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Memoir tells story of closeted Ohio State administrator

Karen McClintock, who is a psychologist, author and professor, traces her family history in a new memoir. Credit: Courtesy of Meredith Nini

Karen McClintock has studied secrets and families, but only recently told her own family secret — a story of her father, a former Ohio State administrator, and his secret life as a gay man.

In her newly released memoir, “My Father’s Closet,” McClintock retraces her childhood and her family’s history in Columbus, Ohio, in order to uncover her father’s identity.

McClintock will be hosting a reading and book signing, which was published by the Ohio State University Press, on Tuesday.   

McClintock is a psychologist, author, professor and consultant specializing in family secrets and shame recovery. After penning three other books about sexual secrets in families, she decided it was time to tell her own story.

She said it was in her women’s writing group that McClintock made the decision to begin “My Father’s Closet.

“I realized and confessed to them one day that I had been avoiding the book that had the most heart for me,” she said. “And that I probably ought to do that.”

Her book has been five years in the making, but McClintock’s relationship with her family’s secret began long before. After her father’s death, McClintock’s mother told her that while her mother and father had a loving and loyal relationship, her father was gay.

With this personal confirmation, she said family memories and records became clues. One major clue was her father’s relationship with Walther, an Ohio State economics professor.

“I know that also before my father died, he went through a really intimate period of grief when a ‘friend’ of his died suddenly in a small plane crash,” McClintock said. “I only had a first name for this friend whom my father went to New York with every year. And I knew that they traveled together. But, when he died, the extent of my father’s grief was very telling.”

A journal she found by chance from 1939 serves as another one of the biggest clues to her father’s sexuality, McClintock said. It indicates that he may have known as early as the age of 19 that he was gay.

This evidence — combined with her mother’s confirmation, her father’s friendship with Walther, and McClintock’s additional research — has helped her paint a portrait of her father’s gay identity.

McClintock’s family history is intertwined with OSU’s. In addition to the ties her family has to the area, having lived in Columbus, the book contains passages taking place at Columbus events, such as Upper Arlington’s Fourth of July parade and her father’s time locked in his office at OSU during Vietnam War protests in 1970. The book’s connection to OSU is part of what drew Tony Sanfilippo, director of Ohio State University Press, to the story.

“I acquired this book for the Press and I think what drew me to the manuscript the most was its unflinching portrayal of what life was like for a closeted man here at OSU in the second half of the 20th century,” he said in an email. “I’m sure we are all aware that historically the LGBTQ community was given little choice but to lie about their identity, and to have a sensitive and well-written account of what specifically that meant here at OSU and in Columbus, and not just what it meant to that individual but also to his family, seemed essential to document and share.”

McClintock said she is most excited about the opportunity to talk with people who have stories similar to her own.

“So that’s the kind of reason I’m going to take a month off and talk to people and do lectures and teaching. I want to be listening to those stories,” she said. “I want the book to really help other families who are still in the midst of the shame and the social stigma that these families suffer in America.”

 

McClintock will kick off a string of workshops and events in the area for her book with a reading and book signing this Tuesday at Barnes & Noble at 1598 N. High St at 7 p.m.

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