Roy Exum: The Lesbian’s Daddy

Friday, December 15, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ve always held the belief that things work out for the best. Oh, I’ve been in some tights where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees but, in the up-and-down life I have lived, I’ve found that God doesn’t make mistakes. If I’ll just hold on long enough, no matter how bad the circumstances, something good will happen. It always does.

One of the best examples I have seen lately came into view in the final days of this week’s election for Senator in Alabama. As you have heard, Democrat Doug Jones beat Judge Roy More in what is believed to be an upset. One night just before Tuesday’s election, when Judge Moore was holding a rally, a 74-year-old peanut farmer from Wicksburg, Ala., Nathan Mathis, showed up on his own. No political machine. No public relations group. No shill to draw a crowd.

Nathan just stood there. He was wearing well-worn blue jeans, a windbreaker and his sweat-stained ball cap. Outside the tent where Roy was pleading his case, Mr. Mathis held a homemade cardboard sign, along with a picture of his daughter wearing her basketball uniform. He did so totally unashamedly. The sign read, “Judge Roy Moore called my daughter Patti Sue Mathis a pervert because she was gay. A 32-year-old Roy Moore dated teenage girls aged 14 to 17. So that makes him a pervert of the worse kind.”

Like an army of ants, the media descended on Nathan – bright lights, whirling cameras -- and by the next morning everybody in Alabama knew Patti Sue Mathis was a lesbian. Most were also wondering why in the world would a father do that to his child? “I just believe Patti Sue would have appreciated what I did,” he said … and as he did so it was with wisdom far beyond his years.

By now you know Judge Moore is well known for his homophobic rants. He once said homosexuality should be illegal – an opinion shared by virtually every farmer in the state. Hey, and this most especially in South Alabama where Wicksburg, 15 miles the far side of Dothan, is surely among the most conservative villages in all of America. But, ah, the backstory on this one should be a Hollywood movie because it would earn an Oscar.

Patti Sue – or “Peppermint Patti” at Wicksburg High School -- where her scoring records still stand today, was everybody’s favorite in high school – boys and girls – but just before she graduated, she found she was a little different. Confused, scared and mortified with her truth, she sent a friend to break her discovery to her dad. He will never forget it.

“When I confronted her, she admitted it,” he told the Daily Beast reporters. “I said bad things to her. Because I had been to church all my life, and sat there many times and heard preachers preach against gay folks from the pulpit. She even heard it. She went to church from when she was a small child right on up. It’s just something I couldn’t believe. I had sat there all those years and not known my daughter was gay. When I found out I said mean things to her. It’s because of the way I had been taught. I even went so far… I told Patti that I’d rather my child was dead rather than have a gay child. I regret I said that very much -- but I did say that.”

His anger and disbelief broke Patti Sue’s heart. “It hurt her real bad,” he said. “When I came back home that day from work, she had moved out of the house and moved over to a friend of hers’ house. She stayed there about three months.”

One day she came to her daddy and told him she didn’t want to be gay anymore. “Will you help me get some help?”

“She was crying. I said, ‘I sure will,’ and this shows how naïve I was about it, I called up the UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, and made an appointment, and took Patti up there.”

The psychiatrists “did all kinds of tests on her that day,” he said and finally there came one afternoon when a doctor called Nathan and Patti Sue into his office and said, “Young lady, there is not a thing we can do to you. You can’t help the way you are.”

Mathis thought, “Man, this doctor must be crazy, he doesn't know what he’s talking about,” but the father and daughter saw other doctors and psychiatrists “and they all told Patti,” her dad said in the Daily Beast interview, “’You can’t help the way you are. You're who you are. There’s nothing we can do about it.’”

“That just opened my eyes a little bit,” said Mathis. “Instead of her being in the wrong, I was the one in the wrong.”

Not long after, the father and daughter made up. Love was quick to return until one day, when Patti was 23, she didn’t respond to neighbors knocking on her mobile home door. Her father was the first to find her right after she took her life. “I felt terrible. I still do feel terrible about it,” he told the Daily Beast. “I felt like I had failed my daughter. But once that happened I couldn’t change anything. I had no more control over it any more. I just had to live with it. And so do I sit and watch Roy Moore keep lambasting gay folks? Or do I try and do something about it? Somebody needed to do it, and so I did it.”

Oh, if only it was that simple. About five years after Patti died, Nathan got another horrible call. Patti’s oldest brother Joey, married with two children, was dabbling in crystal meth. For whatever reason Joey Mathis took a couple powerful opioids at the same time he was jacked up on meth, “which messed him up. That paralyzed him. He needed to roll over and throw up his vomit, but couldn’t. So he drowned in his own vomit.”

“He was a real nice, handsome young man, married with two children,” Mathis said in stark candor, “and what made him try crystal meth I don't know, but once he did it was out of his control from then on. That drug had control over him.”

Last week when Mathis stood in memory of his daughter, he was an old man. His children dead, there he stood alone. He was holding up a homemade sign, because it was all he knew to do. “When Patti Sue died, she knew that I loved her,” he said. “We had made our peace about it. I had told her I was sorry. I believe she had forgiven me for my actions. I really honestly believe that.”

So he waved that sign in support of what … the LGBT community. “Somebody had to do it. So I did.”

“I will do anything I can do to help. All people need to realize that what happened to my child… it could be your child next or your grandchild. Don't do like I did. You need to hug their neck and say, ‘Look, you are who you are, and I love you regardless.’

“We need to realize that gay folks have rights just like people who are not gay and we need to quit letting politicians lambast gay folks every time they have an election, trying to get votes. That's all it is. Most of it is hypocritical by politicians, anyway.”

How’s that? At age 74 Nathan Mathis took a stand. Yes, for Patti Sue but, at the same time, he did it for himself. Today he is, at long last and finally …

Free.

royexum@aol.com


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