Paul Cain Goes "Back to the Future!" Thanks to Mentors from his Past

 

Little Green AmwayI knew Carol Leeman vaguely when I was in high school, I think.  I believe she was one of the teachers at my high school (Antioch High, in Antioch, CA).  I was not one of her students, however.  She had a rep as a good teacher, and as a good person.  A friend – I don’t even remember who now – introduced me to Amway, that scourge of direct-marketing to many people.  Carol and her husband Rudy, a Lutheran pastor who taught Special Ed, were my “directs,” as the people above you in the chain-of-command are called.  They were lovely people who opened their lives to me and others (in Amway, you received credit for the sales of those whom you sponsored, and those that THEY sponsored, etc.).  My mother always loved and supported me, but the Leemans took a special interest in me as a person.  As teachers, they realized that I was missing out on a college education, and they (and others) encouraged me after my father’s suicide to take one last chance at a full college experience.

*  *  *

Carol, when you contacted me on Facebook last week, I was really delighted to hear from you – I guess we lost touch when you moved to Southern California, because I know you used to be on my holiday newsletter list.  But hearing from you stopped and made me think how much I owe you and Rudy.

So how do I summarize the last 30 years, since I last saw you in person?  Let’s start at the happy ending, and work our way backwards.

What’s my life like today?  Well, right now, I’m sitting in our new home in Cathedral City (next to Palm Springs, but less expensive) – we finally took possession on Valentine’s Day.  It’s Tuesday evening, so I’m just chilling out, doing laundry and watching a little TV while working on this letter (I was always pretty good at multi-tasking, much to my father’s chagrin).  I won’t work again until Saturday morning (unless my boss in Reno has something for me – I still do some paralegal work for his property management company a few hours a week, as needed).  I’m eating some grapes, and sipping a Diet Coke with Lime (fighting my weight issues, as usual).  But life is very, very good for me.  I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do, and keeping things in perspective.

It’s amazing to think that we really met through Amway, of all things.  I don’t think I ever made much money from it, but meeting the two of you as friends and mentors was incredibly important, in hindsight.  When my father wouldn’t produce the tax documents I needed to get scholarships for college, I thought I would never have a chance to go.  (Worse yet, I didn’t feel that I would really be missing anything.)  Not only did you take me under your wing, you encouraged me to dream and to grow.  When I went to California Lutheran (then College, now University), a six-hour drive from home, in September 1983, I did it sight unseen.  All I had was your recommendation (and a “half-ride” academic scholarship).  I don’t know if I would be willing to take that risk today.  But in hindsight, it was certainly one of the most transformative choices I ever made.

If I had stayed in Antioch, I’m sure I would never have left home (I was still living with my mom and brother at age 22, and had no plans to go anywhere).  College so completely changed my life that it’s difficult to explain fully.  I had already been to junior college in Antioch/Pittsburg, and had accumulated about twenty academic credits.  With those, I was able to graduate in just three years, saving about $10K in expenses (not to mention earning a living one year earlier).


While in college in Southern California, I met amazing people, including those who taught me how to play (I was a very serious young man).  I studied hard (as befits a student paying his own way who was four yearswords older than most of his freshman peers), and improved my time management skills.  I had the opportunity to make music, and learn about the technical end of it.  (I was the only person I knew who started college and ended it with the same major – Music, with an emphasis in Voice – without ever having changed along the way.)  I came out as a gay man, away from my mother’s loving but prying eyes, and sang in the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for two years – what a wonderful band of brothers!  I lost the lion’s share of my naïveté (although I still have my moments).  I was around people who “got” me, in a way very few people in Antioch ever had.

Then, a couple of months before graduation, I fell in requited love for the first time.  He lived in Phoenix, and the day I graduated (as Valedictorian!), I drove to Phoenix to be with him.  Bob and I were together for three years.  It wasn’t a good fit for several reasons, but it got me out of the “fast lane” of Los Angeles at the height of the AIDS crisis.  My naïveté would almost certainly have sealed my fate had I stayed, so this turned out to be a major blessing.  Three months after separating amicably from Bob, I met Kurt.  Next month, we will have been together for 23 years.  I can’t begin to imagine my life without him – he truly is the wind beneath my wings.

While in Phoenix, I took a legal secretary job in 1986, and stayed in that field for most of the next twenty-five years.  When Kurt and I moved to Reno in 2000-01 (he got there before I did), I decided to take a chance and learn how to deal blackjack and other casino games for a living.  I have done that when I haven’t worked in law – now for about six years.  That gave me the entrée to get a Leading the Paradejob here in the Palm Springs area, where there are several casinos.  I love dealing – even if I often am not crazy about the people on either side of the table (players and management).  It’s such a good fit for me – both the detail-oriented and the entertainer sides of my personality get the chance to express themselves.

And I wrote a book!  In 1994, I started interviewing people who had played important roles in the American lesbian/gay community from the prior half-century.  After receiving about twenty rejections letters, I finally found
a publisher, and Leading the Parade came to life in 2002.  I didn’t make any money (given my travel costs around the country, I lost money), but I am still recognized as an expert in my field, and my work has contributed to several other books on the subject.  Along the way, I met some incredible folks and talked with them about their lives – an experience that will stay with me forever.

I suffered through two crippling depressive episodes (2006 and 2008), and came out of it a strong and vocal supporter of identifying and combating depression.  (You may remember that my father committed suicide in 1982, before I left for college.  Thank God I knew that, so I could put my male ego on the shelf and get the help I needed!)  In 2010, I was unemployed for most of the year, after working for an attorney who could not be made happy by anyone.  So that year, I ran for office (County Recorder) in Reno.  I didn’t win, but I personally knocked on about 10,000 doors, and had a great time!  I’ve never stopped playing competitive tennis (although I haven’t picked up a racquet since moving to SoCal – I need to correct that omission soon).  I’m not attached to a church right now, but I was on church boards and in service with Metropolitan Community Churches in Ventura, Phoenix, and Reno for more than twenty years.  I also worked as Executive Director of the Phoenix Lesbian and Gay Switchboard for a year in the 1990s, and served as Secretary and/or Treasurer for many LGBT organizations, both in Phoenix and in Reno.  (I was also President of the Stonewall Democrats of Northern Nevada in the mid-2000s.)

While I did most of it myself – and am very proud of that – your love, support, and encouragement set my life on a totally different life path.  There’s obviously no way I could ever hope to repay that debt.  But I have tried to be a good corporate citizen in the world.  (My brother – who will be 40 next year – and I are clearly the “white sheep” of our family.)  I’m not rich financially, but I’m also not very mercenary or possession-oriented – I don’t need “stuff” to make me happy.  (My credit score is really good, though!)  I have my health – never broken a bone; never had major surgery; never spent a night in the hospital.  I’m definitely getting older, but thePaul Cain aging process has been relatively gentle so far.  I’m totally at peace with myself.  I wouldn’t want to
be anyone else.  And I think that’s all I could ask for.

You and Rudy planted a seed in me.  Such a fragile thing; it could have died so easily.  Instead, you found fertile soil.  And the rest is the history of my life.

Thank you.  Really.

Sincerely,

Paul D. Cain

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