RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time again for StoryCorps, the project recording conversations between loved ones. Today, well hear from Tony Perri, who sat down with his 20-year-old grandson Jeffrey. In the early 1970s, Tony was a married man living with Jeffreys grandmother and their children. Then Tony told his wife that he was gay. It was something that hed been advised not to share years earlier.
Mr. TONY PERRI: I remember when I was about 17, I went to confess and told a priest that I thought there was something a little different of me, that I was attracted to men. And the only advice he gave me was be careful who you tell that to, son. So, I didnt tell anybody for another 17 years.
And the next person I told after that priest was your grandmother. I could not, in all good conscience, stay in the marriage. It wasnt fair to grandma, it wasnt fair to the children, it wasnt fair to me.
And one thing your grandmother had asked me to do when we separated was, please, never tell the children. But there reached a period of time that I had to really sit with each of the kids and just say the word gay - I am gay. But coming out to you was probably the most proudest moment Ive ever had.
You were nine years old and Uncle John and I had just split up and you came to visit me. You had asked where did Uncle John sleep. So, I was very honest with you and said, you know, Uncle John and I shared a room. I remember you asking me, does Grandma Shirley know youre gay? And then you asked me, does my father know youre gay? Does my mother know youre gay?
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Mr. PERRI: And I didnt lie to you, and thats what Ive strived for all my life, just to live honestly. In many years I did not, even though I loved Grandma Shirley very much and I loved being a father. I just felt I was not living an honest life.
Mr. JEFFREY PERRI: You know, I like to tell people that you paved the way for me. But when I came out of the closet, the first person to know wasnt you, Papa. I was, I think, afraid of, you know, what you would think. Would you be afraid for me?
Mr. T. PERRI: I was very real. I had all the
Mr. J. PERRI: Yeah. So, I didnt tell you right away. But Im so lucky to have you in my life. You are my role model and its a privilege to have you as a grandpa.
Mr. T. PERRI: Gosh, thank you, Jeffrey.
Mr. J. PERRI: I love you.
Mr. T. PERRI: Love you too.
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MONTAGNE: Tony Perri with his grandson Jeffrey Perri in Rochester, New York. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress along with all StoryCorps interviews. Subscribe to the projects Podcast at NPR.org.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.