Happy Birthday to my Dad, Darla

Jen P.M.
4 min readApr 12, 2023

It’s my Dad’s birthday today. She’s 76 years old and her name is Darla. She lives in Washington State with my two little brothers (yes, they’re in their forties now, but they’re still my little brothers), the youngest of which is standing next to my Dad here.

Now first, can I get some appreciation for her fashion choices here? I’ve asked for any more pictures like this; I wish I’d been there to do a full-on photoshoot with her! They were at a cherry blossom festival and the setting is gorgeous, as is my Dad. Just everything about this is art to me.

Very brief, glossed-over history: My Dad performed in show troupes in her youth as a tap dancer (went to school for over 20 years for it), then taught herself to play the drums (her true passion) and played in many a band. One of my earliest memories is dancing in a bar while her band played “Proud Mary.” :-p

She fought in the Vietnam War when she was drafted, narrowly avoiding death on many occasions. Then she came back, married my Mom, and worked 30 years in the post office while raising four kids. She worked nights and during the day did household chores… and then somehow also had the energy to take us on trips and do all kinds of fun stuff. She almost never slept (although when she did, she was dead to the world 😛).

Now, I do understand if the concept of calling my Dad Darla and using she/her pronouns feels weird… how do you think I feel? 😛 I was the consummate Daddy’s little girl. I’m still adjusting and she first told me that she was trans (and not just a transvestite as she used to call herself), back in 2001!

I also know how miserable Darla has been her entire life. At her age and in her condition (she’s had a heart attack, she was diagnosed with diabetes a while ago, etc.) she doesn’t feel full-on surgery is in the cards for her, but she finally got a doctor to start her on hormones about a year and a half ago. It’s doing wonders for her. I just wish she had grown up in a time when she could’ve been herself all along… not only for her sake but our whole family’s.

I love my Dad so much… I’ll always be Daddy’s little girl even if I’m approaching the big 5–0 myself. My Dad doesn’t mind me continuing to call her Dad (although I’m trying to use Darla more often)… as she said on the phone last night, “It’s OK, you can call me Dad. I’m your Dad! You can call me Dad, you can call me Darla, just don’t call me late for dinner!”

I wish I had videotaped the conversation she had with Andy and Jo on speakerphone last night. They seem to think it wasn’t that big of a deal but I was just struck by what a wonderful, beautiful moment I was witnessing. My trans-Dad having a conversation about the realities of being trans with my twin-trans-sons. That’s not something that happens every day!

Plus, even though visits have been few and far between, the twins shared their favorite memories with her: For Andy, it was when Grandma Darla taught him how to cook eggs. For Jo, it was a day that they were at the park and they had gotten ice cream from a truck. The three of them were sitting on a bench, just eating ice cream, on a beautiful day, not unlike today. The twins really love their Grandma Darla, as they’ve chosen to call her.

My Dad was also telling them what a great state Washington is for trans people. I’ve been so proud of Maryland for the strides it has taken for trans acceptance, but my Dad, like me, was born, raised, and lived the majority of her life here in Maryland. She says that Washington State is miles ahead of Maryland. Part of that could be the passage of time, but she says everybody respects her identity and it’s been years since she was attacked in any way. A seemingly low bar, sure, but that’s the reality of being trans.

Again, I do understand if your first reaction is one along the lines of, “That’s so weird.” But, transgender people are not a new concept. They may be to you because they felt that they had to be in the closet about it… it was this huge family secret growing up that my Dad enjoyed wearing nightgowns to bed… but to me, that was always just my Dad!

Being introduced to new (to you) concepts can be uncomfortable and downright off-putting. That’s why it’s so important that people like me, in particular, do whatever we can to “normalize” this for as many people as we can. It’s not trans-people’s responsibility to make it a safer more welcoming world… it’s ours. The so-called “normal people.”

One of my favorite quotes is from, “The Truman Show.” When asked how they could pull off this illusion, even as Truman grew into adulthood, the creator of the show replies, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”

That’s part of being human. As demonstrated at the end of that movie, however, so is pushing against old ideas, old boundaries… to whatever may lay beyond.