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Love Lost, Truth Found: In Pandemic Isolation, A Father Comes Out To His Daughter

Jul 17, 2020
Originally published on July 17, 2020 9:18 am

In the late 1950s, Kenneth Felts met a young man who became the love of his life.

Felts, now 90 years old, had not revealed that relationship to his family until a few months ago, when he finally told his daughter, Rebecca Mayes, that he is gay — a secret he'd been keeping for more than 60 years. It happened in mid-March, when Felts was quarantining because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The two spoke about Felts' first love, Phillip, during a remote StoryCorps conversation from Arvada, Colo., this month.

"Being alone drug up all these memories from the past," he said.

That's when he shared with his daughter.

"One night you told me you were sad because you had lost the love of your life," Mayes, 48, said.

"And that's when I came out to you," Felts said.

Mayes, who is also gay, says she and her wife are thrilled that Felts can be himself now.

Felts met Phillip when they were in their 20s. Both worked at an insurance company in Southern California, and Phillip offered to help teach Felts how to do some paperwork required for their job.

"When I met Phillip, to me he was the perfect person," Felts said. "Of course, I guess that's what everyone thinks of their first love. We just kind of blended into each other."

Their romance developed quickly, over coffee and weekend excursions driving around California. After a few months, the two moved in together.

They were together for about two years, but that changed one Sunday. Felts and Phillip were at church near Long Beach, where Phillip sang in the choir.

"I sat in the pews, and it occurred to me that I was sitting in a place that condemned our behavior," Felts said. "I had to make a decision. And I made the wrong decision."

"It was not until I got the divorce from your mother — first thing I did was go through all the phone books, trying to find Phillip," he told Mayes. "But I was unable to find him."

Looking back, Mayes remembers her dad getting emotional one day when she was in high school.

"You had gotten all dressed to work in the garden, but you just sat crying for a while," she recalled. "I asked you what was wrong, and you said something about, 'Oh, just stuff in the past that doesn't matter anymore.' Do you remember what you were crying about?"

He'd been crying about having left Phillip, who died in 2013.

"I just wished we had found him sooner," Felts said.

Mayes asked her dad what he would've said at the time if he had found out that Phillip was alive.

"I would have apologized for the decision I made," Felts said.

"My guess would be that he forgave you long ago, and I just wish you could forgive yourself," Mayes said. "Would you entertain having a boyfriend?"

"Oh, absolutely," Felts said. "Hopefully, they will consider my age as only a number and not a date for the undertaker."

Mayes asked her dad what he thinks she should know as she goes through the rest of her life.

"Being yourself, not hiding as I have," he told her. "Because I have found out how much love there is out there that just keeps pouring into me, day after day. And I thought I was doing great, until I came out and started to discover what it means to be free."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jey Born.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. In the late '50s, Ken Felts met a young man and fell in love with him. Felts is 90 now. He kept that relationship a secret for more than 60 years, until a few months ago, when he finally told his daughter, Rebecca Mayes.

KEN FELTS: On March 13, we all went under quarantine, and being alone drug up all these memories from the past.

REBECCA MAYES: One night, you told me that you were sad because you had lost the love of your life.

FELTS: And that's when I came out to you.

MAYES: What do you remember about him?

FELTS: When I met Phillip - to me, he was the perfect person. Of course, I guess (laughter) that's what everybody thinks of their first love. We just kind of blended into each other. But one Sunday, we went to his church because he sang in the choir. I sat in the pews. And it occurred to me that I was sitting in a place that condemned our behavior. I had to make a decision, and I made the wrong decision. And it was not until I got the divorce from your mother - first thing I did was go through all the phone books trying to find Phillip. But I was unable to find him.

MAYES: I remember this day when I was in high school. You had gotten all dressed to go work in the garden, but you just sat crying for a while. You know, I asked you what was wrong. You said something about, oh, just stuff in the past that doesn't matter anymore. Do you remember what you were crying about?

FELTS: Having left Phillip. He died a couple of years ago. I just wish we'd found him sooner.

MAYES: If we had found out that Phillip was alive, what do you think you would have said?

FELTS: I would have apologized for the decision I made.

MAYES: My guess would be that he forgave you long ago, and I just wish you could forgive yourself. Would you entertain having a boyfriend?

FELTS: Oh, absolutely. Hopefully, they will consider my age as only a number and not a date for the undertaker.

MAYES: (Laughter) What do you think it's important for me to know and do as I go through the rest of my life?

FELTS: Being yourself, not hiding as I have - because I have found out how much love there is out there that just keeps pouring into me, day after day. And I thought I was doing great until I came out and suddenly discovered what it means to be free.

(SOUNDBITE OF FABIAN ALMAZAN AND LINDA OH'S "PALOMA")

KING: Ninety-year-old Ken Felts talking to his daughter Rebecca Mayes in Arvada, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FABIAN ALMAZAN AND LINDA OH'S "PALOMA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.