KATHY: I’m going to tell you about my dad.
TOBIN: Ooh, a rare Kathy dad story.
KATHY: Yeah a thing I really enjoy telling people about my dad is that his sense of self preservation is very strong.
KATHY: Like for example, I want to say when I was in high school, maybe middle school, I don’t remember, we had an earthquake, this is Southern California, earthquakes happen a lot, but this is Southern California, earthquakes happen a lot but usually they don’t wake me up but this earthquake woke me up in the middle of the night, it was like a gentle rocking, it got me out of bed. I walk out of my room and my mom is out, my sister is out, my brother is out. And from where we are on the second floor you can look out into our front door and our front door is wide open because my dad has gotten up, ran downstairs, out the front door, to the front lawn, and he was staring at us being like, “You idiots! Get outside!”
TOBIN: Wait he didn’t stop to get any of you, he just went by himself?
KATHY: [LAUGHING] He just ran for it!
[THEME MUSIC STARTS]
VOX: From WNYC Studios, this is Nancy.
VOX: With your hosts Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC ENDS]
KATHY: So Tobin a couple days ago, Netflix dropped season two of Queer Eye, the reboot.
TOBIN: They took two seconds off. And then they made a whole new season.
KATHY: Poor Bobby.
TOBIN: Poor Bobby.
KATHY: Just flailing!
[TOBIN AND KATHY LAUGH]
I love this show a lot, but how do you feel about it?
TOBIN: So, I actually love the new Queer Eye which was a real surprise to me because I had very weird feelings about the original, early 2000s version. Like, when I wasn’t out yet, it felt really uncomfortable to watch Queer Eye. But my dad, on the other hand,…LOVED it. Cue episode one of Nancy!
[CLIP] NANCY PODCAST SEASON 1, EPISODE 1
[QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY THEME]
TOBIN’S DAD: I became a total Queer Eye for the Straight Guy fan … boy.
TOBIN’S DAD: They were guys I thought it would be really fun to learn from and to hang out with for a week.
TOBIN: I remember you took, like, a lot of tips from them.
TOBIN’S DAD: Well, I took some personal grooming tips. For example, Carson, he gave me a new word which was ... I had already rolled up my sleeves at work because I work as a doctor, and rolling my sleeves up is keeping them cleaner. But he called it “zhuzhing” the sleeve.
TOBIN: You know, the show used to give me a huge amount of anxiety.
TOBIN’S DAD: Well, my anticipated thought is that it did because you thought it was too stereotypical. And I thought that they were very comfortable in their style, so that it was kinda like, for me, “Stereotype be damned!” The one guilt I had was how much I told you I loved the show, and I didn’t know if that offended you.
TOBIN: So my dad thought that his love of Queer Eye made me uncomfortable, and in truth it absolutely did -- I mean these five guys, they represented something that just seemed totally unattainable at that point in my life, and because of that, the show always made me feel kind of uneasy. So when the Queer Eye reboot was announced, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it.
KATHY: We get it Tobin, you felt conflicted, everyone about the old Queer Eye, but now you love the new Queer Eye, everybody else loves the new Queer Eye.
TOBIN: [LAUGHING] It’s true.
KATHY: But what’s important here is what did your dad think of it?
TOBIN’S DAD: I think it’s outstanding. I like how it’s grown and taken the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and taken it to a deeper emotional level. And I like the way they are willing to explore their own issues and their own vulnerabilities.
[MUSIC] NEW QUEER EYE THEME
TAN FRANCE: The original show was fighting for tolerance. Our fight is for acceptance.
ANTONI: My goal is to figure out how we’re similar as opposed to how different we are.
TOBIN: OK, we're gonna go down the line with the new cast and you're gonna describe them and also tell me what you think of them.
TOBIN’S DAD: Okay.
TOBIN: Are you ready?
TOBIN’S DAD: I am.
TOBIN: Alright. First up Dad is Tan France, the fashion expert.
TOBIN’S DAD: I immediately took to him as one of my first favorites. He is this incredibly suave and articulate guy who is not pushy on the fashion-forward stuff.
TOBIN: Next up: Karamo Brown, the culture expert.
TOBIN’S DAD: He's more of a life coach. It wasn't just the "going out" culture stuff, but rather how you have your own personal sense of comfort in your skin.
TOBIN: Antoni Porowski, food and wine quote-unquote expert.
TOBIN’S DAD: Hahaha, quote-unquote!
TOBIN: Sorry, I just had to throw that in. I actually don’t have anything against him, it’s just fun to joke about.
TOBIN’S DAD: That's a tough community you're part of Toby. (LAUGHING) He's the eye candy of the Fab 5.
TOBIN: He is. He really is.
TOBIN’S DAD: I personally liked him second most, even though I already knew how to cut an avocado and make my own guacamole.
TOBIN: You didn’t need….
TOBIN’S DAD:You didn't give me anything there Antoni!
TOBIN: OK, we're gonna go to Bobby Berk, design expert. In my opinion the unsung hero of the show.
TOBIN’S DAD: I would agree with you. He has for me taken a big center stage as part of the Fab 5. I like him very much.
TOBIN: Alright, Jonathan van Ness, grooming expert.
DAD: OK I'll just tell you right now: Jonathan has too much hair for me.
TOBIN’S DAD: I realize that's his vehicle to the world and I respect it. I think there's too much hair there.
TOBIN: I'm just going to say for the record Jonathan is the best one. He is my most favorite.
TOBIN: I think one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this new Queer Eye is that there is a way that this show for you and I is like a time capsule. Because when it was first out, we were in this moment together of me coming out and you having this year of being very emotional and trying to understand. And that this show helped you in some way during that time.
TOBIN’S DAD: Yeah.
TOBIN: And I wonder with this new iteration... I don't know, I guess I'm asking like where do you think we are now?
TOBIN’S DAD: You and me?
TOBIN’S DAD: We are where this second iteration is. Which is being more sensitive to each other and basically paying attention to realizing that life just doesn't go on, on automatic. You have to pay attention. You have to, you know, care about each other and notice when something is happening. It's paying more attention to the subtleties and being present.
TOBIN’S DAD: And not just ... and I would say that would be a difference between the first and second series. The first series was, because it was brand new, it was much more about exteriors and how we look and how we present ourselves and what we make and what we eat. As opposed to what's going on in the deeper emotions and vulnerabilities. So I think the second iteration of this is taking it to that deeper sensibility.
TOBIN: Yeah. Has there been an episode or a moment that really got to you?
TOBIN’S DAD: Oh yeah, that I cried?
TOBIN’S DAD: It was when that young man, I think African-American man, came out to his step-mother at the party.
[CLIP] QUEER EYE
MAN:"So, I thought it was important to tell you my truth... that I am ... I'm gay. I wish I could share this moment with Dad and see how happy... how happy I am. And um..."
STEP- MOM: "I'm happy for you too."
TOBIN’S DAD: That really, one: hit home. But two was it was just such a human sharing in the way the mom reacted and what he had been through kind of hiding it and half-hiding it. It was... that was a remarkable, remarkable episode.
TOBIN: That coming out story also really, I found, to be very emotionally just like, satisfying and really nice to watch play out.
TOBIN’S DAD: Oh yeah.
TOBIN: I'm wondering, like you as a parent of a gay child, was there, were there things about that moment that you recognized?
TOBIN’S DAD: It did make me think back to when you told Mom and I, that Thanksgiving when you were about to go to the airport and go back to college.
TOBIN’S DAD: And that ... what was different for us was, I don't recall that any of us cried at that time but at that moment I remembered that you were sitting with Mom in the dining area when you told us about your new boyfriend, and I remembered saying to you, right out of my mouth, "Well Tobin, I can't love you any more that I do and this doesn't make me love you any less."
TOBIN: I do remember that. Yeah.
TOBIN’S DAD: Yeah, yeah. But of course then the immediate fear for me was thinking about all the patients I'd worked with and treated for AIDS. I cried for a year after that, I think I told you that. I'd pretty much cry every day driving to work. That risk of losing you, that's what really made me cry.
TOBIN: Yeah. So Dad, when I came out, you had all this experience of caring for patients who were dying of AIDS
TOBIN’S DAD: Yeah.
TOBIN: And to some degree that was your understanding of what it meant to be a gay man and that you were afraid of losing me. And I'm wondering, like, now... do you still worry about losing me?
TOBIN’S DAD: Yes. Because something can happen, life is like that, it can turn quickly.
TOBIN’S DAD: But I do know, you know, I'm happy that you have a stable relationship so I'd say my worry for you is diminished enormously. 99%. But that kind of worry for a parent never goes away completely. That I feel enormously, Mom and I feel enormously comfortable where you are with the good people that you're with, the kind of work that you do... and that gives us tremendous comfort. To see that people from the LGBTQ community can have a professional life and be accepted and create a community where they're accepted and loved and then be very proud that you and Kathy have helped move that along, and help point new directions to do that. You know, you as well as your brother and sister have exceeded our wildest expectations of what you could do to make the world better.
TOBIN: Thanks Dad.
TOBIN’S DAD: I mean it.
TOBIN: OK I have one last question.
TOBIN’S DAD: OK.
TOBIN: You mentioned that you have carried “zhuzhing” and sleeve folding from the first cast with you...
TOBIN’S DAD: That’s right.
TOBIN: ...through your life since Queer Eye.
TOBIN’S DAD: Right, right, right.
TOBIN: Have there been any tips shared by the current Fab 5 that you have also adopted?
TOBIN’S DAD: Wow you asked a tough one at the end. I'd have to say... nothing new. Yet. Umm... that I've adopted? I'd say not.
TOBIN: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. Are you saying that you are too stylish and too informed to be helped by the Queer Eye guys anymore?
TOBIN’S DAD: That's correct. That’s correct.
TOBIN’S DAD: I can only applaud their efforts to help lesser human beings.
VOX 1: Do you guys have any weird dad stories?
VOX 2: Oh yeah so my dad is super into karaoke these days for some strange reason. Every time I come home it’s just like a party all the time and yeah, I think he just has like a midlife crisis where he wants to become a singer, I don’t know. Yeah, maybe it’s just a cry for help, it’s funny.
VOX 3: Nancy will be back in a minute!
KATHY: And we’re back.
TOBIN: And we are talking all about dads, our fathers.
KATHY: Yeah,we just keep talking about our parents, don’t we?
TOBIN: We really do, I think it’s this endlessly fascinating relationship, you know, that mix of things we’ve known forever and stuff that you just start to figure out.
KATHY: And then like how weird it is when things kind of shift when you become an adult.
TOBIN: Yeah like with that maturity and distance you start to see your childhood differently and maybe you also start to see your parents differently too.
KATHY: So this was especially the case for producer Katie Schlechter. She recently decided to uproot her life and move to Mexico City to live with her girlfriend. And when it came time for the actual move, her dad came along for the ride. She knew it might be super awkward but figured she’d use the trip as an opportunity to ask some of the questions she’s always had for him.
KATIE: My dad's name is Bill. He's 68 years old and lives in Cottonwood, Arizona. And I’m about to spend the next 2 weeks with him in his Honda CRV.
DAD: I can’t wait.
KATIE: That sounded incredibly sincere.
DAD: Thank you, I tried.
KATIE: Our journey begins in New York City.
DAD: There is such a thing as too big of an apple. Lot of times the center of the universe is a black hole.
DAD: I do know that I will have an opportunity to see my favorite view of it again.
KATIE: Which is?
DAD: The rearview mirror.
GOOGLE LADY: Welcome to Connecticut.
DAD: Thank you very much.
KATIE: I always knew my dad was always different from other dads. No one else’s dad smoked a pipe while they drove them to school. No one else’s dad taught them how to use a hatchet at age 5.
GOOGLE LADY: In 600 feet keep left to continue toward I-94 West.
KATIE: Well we always have to do what Google lady tells us to do.
DAD: This is true. [In funny voice] Google Lady is the boss. Google Lady runs our life. Google Lady will take me home.
KATIE: But my dad wasn't actually around much when I was a kid. He worked long hours as an ER doctor and by the time I was in high school, he’d started drinking, heavily. He had a temper and we started arguing more and more. By the time I graduated college, I barely came home -- even for holidays. We couldn’t be in the same room together without fighting. He was just so… stubborn. Of course, so was I.
KATIE: It was my mom who held the family together. When I realized I was gay, she’s the one I came out to. And I swore her to secrecy.
MOM VOICEMAIL: Hey sweetie it’s about 3:15 just wondering what you were up to, I’m kind of driving around.
KATIE: We checked in with each other a lot; I’ve saved a lot of her voice mails. They might not sound interesting to anyone else -- they don’t contain any major revelations.
MOM VOICEMAIL: Call me back if you want.
KATIE: Just her voice, reminding me she was there.
MOM VOICEMAIL: Anyways, talk to you soon, I love you, bye bye.
KATIE: But two years ago, on a winter morning, it was a voicemail from my dad that I woke up to. My mom had had a heart attack, and died. I flew home to Arizona.
KATIE: You might imagine that in this moment, my dad and I held each other as we wept. And we did. But we didn’t exactly resolve any of our issues. After the funeral, I went back to New York and grad school and I buried myself in papers and seminars.
KATIE: The days passed and the name "Mom" kept NOT appearing on my caller ID. And in my grief, I didn't turn my dad. Instead, I was worried about him, alone in the house, without my mom.
KATIE: So I called him - every day - to make sure he hadn't fallen off a cliff. “Are you doing your laundry? Do you have food in the fridge? Do you plan to leave the house today?” Which brings us to this road trip.
KATIE: There’s a weird cloud over there.
DAD: Yeah. Many appendages. Looks like he’s got a face in the middle too. you can see the nose, eyes.
KATIE: I don’t think I’m as creative as you, I can’t see the face.
DAD: You just haven’t done as many drugs.
KATIE: When I told my dad I was going to move, he got this idea that'd he'd drive me across the country and let me store a bunch of stuff at his house. Which was a huge help, how could I say no?
DAD: I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. Ya know this is really the, the first chance that we've have to have any real time together since... you were little.
KATIE: 16 days, to be exact. Starting in New York, then Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Then across the Midwest to Cincinnati, St. Louis. Then down through Oklahoma, Texas, and finally, Arizona.
DAD: As we are approaching the state of Indiana. So we are at the Indiana state line I'm asking you when did you discover or decide or whatever that this was your orientation?
KATIE: Turns out my dad had been sitting on some questions for me… and it’s too late to bail.
KATIE: Ummmm. So, I mean, for me it started, like I started wondering in college. But freshman year of college,I.. there was a woman who was a senior who I was really drawn to, and I just figured, “Oh, I really like her as a friend,” or something, but I was just really really drawn to her. And sometime, I think it was second semester—it was toward the end of the school year, she told us—we were in some car ride with a bunch of people—and she told us that she was gay. And it was this weird, suddenly like the first feeling that came to me was this feeling of relief. And I had no idea why, it really, spooked me, I was like “Why am I relieved that this person is gay?”
DAD: Nothing to add here, I’m listening.
KATIE: Ummm...For me, over the years, dating guys, I've never been able to like, emotionally bond with them. So when I've been in relationships with men, I felt very very lonely, in a way that I didn't when I was either by myself or with my girlfriends. So for some reason, the loneliest I've ever felt in my life, has been in like, a long-term relationship with a guy. I don't know if that makes sense.
DAD: Sure it does. Yes…. OK.
KATIE: Alright, my turn.
KATIE: So, um, when I told you in November...what were your thoughts, what did you think?
DAD: Uh, to be perfectly honest with you, now that you can't get mad at your mother, I knew, already.
KATIE: She told you?
DAD: Under duress. She got off the phone with you, the summer before. And it was obvious that your mother was upset about something and it was because you were upset about something. And I said, “What did I do? You know, why are you upset, what did I do?” “No, no, it's not you, it's not you.” “What's going on? What’s going on?” ‘It's just Katie.” “What with Katie, what with Katie”—Now I'm scared to death—”What's wrong with my girl. What's wrong with my little girl? What's wrong with my girl?” “I swore I wouldn't say anything, I promised I wouldn't say anything.” And this is driving your father nuts, okay, because he's worried there's something quote “wrong with you,” OK? That you've got something bad going on. And so finally she said, “You know, well, Katie's dating a woman.”
KATIE: So my dad knew. For months. After I’d explicitly told mom not to tell him. But actually… of course she did. This move is SO my mom. And she did know my dad better than anyone.
DAD: I said, “Is that all?” She says, “Yeah, Katie, Katie's gay.” And I said, “Is that it? There's nothing wrong with her?” And she said, “No, that's, that’s it.” “Oh, ok.” And that was pretty much the end of it. I really, you know, it was fine. You know,and when you were ready, you were going to tell me and.
KATIE: But so, it's funny because I had a notion in my head, which is why I waited to tell you for a while and I don't know, I was thinking about kind of the last 'coming out process' I had had with you which was when, when I left the Catholic Church. You said, “Well, I did the same thing, I left, I went and looked at the other religions and then I realized that, you know, that this was the best one and, and you'll be back.” And I think, I guess I was frustrated with that response because for me I felt like, I guess you were assuming that my process was the same as yours or...I guess it felt like you were saying it was kind of a phase, a phase that I’d get over, just like you had, or, move through or something. So I think I was afraid that when I came out to you, that you would tell me that it was also a phase and that, that I would get over it.
DAD: I mean I understand that. [IN GOOGLE LADY VOICE] Illinois, we’re here. Welcome to Illinois! [NORMAL VOICE] Anybody that cares about you Katie, the only thing they're gonna want is your happiness, you know that. And... that's why when you wanted to bring Gisel up to the funeral I said, “Yes, absolutely.” “Well, well what about the family?” “Fuck 'em.” That was basically it and I meant it.
KATIE: Yeah, I was really surprised by that. It wasn't really the ideal time to meet my first girlfriend.
DAD: Why not? I mean, granted, you know, I was a basket case, so maybe it wasn't the best time for your first girlfriend to meet your, your father, ya know because I was pretty much useless the whole time that she was there."
KATIE: And then, just like every time it seems my dad and I are finally getting somewhere, the road interrupts us with a cosmic joke.
DAD: There it is.
KATIE: We pull into Casey, Illinois...
KATIE: World's largest wind chime.
KATIE: …home of giant objects.
DAD: There's the rocking chair too—look at this, two for one! I mean how can you beat this?
GOOGLE LADY: Your destination is on your right.
DAD: There's your wind chime and there's your rocking chair. Look at that. A twofer.
[CAR SOUNDS/DOOR SLAMMING]
DAD: Casey, Illinois has eight of the world's largest items.
KATIE: Crochet hook, knitting needles, wooden shoes, mailbox, golf tee, windchime, pitchfork and rocking chair. That's awesome. I don't know though, does this still count as a wind chime if there's a string to pull it to make it go?
DAD: Yeah because when the winds coming across it it probably blows by itself.
KATIE: You wanna let 'er rip?
DAD: Let 'er rip.
[BONG SOUNDS FROM WIND CHIME BEGIN SOFTLY AND GET LOUDER]
KATIE: My dad's face completely transforms—he's wide-eyed—legit grinning. My mom always told me about this side him, from before my brother Christopher and I were born. They'd go on these long drives, ditch the car on the side of the road, have adventures. He was spontaneous and silly and gleeful about stupid stuff.
[BONG SOUND CONTINUES]
KATIE: You like that?
DAD: [HIGH-PITCHED VOICE] That's cool! That's cool! Ok where's the golf tee, where's the, where's the where's the where's the where's the where's the mailbox? Where's the—
KATIE: You wanna see it all?
KATIE: So what happened to this guy when I was growing up?
DAD: Excellent trip, excellent side trip, okay keep an eye out for me…
KATIE: When I would come home to visit, uh, over the last few years. Like, I feel like there was always, or I always felt some, I don't know, like a..like a tension between you and me. I don't know if you felt that too.
DAD: Kind of, but you have to recognize my state of mind those last few years. OK, I mean I was... I was really in a chronic state of depression... between hating the job that I had to keep doing and, it was, it was kind of hard for me to be the person that I was. I just told that to your mother, ohhhh, probably December. I said “I think I'm almost back. I'm almost there. I'm almost back to the person that you married.” She said, "Yeah, I know, I think so too." And so it wasn't something that was, in other words, don't take it personal. It was not a, it was not a high point in your dad's life there back then.
KATIE: This is the first time my dad has talked out loud to me about his depression. It only took 1750 miles to get here.
KATIE: But it also makes me wonder, you know, that process that you were just kind of getting into and finally getting back to yourself and like, how do you think that was affected, or how is mom dying affecting that?
DAD: Like I said, there's a big chunk of me gone, and uh, I think I've told you, I don't care if I'm here tomorrow. And I don't. That's how that affects that.
KATIE: I mean, like, part of me gets that, but, uhhh I don't know, I guess I kind of, it kind of hurts my feelings a little bit, considering I'm still here and Christopher is too.
DAD: Like I said, I'm not, I’m not worried about you guys, you'll do fine.
KATIE: But that's not the point! That's not the point. And yeah, OK, we have our lives and we're living them, but, ya know, that doesn't mean we don't need you at all.
DAD: Well, ya know, it's not like I'm actively gonna do anything to, uh, hasten the process along. It's just, whatever the process is, I'm, I'm OK with. I just have a large hole in my life now and it's just there's a big chunk missing that I can't replace.
KATIE: Yeah, that makes sense.
GOOGLE LADY: In 800 feet, merge onto I-35W South.
KATIE: We’ve had this conversation before and I’ve learned that there’s no way to talk him into believing he has a purpose. Even when that purpose is me.
DAD: So everyday she hears, "I love you, I miss you and I wanna be with you."
KATIE: The next afternoon, we cross into Arizona...
DAD: We are right above Camp Verde looking down the Verde Valley. You can see Cottonwood, you can see Jerome up on the side of the mountain. And the sun is just shining down on it. So we're only about, uh, we're only about 30 miles from home now.
KATIE: You look very happy to be home.
DAD: I am. It's been a long time. I'm ready to be home.
KATIE: You might imagine that this is the point where we’d have a tearful reconciliation. That didn’t happen. But actually, in 3200 miles, we didn’t kill each other. We didn’t fight, not once. We were even able to sit next to each other in peaceful silence.
KATIE: At home in Cottonwood, we unpack the car, and I get ready to leave for Mexico.
[MUX: PIANO STARTS]
KATIE: And then the night before I go, my dad does something he hasn’t done in ages. He plays the piano.
KATHY: Alright, that’s our show, credits!
KATHY: Matt Collette and Alice Wilder.
KATHY: Melissa Lent.
TOBIN: Sound designer!
KATHY: Jeremy Bloom.
KATHY: Jenny Lawton.
TOBIN: Executive Producer!
KATHY: Paula Szuchman.
TOBIN: Special thanks to Kyle Sanna who contributed original music for this episode. I'm Tobin Low.
KATHY: I'm Kathy Tu.
TOBIN: And Nancy is a production of WNYC studios.
TOBIN: Fun fact: That other earthquake, I was pooping.
TOBIN: Set me back on the potty training for years!