Mary Wilson went back to college years after the Supremes broke up. With all the gay drama that happened during my last year of high school in 1976, I never realized how much I enjoyed formal education. But after witnessing how much college enhanced the life of my ex-lover Greg, the idea of school began to stir an excitement in me that I never thought I could feel again.
Although the idea of furthering my education became enticing, I kept thinking, “What would I look like, a forty-seven-year-old man sitting in a classroom of college freshmen? Wait a minute -- wasn’t that the premise of the sitcom The Parkers?” The UPN series was about a mother and daughter who attend college together. It starred Countess Vaughn as the bubbly daughter, Kim Parker, and Mo’Nique as the sassy mother, Nikki Parker. Mo’Nique hails from Baltimore and I used to go to her comedy club, Mo’Nique’s, during the mid ‘90’s. She even auditioned for me once when I was an event coordinator looking for stand up comics for an Associated Black Charities function. Her energy has always inspired me. I remember listening to her on a Baltimore radio morning talk show and hearing her say that one day she was going to go to Los Angeles and get a television show. She did and, in the amazing circle of life, I eventually got to work on her show as an extra. She has always looked out for her hometown. My “background” moments on her show have gotten me more recognition than most of the “regular” acting work I have done since moving to Los Angeles.
Feeling motivated to take the next step, I figured that if Nikki Parker could go back to school, so could I. I enrolled in February of 2006. Since I had enjoyed my work at Paramount in marketing and promotions, I decided to pursue a business degree with a focus on marketing. However, after I took my first English course, the writing process so thrilled me that I started writing my memoirs and switched my major to Liberal Arts to keep the door open to various career possibilities. Then it hit me -- I had always loved teaching and still loved working with kids. So, I would pursue education and work to inspire a new generation to go for their dreams.
Continuing my education has by far been one of the best choices I have ever made. School has given me a new sense of purpose, and I have a new discipline that I did not have when I was younger. My teachers give me so much respect; it helps when you are the same age as they are. They understand that you are serious about the work. Each of my writing assignments has forced me to think more about my own life and the life experiences that I have to offer.
I am a strong Aries. My birthday falls fifteen days after Mary Wilson’s and five days before Diana Ross’. If fate had dealt me a different hand and a slightly different birth date, would I by now be a well-known star? Who knows. But I have seen the reality of my life. I live alone and all of my family members live on the other side of the country. I am a single, fifty-year-old, black, openly gay man, living in a white, young, slim-obsessed Hollywood. Regardless, none of that seems to matter as much now.
When I first embarked upon my new path of education, I felt like Dorothy in The Wiz. My life had played out like a fantasy in the land of Oz and I was looking for home. Earlier in life, I had been looking for fame, fortune, and acceptance. However, it had been right inside of me all along. I had this story to tell. I had a life that spun me around like a blizzard. Along the way, I met wild and crazy characters, but also wonderful people whose lives I was able to touch. What’s more is that I got more in return.
I still remember the day I got the news of my job offer at QVC. I had my astrology chart done and the reader told me that QVC would not be the final success in my life. She said that I would discover true fame and success in my later years. That was twelve years ago. I have not yet seen my name up in marquee lights and I don’t have the National Enquirer writing about my sordid affairs. The press does not hound me at Hollywood premieres. So what is true fame and success?
Perhaps it is learning from my mistakes. Have I learned to forgive? Am I at peace? Do I know what I want to do next? Am I happy? Have I changed?
A song that comes to mind is one that Diana Ross sang during her television show An Evening with Diana Ross. Part of it goes: “I wouldn’t change a thing if I had to live my life all over.” Then Diana adds, “Well, maybe one thing….”
What that one thing is for Diana remains a mystery. And any one of us can look back on our life and think “what if?” But for the most part, I can say that I am satisfied with what my journey and my life have given me. I love my leopard-decorated home, complete with a Diana Ross and the Supremes gallery. I love that I had the opportunity to experience the original Dreamgirls on Broadway twenty-five years ago and be a small part of the film version released in 2006. I have the love of my friends and family. I have never made my mother ashamed of me. I am healthy and strong and have a passion for life. Most people I meet can walk away and feel that I am a good person. I have faced fears and have come out of the darkness. I have embraced and accepted who I am. If my life were to end today, I could not say that I have not done most of what I wanted to do. A new road stretches before me and anything is up for grabs – I need only reach for it. One thing of which I am certain is that all of my achievements have and will come from being true to Dale Madison, a human being who is artistic, inspired, talented, creative, inventive, bold, enterprising… and gay.
“You are never too old to dream or make your own dreams come true. You can always go back. It might not be the same, but hopefully the wisdom you have gained will help you appreciate the journey.”