The Top Shelf

You wouldn’t see it if you didn’t know what to look for; it is hidden, back behind the shovels, the table saw, and the Christmas lawn decorations.  It’s way up high, over your head.  You’d think it was simple really, nothing more than some wood, a few nails, and a hook or two.  That’s what you’d see.

My father-in-law Carl is a tough man, chiseled by 30 years of work on the New Jersey Turnpike.  You see, he’s opinionated, a Union guy.  You’ll ask him what he thinks, and he will tell you.  And then he’ll keep telling you.

When my husband and I started dating, we found ourselves considering the conversation he’d have to have with his parents.  At that point, my husband had only dated women; this was going to be a bit surprising for the family.  I left him the unenviable task of talking with his parents on his own, it was his relationship, and he needed to define his own identity there.  Do you get the sense that I dodged a major bullet?  Well, you’re right.

His mom cried, his dad was mostly silent, and he wasn’t sure where he stood with his family.  But, he had survived his coming-out.  We all shared Christmas together a few weeks later, and I felt no tension or uneasiness from the family.  After all, they’d known me for years, even if only as “the friend”.  But I knew they were still figuring things out inside, and had started their own journey.

Among the many and varied things I do, I’m a hockey goalie, and I’ve played for quite awhile.  The perception of this sports position is not lost on people, my husband’s folks among them.  Being a goalie, well, you’ve got to be tough right?  Maybe I had an opportunity to help dispel some of the stereotypes that existed.

We continued dating, and I continued playing hockey.  And coming over to his parents’ house to watch Jets games on Sunday (We have to BOO Mark Sanchez, you know, because he sucks).  I’ve never eaten more salsa and chips in my life.  Oh, and so much Michelob Ultra.  But I felt that we were taking our own plodding steps forward together.  Carl doesn’t talk about his feelings, he wasn’t going to say “I really support you two being together,” or anything else of the sort.  Silent Football Man Time was enough for me.

A few months later, I was helping take the cover off the pool in Carl’s backyard, a real test of patience. I’ve learned that you don’t question a Union guy.  When he says that you’re taking the pool cover off in 95-degree weather, well, that’s because it’s the smartest thing to do, no questions asked.  And no, you don’t know better.


After letting the pool cover know that it was a real sonuvabitch, Carl said, very nonchalantly, “Oh when you go into the garage, I put up a shelf for you.  I thought you could hang your goalie stuff there to dry between games.”

I told Carl that it was just sweat that had gotten into my eyes, and excused myself.  I walked into the garage and saw that he had permanently affixed to the wall, a shelf for my catcher, blocker and helmet, and underneath the shelf, a rod for hanging my chest protector, along with three hangers.  It wasn’t fancy; in fact, it was a little crude looking.  Goalies fear the top shelf; I love mine.

To this day, we’ve never talked about that shelf, Carl and I.  Four years have passed, and I’ve had a place to hang my things every Sunday.  I’d been given a place at Carl’s table, right there in the garage.

My in-laws gave the toast at the rehearsal dinner they threw for us.  Carl didn’t say much, just thanked folks for coming and wished us well.   At our wedding in October, Carl was on the dance floor the entire night.  Would you believe that he knows the entire dance to “Gangnam Style”?  Those Union guys, they sure can move.

When I talked with Carl about my participation in the Garden State Equality Walk on June 22, he wanted to know more.  He could understand the strength of grouping together to fight for what you believed to be right.  I explained that the Walk was our best chance of getting the support to override Governor Christie’s marriage equality veto; I clarified and made sure to tell my Union father-in-law that Governor Christie (worse than Mark Sanchez in his house, by a long shot) was the reason that our marriage would be downgraded to a civil union everytime we left New York and returned home to New Jersey.  That really resonated with him.  He’s donating.

Carl and I are an interesting study.  We help remind each other that there is strength in numbers, that family is a strong unit, that you can sometimes learn and change your mind about things.  He’s a friend, a mentor, a football buddy, a Union guy.  In law, he’s a father, but he’s also very much one in my heart.


I’m proud to be walking for marriage with Garden State Equality.  A wise man once helped me understand that even after you’ve been fighting for 30 years for your rights, you still don’t let people trample on you.  You have to fight back, whether it’s against the Governor of the State of New Jersey, or just the Offensive Coordinator of the New York Jets.  Some guys just don’t know what they’re talking about, right Carl?

If you are in New Jersey, we would love to have you join us on June 22, in Montclair’s Erie Park.  If you are unable to make it, we’d love to have you contribute through the link below.

I would love to see and speak with you all there!

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