What was your parents’ story?
They were really young when they met. My dad was 18, and my mom I think she was 20. They met on kind of a blind date that two of their friends set up. Back in the ’60s Bed-Stuy was still a mixed neighborhood, there were a lot of Irish working class folks there – my father actually went to Boys and Girls High. So that’s how they met. They dated for a while and then got married. We lived in Bushwick first, and then we moved to Flatbush. They got along well, they were really in love. My father was great, he had a really mischievous sense of humor. His drinking became a problem in the relationship later, but they were still in love. He died a very long time ago now, but my mom still talks about him and he’s alive in the family in spirit.
What was it like to see your photo online and then see the reactions to it?
After Brandon took the photo I kind of forgot about it. I was pretty busy the day it went online, but some of my friends saw it and that’s actually how I found out about it – people started texting me saying “Hey! I saw you on HONY!” They were really surprised and excited about it.
What was also a surprise was the way people reacted – some of the comments that initially came out of it questioning my ethnicity, saying that I was adopted or that my father couldn’t be white. But it was also really kind of heartening to see that the majority of the comments weren’t ignorant; there were a lot of great ones. I hadn’t realized that one sentence was so packed – there was the addiction thing, there was the racial thing, and then there was the sexual orientation thing all in one.
What prompted you to write the response?
Well, I started reading some of the comments and realized that it seemed like I could add some information to clarify that my father was in fact my biological father – I thought it was important that that was understood.
What did you take away from the whole experience?
I’m just really grateful I can keep my dad’s memory alive. He was a hardworking guy. We never had a whole lot of money, but I feel like he’s kind of an unsung hero in that both he and my mom, they were young, kind of poor folks but they fell in love despite the fact that my father came from a big family and some of them were kind of racist, and my mom’s family, they didn’t feel like he was good enough for her to be with. They were able to build a family despite that, and I think that’s worth being told.
You asked me if I had any reservations about speaking openly, and I don’t. I just feel like if people were more courageous about talking about their family stuff, even the darker things, it would be helpful. If anything good came out of me being so open, it’s that it promoted conversation. A lot of what came forth in the comments was people identifying, saying that their fathers also drank a lot, etc. The identification that comes when people are honest is such an important thing.
Patrick Dougher with his dad, Frank, in their Bushwick, Brooklyn apartment c. 1970, right around the time they went to the wedding on Christopher Street.
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