Growing Up Gardner – The Holidays

Our family Christmas party was always a hit.  It always had to take place on the Sunday before Christmas every single year, no matter what day of the week Christmas fell on.  These memories are still so vivid that I still follow my mom and dad’s set-up and execution of the party, but now with a whole new set of family and friends.  I have one week from now to get it ready – the Sunday before Christmas.

Family Christmas Party circa 1962

Family Christmas Party circa 1962

An excerpt from the chapter, Growing Up Gardner from Out In The Cold

By Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner

Our biggest event of the year was the family Christmas party, which included mostly guests from my mom’s side of the family, the Bakers. This party was mom’s shining moment for her family and friends and the guest list grew to be at least 30 people over time.

Uncle Tommy was always the first to arrive. “Ho, Ho, Ho, Meeeeery Christmas!” he’d yell as he came in the front door, sporting his Santa’s hat. His arms would be filled with gifts that he’d deposit next to the Christmas tree in the living room. Aunt Lorraine, his wife, would arrive with him as well as my cousin Debbie, her husband, Jeff and eventually their son, my second cousin, Ron. We would all hug, kiss–Tommy gave wet ones. Uncle Tommy and the whole clan would proceed directly to the bar and make their drinks. I would hear the sounds of Christmas in our house–ice cubes clanging, the bubbly sounds of freshly opened bottles of soda and then the very distinct smell of alcohol. The party had begun.

The annual family Christmas party took place every year while my mother was alive. Even when she became ill and couldn’t get up from the couch, she’d insist on having the party, although Gordy and I were left to do all the preparation and cooking. Mom would sit on her end of the couch in the den while Gordy and I brought her samples of food to taste and approve. She’d munch on all the samples, directing us to add an ingredient or simply yelling, “This isn’t hot enough. Turn the stove up to high!”

We continued to throw the party even when our guest list had shrunk to just six people.

With family friend and baby sitter, Louise, circa 1961

With family friend and baby sitter, Louise, circa 1961

 

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Interesting Parallels

This young man, Matt Dooley, has experienced some of the very same things I did at roughly the same age.  I did not have the suicide attempt, but the emotions surrounding his everyday life are all too similar.  His story is an inspiration.

Here’s an excerpt from my story.  Read this first, then read his.  You should see some similarities, even though they’re decades apart:

Excerpt from “Out In The Cold” by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner:

Tai and I shared a lot during our three-decade career. The fact that I was gay initially seemed to benefit our skating.  Since we weren’t a romantic couple off of the ice, we didn’t have to take our work home with us at the end of the day. But the downside was that as our fame grew, we shared the heavy burden of keeping my sexuality a secret.  If the world found out that I was gay, all of our endorsements would end and we certainly wouldn’t be as popular.  People liked thinking that Tai and I had met as little kids and turned into a loving couple.  It was already difficult enough to deal with being a young, famous champion athlete and being a closeted gay man just made it worse.  I struggled with how to handle the truth.  Sometimes I opted to simply remain in a state of denial.  It just seemed to be the easiest solution.  I knew that coming out would change how everyone saw me.

As I became a successful skater, I knew it was professional suicide to be openly gay.  When I competed in skating back in the seventies, it wasn’t acceptable in any sport to be openly gay.  I had to do everything in my power to avoid suspicion, including pretending to be in relationships with various girls.  It was hard work living my life always on guard that someone would discover the truth.  Keeping the secret about my sexuality was very difficult and made me feel isolated and unsettled.

I used my training and my commitment to skating to distract me from dealing with the issue.  It just was safer that way.  I knew that if I came out, there would be no commercial endorsements in my future. No one in the 1980’s would hire a gay athlete to sell any product. We heard all the time about star athletes not getting commercials or personal appearances simply because there were rumors circulating that they were gay. I knew that coming out would hurt our chances of reaping the commercial rewards of championship skating.  There would be no toothpaste ads, no Wheaties boxes and no Ford commercials.  I’d worked hard for these things.  I wanted the money, the exposure and the status of being on the front of a Wheaties box.  So, I continued with my secret.  I’d worked too hard to have it all taken away.  And, there was also Tai.  I felt a particular responsibility to her to make the most of our career and not to destroy everything by revealing my sexual orientation, so I stayed in the closet.   I didn’t tell anyone—not even Tai.  I always suspected she knew, but we never discussed it.   (When I finally told her, she turned to me with a sly smile and said, “You silly boy, I knew that.”)

Matthew Dooley: http://www.outsports.com/2014/3/3/5460088/matt-dooley-gay-tennis-notre-dame

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What Will Happen In Sochi During the 2014 Winter Games? No Rainbow Flags?

It’s hard enough competing at the elite athlete level, let alone feeling all together different and isolated from everyone else at the same time – alone, odd and scared.

Now that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) has been abolished in the U.S. and Prop 8 was dismantled in the California Courts, finally there’s hope for gay men and women not only in America but around the world to be allowed to marry and obtain the same civil rights as everyone else.  Some of the world had already beat us to it.  Others are slowly following suit.

Russia now has this unbelievable law prohibiting anything gay – literature, support for gay rights, same-sex unions and rainbow flags.  So now what will really happen in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games?

I certainly wouldn’t want to be a gay athlete competing over there for the Games, or a coach or a spectator.  And there’s only so much comfort and protection one gets while residing in the Olympic Village.  Besides, who wants to be held hostage in a temporarily perfectly created village just for you?  Eventually you have to venture out.

Will the Sochi police really protect the LGBT community while in their city?  I think not.

I fear we’ll witness a dreadful occurrence in a public place during the Games.  And what a shame that would be.

Below is an excerpt from my memoirs where I talk about my own experience leading up to the 1980 Games in Lake Placid as an in-the-closet Olympic athlete.  Now, 34 years later with hopes of a changed world, I do see many great changes for the better and, unfortunately, one huge step backwards.

Excerpt from “Out In The Cold” by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner:

Tai and I shared a lot during our three-decade career. The fact that I was gay initially seemed to benefit our skating.  Since we weren’t a romantic couple off of the ice, we didn’t have to take our work home with us at the end of the day. But the downside was that as our fame grew, we shared the heavy burden of keeping my sexuality a secret.  If the world found out that I was gay, all of our endorsements would end and we certainly wouldn’t be as popular.  People liked thinking that Tai and I had met as little kids and turned into a loving couple.  It was already difficult enough to deal with being a young, famous champion athlete and being a closeted gay man just made it worse.  I struggled with how to handle the truth.  Sometimes I opted to simply remain in a state of denial.  It just seemed to be the easiest solution.  I knew that coming out would change how everyone saw me.

As I became a successful skater, I knew it was professional suicide to be openly gay.  When I competed in skating back in the seventies, it wasn’t acceptable in any sport to be openly gay.  I had to do everything in my power to avoid suspicion, including pretending to be in relationships with various girls.  It was hard work living my life always on guard that someone would discover the truth.  Keeping the secret about my sexuality was very difficult and made me feel isolated and unsettled.

I used my training and my commitment to skating to distract me from dealing with the issue.  It just was safer that way.  I knew that if I came out, there would be no commercial endorsements in my future. No one in the 1980’s would hire a gay athlete to sell any product. We heard all the time about star athletes not getting commercials or personal appearances simply because there were rumors circulating that they were gay. I knew that coming out would hurt our chances of reaping the commercial rewards of championship skating.  There would be no toothpaste ads, no Wheaties boxes and no Ford commercials.  I’d worked hard for these things.  I wanted the money, the exposure and the status of being on the front of a Wheaties box.  So, I continued with my secret.  I’d worked too hard to have it all taken away.  And, there was also Tai.  I felt a particular responsibility to her to make the most of our career and not to destroy everything by revealing my sexual orientation, so I stayed in the closet.   I didn’t tell anyone—not even Tai.  I always suspected she knew, but we never discussed it.   (When I finally told her, she turned to me with a sly smile and said, “You silly boy, I knew that.”)

© Randy Gardner 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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“I’ve Landed!’ Pt. 2

Excerpt from “Out In The Cold” by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner.

I was getting ready for what would be the most important meeting of my life.  Jay and I  drive from Los Angeles to the central coast of California to where Jay’s meeting is to be held.  From there, early the next morning I start my own drive, which seemed to take hours and hours, winding my way northeast to San Jose and finally arrive at my destination.  I park, scan the hotel buildings and pick just the right one to enter.

As I’m walking down the dimly lit hallway I whisper to myself, “brave, be brave.” I see the number on the hotel room door, take a mighty deep breath and stand very tall. Then I knock on the door…

“Wow, what a great meeting! Thank you so very much for just being you.  Thank you so much for the autographed pictures you gave us.  I am going out today and buy a special frame and put it with the rest of my children.  This is the morning after and I have so much catching up to do.  Better say bye for now.”

When she opened the hotel room door I was somewhat surprised that I had to look down so far at her. I’m only 5’8”.  I nervously relaxed and dropped my shoulders and said, “It’s me!”  She greeted me with a great hug as I bent at the knees.  I noticed the resemblance, but was wondering why I didn’t look more like her.  I never looked liked anyone in my family.  I wanted to.

Our hotel room meeting lasted for only a few hours.  We barely got to know each other, but it was a start.  Dottie and I stood in front of the mirror over the bathroom sink and compared our smiles, eyes and the shape of our jaws.  We got silly at one point smiling, then frowning, then smiling again – finding the similarities of our facial features.  Then it was time for me to leave.

Driving back, I was much more relaxed and content with my discovery.  I didn’t know where I would begin to tell the story to Jay, though.  Even though I had learned a lot that day I had only scratched the surface of finding out about my life and the woman that gave birth to me.  When I arrived back to the hotel where Jay and I were staying, Jay was waiting for me in the room very anxious to hear about the meeting.  I told him what Dottie looked like, how we babbled about simple things and our mirror smiling show. And I think that was about it.  I was exhausted from the trip – one that I never thought I would take.

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“I’ve Landed”

Excerpt from Out In The Cold by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner.

“After I found out about my adoption, I felt compelled to find out the identity of my birth mother.  I had so many questions about where I came from and what had led my birth mother giving me up for adoption.  When I start the search for my birth mother, I immediately hit a brick wall.  My adoption had been a private one, so the records were sealed. My consultant told me that I needed to send a letter to the state requesting they unseal my records. While I waited for a response to my letter, I spent my time at the Los Angeles Public Library searching for information about my birth mother in the public records; names, addresses, marriage licenses.

In the meantime, I found out her name and looked to see if there were any more public records where I could get more information about her.

While most of the country and the world remained fixated on President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, I spent my time cloistered in a small dark corner of the Los Angeles Public Library going through yards of microfilm looking up names and trying to find the documents on the list given to me by the consultant.  It was tedious work, but I was extremely motivated.  After leafing through scores of old documents, I finally found an old phone book from Los Angeles County with phone numbers and address listings and other potentially helpful information.  Once I had enough to pass on to my consultant, I marked it and had the desk print it all out for me.

 It wasn’t long before my search consultant contacted me and asked me if I wanted to make contact with my birth mother.  I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”

©Randy Gardner. All Rights Reserved.

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Rare Pre-Show Photo

I never allowed being photographed in the dressing room pre-show, but Rudy Galindo, my tour buddy, just had to…circa 1997.

Circa 1997

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“I’M WHO?”

Chapter excerpt from Out In The Cold, by Randy Gardner and Allison Hope Weiner.

…an important truth that I discovered at age forty, that I’d been adopted as a baby and that my parents lied to me about it.

My discovery that I’d been adopted coincided with the realization that almost everyone in my family knew about my adoption, including my brother, Gordy.  The shock was overwhelming and I found myself feeling as if I didn’t belong anywhere.  I felt adrift after having been so tightly anchored to my family.  I struggle to process how the family that I’d loved and trusted for so much of my life could have lied to me for so many years. I questioned the trust I’d put in mom, my dad and my brother.  I began to wonder what other secrets they’ve been keeping from me.  I didn’t feel as if I could trust them anymore.  They were like strangers that I didn’t know.  I felt unsafe.

I began to do some research into the adoption and decided to take the first steps to find out the identity of my birth mother.  Moments after I’d actually put the paper through the fax machine, T.H. called me back.  “Your birth certificate has been altered,” she said.  My heart sank.

According to my consultant, altering birth certificates was fairly typical back around the time I was born.  She politely asked if I wanted to find out more information—did I want to confirm whether I’d been adopted or not?  I told her that I wanted to know the truth.   T.H. then did a quick search and confirmed that I was, indeed, born in Los Angeles County.

If someone had told me that I’d find out that I was adopted at the age of forty, I never would have believed then.  When I was younger, speculating about the future, I never would have guessed two things about my life at that age—one, that I’d still be skating and two, that I’d be busy confirming that I had been adopted.

When I found out about the adoption, my initial feelings were that of loneliness and uncertainty.  I’d developed a lack of trust in the people I spent my life believing-my Mom, Dad and Gordy.  I questioned their truthfulness.  I wondered what else they’d told me throughout my life that also wasn’t true.  I looked down to my hand.  The freckle I shared with my mom had almost faded away.

©Randy Gardner 2013. All Right Reserved.

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