people are, but you are totally consumed with that quest. Well suddenly, my wife became the person that was stopping me from pursuing what I absolutely, positively had to do to survive. And your thinking gets distorted, would be an understatement.

Ira Glass

Why what happens? What do you start to think about?

Jerry Walters

Maybe I shouldn't say this and maybe it's unique in my situation, but you think, gee, if she had an accident or something-- yes, I knew-- it sounds bizarre. But you're almost ready to plot to kill somebody. And I've told her this. And it's something that we-- here's a very mild mannered person, almost plotting somebody's demise, because they're stopping you. And they don't even know what's going on at this point.

Ira Glass

Do you think that at that time, before you told your wife, do think that in a day-to-day way, you had a lot of resentment that you would act out on, you would snap at her, that you would just be short with her? Because what you are describing is being so resentful.

Jerry Walters

No, I didn't. I held it inside. You see, this was your wife. You can't do this. I'm one of these people that holds the door open for women and very courteous with people. So I held it inside. And you think the top of your head is going to blow off instead.

Ira Glass

Finally, after two years of marriage, he got up the courage to tell his wife he wanted to have sex with men.

Jerry Walters

She says, "Oh, is that all?" And I said, "You don't understand. I've got these feelings for men and I don't know how to deal with them." And she says, "Well, I married all of you. I didn't marry part of you. We'll just figure out how to deal with it." And so from there, we just set the guidelines that would work for us. I asked her what she needed to be comfortable? She wanted, number one, to know where I would be. And that's fine. I would sooner leave a phone number underneath the telephone, that if I don't show up by 10 o'clock or 12 o'clock, she calls.

She wanted me to be home when the kids got home, or when the kids woke up in the morning, which is fine. The term, "are you sleeping with somebody," I think, is kind of stupid. If I'm going someplace to sleep, I'll sleep at home. I'm going out for sex, not for sleeping. So that was never a problem. That's really the only things. And she said, "I want to be the most important person in your life." And she always has been and she always will be.

Ira Glass

He says, of course, he uses condoms. So he doesn't being home any infections or AIDS. His children and the people he works with don't know he's gay, though after his father died, he told his mother.

Ira Glass

Why stay married?

Jerry Walters

Because I love her and she loves me. And we're probably the best thing that happened to each other, ever. See, I don't like-- there's a difference between gay feelings and living the gay lifestyle, a dramatic difference. And I know a lot of people will disagree with this and maybe take offense at this. There is an arrested adolescence in the gay community. There is an acceptance of lying because it was needed to survive. And honesty is something that I really put a high price on and I really value it.

Ira Glass

I suggest to him that he's the one who lies, by staying in a straight marriage, and not telling his own children he's gay. He says he's not really lying to his children. As he explains it, there's no easy time to sit your kids down and tell them that you're gay. When they're 5 or 10, it'll make no sense. When they hit adolescence, it could be confusing, a kind of burden, as they sort through their own sexual identities.

If his children ask him directly he says, then he'll tell the truth. And he says, they'll ask when they're ready to hear the answer.

Jerry Walters

If you want to know something, you will ask the question. If you don't ask the question, either you know the answer or you don't want to deal with the answer. Am I right?

Ira Glass

How old are your children?

Jerry Walters

They're in their 20's. They're girls.

Ira Glass

Hm. Well, what is your assessment of what's going on? Do you think that they know, but they choose not to ask consciously?

Jerry Walters

Yes.

Ira Glass

And it's a conscious choice?

Jerry Walters

Yes. I think it's very much a conscious choice. I think that they accept me for who I am. And I don't think they want to know a whole lot more about it.

Ira Glass

But you're saying they accept you for who you are, but they don't actually know entirely who you are, because you keep a certain part from them.

Jerry Walters

I am who my children see. The only thing different about me is that I have sex with men. That is the only difference. If that makes me a different person in their eyes, what value is that? How is that going to enhance me as a father if suddenly this is in the equation too? I'm a good father. I'm a good husband. I take care of them. I was there when they needed things, and with school and growing up and advice and everything. And I don't think that what a person does in their bedroom, or someone else's bedroom, really is your children's concern.

Ira Glass

Later in our conversation, Jerry says that he'd like to tell his daughters the truth, but his wife doesn't want him to. She doesn't want anybody to know. He feels he has to respect her wishes. I ask him if his wife is simply ashamed that other people will know her husband looks for sex outside of the marriage? No, says Jerry. She knows the marriage works for them and simply doesn't want to have to put up with the opinions of people who won't understand. And they do have a sex life, Jerry says, of a sort.

Ira Glass

Are you as sexually attracted to women as you are to men?

Jerry Walters

No. We don't depend on each other for our sexual satisfaction. I don't know if I should go into that or not. Probably not. Masturbation is something that is part of what we do for sexual satisfaction. And however you do it, it's satisfying.

Ira Glass

Does she see other men?

Jerry Walters

No. She says that's not what I'm about.

Ira Glass

We talked for two hours. It started to get cold in the car. Over time, as we talked, it became clear that this man stayed in his marriage, partly because he couldn't imagine any other life for himself. To Jerry, being an adult means having a wife, a house in the burbs, a couple kids, dinner parties, and mortgage payments, and mowing the lawn.

Jerry Walters

That was the only way that people lived. I mean anything else wasn't even considered. And so how could I be anything other than what I am? And that was to be a married man.

Ira Glass

Do you think that you could have a kind of relationship like you have with your wife, with another man?

Jerry Walters

No.

Ira Glass

I tell him that these kind of long-term, marriage-like relationships are commonplace among the gay men I know.

Jerry Walters

In the suburbs, it's not commonplace. Let's face it. In the city it's accepted. There are areas in the city where men can hold hands, where men can show affection outwardly. You won't find that in the suburbs.

Ira Glass

But I find there's a part of you which doesn't even believe that it exists.

Jerry Walters

It doesn't, where I live.

Ira Glass

For a while, I told him about Susan Bergman's book, about how difficult it was for her when she realized that her father wasn't what he seemed. I suggested to Jerry that his own daughters might feel betrayed, might find it hard to trust him if someday they find out he's been less than candid about his sexuality. He didn't agree.

Jerry Walters

Shall we take the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus in that context too, that your parents told you that this man is Santa Claus? Do you hate your parents or distrust your parents' judgment from that point on? When you were a child, you were given just enough information to live your life. They didn't tell you that the landlord's going to throw you out of the house. They didn't tell you that your father's going to lose his job. They didn't tell you a lot of the things that could hurt you, because they were your parents. Their job was to protect you.

Ira Glass

Her situation is that her father was, on the surface anyway, presented the image of being a family man, a very religious man--

Jerry Walters

Right.

Ira Glass

--was a musician in their church. And so there was this constant lie, because--

Jerry Walters

Where is the lie? Was he not all of those things? Wasn't he all of those things, plus one other thing? We are complicated individuals. We can be a lot of things. You said he was a musician. He was a family man. He was a minister. He was a lot of things. And he was just this one more thing, that he didn't choose to share with her. And I think that was his privilege.

Ira Glass

How much do you need to know a person to love them, to live with them? Jerry says he talks to about 260 men a year in the support group he leads for gay and bisexual married men. He says he urges men to think very seriously about what they'll be giving up if they choose to quit their marriages, if they choose to be honest with their families, if they choose to end their double lives.

Coming up, lies that every parent tells, including a secret that my mom has kept from her kids. And yes, it involves sex. Yes. In a minute, when our program continues.

Act Three.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, invite a variety of writers and artists to take a whack at that theme with monologues, documentaries, short fiction, short radio plays, anything we can think of. Today's program, Double Lives. Act Three, Lighten Up.

Up until now, we've been hearing about pretty serious lies, told between parents and children. But there are lots of trivial lies that parents tell. In fact, you can reasonably argue that it is impossible to raise children without lying to them, which brings us to the Neo-Futurists. The Neo-Futurists are a Chicago group who perform 30 plays in 60 minutes every Friday and Saturday night. And they prepared this play, they call it a play. I think non-Neo-Futurists would call it a sketch. They prepared this play on our theme today. It's by Greg Allen, a recent father himself.

Greg Allen

Twenty-one lies I will tell my children. Go. Number one.

Woman

If you don't get down, you're going to break your neck.

Greg Allen

Two.

Woman

Santa's coming.

Greg Allen

Three.

Woman

Mommy was just, um, singing. Go back to bed.

Greg Allen

Four.

Man

I will never forget this for as long as I live.

Greg Allen

Five.

Woman

I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you.

Greg Allen

Six.

Woman

I said shucks. Oh, shucks.

Greg Allen

Seven.

Woman

Sure. I like your music. It's just different.

Greg Allen

Eight.

Woman

One more time and you're going to get out and walk.

Greg Allen

Nine.

Man

Just because your friends do it, doesn't mean you have to do it.

Greg Allen

Ten.

Woman

Oh now, you don't really mean that.

Greg Allen

Eleven.

Woman

Sure. I like your haircut. It's just different.

Greg Allen

Twelve.

Woman

I never said that.

Greg Allen

Thirteen.

Man

No one is going to notice a little pimple.

Greg Allen

Fourteen.

Woman

Sex is the expression of love and devotion.

Greg Allen

Fifteen.

Woman

It doesn't matter about the new car. All that matters is that you're OK.

Greg Allen

Sixteen.

Man

I'm going to kill you.

Greg Allen

Seventeen.

Woman

Sure. I like your boyfriend. He's just different.

Greg Allen

Eighteen.

Woman

I was just closing my eyes for a minute.

Greg Allen

Nineteen.

Woman

You were the best baby in the world.

Greg Allen

Twenty.

Woman

Everything is going to be all right.

Greg Allen

Twenty-one.

Man

Daddy will always be here to take care of you.

Greg Allen

Curtain.

Ira Glass

Greg Allen, Diana Slickman, Dave Awl, Heather Riordan, David Kodeski, Anita Loomis, and Stephanie Shaw, of the Neo-Futurists.

Our parents can surprise us with what they don't tell us, with what they don't talk about, especially when it comes to sex. Recently, I had this experience. An ex-girlfriend was in the gym, looking through a copy of a Marie Claire magazine, a woman's magazine. And there was an article in it on women's fantasies, their sexual fantasies, "What Do Your Man's Dirty Daydreams Reveal About What He Wants from You?" In the article, six sexperts-- that was the word they used, sexperts-- reveal the six most common male sex fantasy scenarios. So my ex-girlfriend is reading. And there, in the third paragraph, one of the sexperts turns out to be my mother.

[PHONE RINGING]

Shirley Glass

Hello.

Ira Glass

Hey, Mom.

Shirley Glass

Yeah.

Ira Glass

It's Ira.

Shirley Glass

Yeah.

Ira Glass

So I'd like to do a little interview.

Shirley Glass

OK.

Ira Glass

OK. So Mom, can I read to you a quote from an article?

Shirley Glass

Of course.

Ira Glass

OK. Here it is. "Your man wants a woman who excites him through her own excitement. You could stimulate yourself while he watches or let him participate by moving his hand to where you want it."

Shirley Glass

Yeah.

Ira Glass

That's you being quoted in Marie Claire.

Shirley Glass

[LAUGHTER] You're kidding. What issue?

Ira Glass

All I know is that Anaheed was at the gym. And she opens up Marie Claire to an article called, "Men's Sexual Fantasies." And it says at the top here, "Sexperts reveal the six most common scenarios, unlock the secret longings and psyches of the modern men who fantasize." And you, basically, are one of this sexperts.

Shirley Glass

Yeah. Yeah, I am.

Ira Glass

I didn't really know you were a sexpert?

Shirley Glass

What did you think I was?

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER]. Just another Jewish mom and psychologist.

Shirley Glass

Uh-huh.

Ira Glass

So it wasn't like you were a sexpert and you were keeping it from your family?

Shirley Glass

Um. You're talking about my family, meaning my children, not my husband?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Shirley Glass

Because he knows that I'm a sexpert.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER].

Shirley Glass

And you can call him to verify that.

Ira Glass

I think I'm just going to let that go.

Shirley Glass

But my children always seem embarrassed if I discuss anything sexual. So therefore, I tend not to around them.

Ira Glass

When would you try to discuss something sexual with us?

Shirley Glass

I might make a joke or say something that had a sexual connotation, and I'd get this disapproval.

Ira Glass

I don't think that that's true.

Shirley Glass

No?

Ira Glass

Yeah. I mean it doesn't affect me in any way to think that you and Dad would be sexual with each other. In fact, I even remember as a teenager understanding that and being kind of reassured by it.

Shirley Glass

Uh-huh.

Ira Glass

Does that make any sense?

Shirley Glass

It makes a little bit of sense. But it really doesn't cover all the situations, if I'm just telling a joke or talking about somebody else. And I think it has to do with boundaries. And I think it has to do with that children, even adult children, do not like to regard their parents' sexuality.

Ira Glass

Hm. You know something, you're actually convincing me. [LAUGHTER] Well, let's do a little scientific test. Can you think of a sexual joke? You just tell one, right now. And I'll tell you my reaction.

Shirley Glass

I can't think of one.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER] You know what I'm feeling right now? I'm feeling a profound--

Shirley Glass

Oh, actually I heard a wonderful--

Ira Glass

Wait a minute, no--

Shirley Glass

I heard a wonderful joke, but I don't even know if it's a joke or story. Because this is like something that might be true.

Ira Glass

Uh-huh.

Shirley Glass

That when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and he said, one giant step for man and one-- what is it? One giant step for mankind or whatever--

Ira Glass

One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind.

Shirley Glass

Right. Right. That's it. Right. One small step for man, one giant step for mankind. And then, he also said, "Good luck, Mr. Gorki." And for years people have been asking him what that meant? And he would never tell them. And then this year, someone brought it up again, what did you mean when you said, "Good luck, Mr. Gorki?

And he said, well, I can tell now, because Mr. Gorki died this year. When I was a little boy, Mr. Gorki was our next door neighbor. And I was playing outside one day. And their bedroom window was open. And I heard Mrs. Gorki say, "Oral sex? You want me to give you oral sex? You'll get oral sex from me the day that boy next door walks on the moon."

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER] Well, now I'm examining my own feelings. And I have to say, I did get very nervous there, in a way that does not correspond, perhaps, with shrugging my shoulders at the notion of you having some sexual life and sexual thoughts.

Shirley Glass

Yeah.

Ira Glass

So let me read you some of your other quotes here.

Shirley Glass

All right.

Ira Glass

In the fantasy of man dominates woman, you're quoted as saying-- says Dr. Glass, quote, "In a caring relationship, it's certainly not abusive or unhealthy if the fantasy is played out in a light, teasing way." You're also quoted extensively in fantasy number five, spontaneous encounter with a beautiful stranger. The key quote is this one, as far as I'm concerned, "Go to a restaurant, and at first pretend you don't know each other," suggests Dr. Glass. Which when I read that, it actually explained some dinners I've had with you and Dad,--

Shirley Glass

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

--I thought. Well, you didn't talk very much between the two of you.

Shirley Glass

No. No. That's just the opposite.

Ira Glass

Have you done this? Have you gone to a restaurant with Dad and pretended you didn't know each other?

Shirley Glass

No.

Ira Glass

No.

Shirley Glass

No.

Ira Glass

No. But if you did, you're saying that--

Shirley Glass

We've gone to restaurants with you and pretended we didn't know you.

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER] What do you mean by that?

Shirley Glass

Well, when you were younger and--

Ira Glass

[LAUGHTER]

Shirley Glass

--let's say that your manner of dressing didn't exactly conform to the style--

Ira Glass

All right, all right, all right. I think everybody-- yeah.

Shirley Glass

--that the people in the restaurant. Daddy would look at you. And he would start popping Gelusil, before we'd go out to eat. And I'd say, now Barry, people are going to look at him and they're going to look at us, and they're going to know that we did not pick out his clothes.

Ira Glass

So now that I know that you're this big sexpert, do you have any sex advice for me?

Shirley Glass

Find a nice girl and get married.

Ira Glass

That's not sex advice.

Shirley Glass

We always end up this way, don't we?

Ira Glass

With that particular advice, yeah. That's the lady I know. I could ask you any question and that would be the advice.

Shirley Glass

Well, that was the first rule of journalism you taught me.

Ira Glass

Is what?

Shirley Glass

No matter what they ask you, be sure to get your point in.

Ira Glass

You mean when you were first being interviewed by people, this is what I told you to say.

Shirley Glass

Right. Right.

Ira Glass

Well, I'm glad we got to that then.

My mom. Dr. Shirley Glass, in Baltimore.

Act Four.

Ira Glass

Act Four, Sins of the Fathers. What does it do to children if parents tell a big lie for years? Part of Susan Bergman's book, Anonymity, is her trying to understand the two parts of her father, strict, religious, family man; promiscuous, gay, night clubber. His personality was split in half, she writes, into two irreconcilable halves.

But part of her book is about her discovery that growing up in his home, she became somebody who was also split in half, somebody able to carry on a life with two irreconcilable parts. She found herself as an adult, leading a double life. To end our program, we asked her to read from her book.

Susan Bergman

I pretend I am a faithful wife. My husband is married to that faithful woman. The woman looks like me. She moves around in my body. This is what I mean. You can't tell by looking. He makes love to her. He has asked her a question once or twice, and she has heard herself reply with an avoidance, "Is there anything you haven't told me? I want to know more of you, Susan."

They spent last evening on opposite ends of the house, keeping things going, changing the music, refreshing people's drinks and trays of food. "What makes you ask that tonight after such a great party? All our friends here, scrumptious food. Didn't you enjoy yourself?" She unfastens her gold-beaded bracelet and folds it carefully into its silk-lined box, replacing the lid. "I saw the way Tom looked at you." "There's absolutely nothing for you to worry about between me and anyone here tonight. Most definitely nothing's up with Tom."

She concentrates on slowing down, as she hangs up her belt and tosses her stockings in a basket of hand washing. "You're doing this jealous thing again. What kind of look?" "Do you have any secrets from me?" "A few." She'll keep it light. "This is not my natural hair color, quite. But the rest is real."

You must understand that lying is a temporal invisibility. It's the leaves you wrap yourself in when the voice in the garden calls. I was learning to deflect any doubt or question about my faithfulness, back onto the questioner, so that I didn't have to perpetuate the lie. I had for years, part lied, but mostly told the truth. Two and more irreconcilable parts, which let me understand my father, or made me into him. Here was my father's ailment again, his dread of being known.

There's a family with children on the line. I force my family to serve as the same kind of false front I was raised to be from my father. Our presence testified to his normality. We failed, no matter how we strove for blessing, to discover the root of our calamity. I can't shake his choice alone, I tell myself. So we slipped and fell, which is human. And he died, stuck. And this gluey lie I keep perpetuating, sticks to me like a curse, revisited on the next generation. My father is in the window when I glance up, and in the hurried tone of my voice, in the shape of my ribs. What if, lights on, as is, he had asked us to love him?

I opened the book I had slipped into my jacket pocket and read, "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity; nor sworn deceitfully." If her hands are clean and her heart pure, I had been forgiven. But I had yet to go to the man I had wronged, and whom I desperately wanted to love me, to cancel my ongoing lie, my maintaining the family pattern of dishonesty.

My husband couldn't bear ever to look at me again. Hadn't my family put him through enough already? Wasn't I a hard pill he had to swallow and swallow? He would remarry within the year, a woman of fidelity and beauty and a way with children, my children. What kinds of stories would they be told about me? All that we had made together-- I took inventory-- did not add up to the ultimate banishment of the untruthful from the presence of God.

If you give me the opportunity Lord, one more time, whatever the consequence, I prayed, I will tell the truth. Judson put the question simply, the same one as before. That morning, I had sat in the sun, and read, and drunk my coffee, uninterrupted. Maybe it was a morning unlike any my father had ever been given. When Judson came home later that morning, is when he asked, "Is there something you'd like to tell me?" There was a reason my husband was unable to retire his doubts. I had made an offer of honesty, yes, but hadn't thought the test would come so soon.

Walking out on the plank of my own promise, I peered down at the water. First, you leave your father's house, and then your own. There was a deep gulf below me I could not see into. This was the last of my life, as I knew it. "Whatever the consequence," I said inside my head to remind myself, breathing once. He could tell in the stillness of the pause between his question and my looking back up at him, that his life was changing too.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Today's program was produced by Alix Spiegel and myself, with Dolores Wilber, Peter Clowney, and Nancy Upkike. Contributing editors Margy Rochlin, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, and Sarah Vowell. Musical help today by John Connors, Steve Cushing, and the mysterious and elusive Rumpety Rattles.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a tape of this or any of our This American Life programs, they're only $10, call us at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380, 312-832-3380. Our email address, radio@well.com.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, whose mother never says things like--

Shirley Glass

Oral sex? You want me to give you oral sex? You'll get oral sex from me the day that boy next door walks on the moon.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week, with more stories of This American Life.