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'Fairyland': Memoir of a girl raised in San Francisco's gay community

Cover for Alysia Abbott's memoir,
Cover for Alysia Abbott's memoir, "Fairyland."
WW Norton
Cover for Alysia Abbott's memoir,
Alysia Abbott with her father Steve.
Ginny Lloyd, courtesy of Alysia Abbott

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In 1973, when she was just two years old, Alysia Abbott's mother was killed in a car accident. Her father, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott, decided to raise her on his own in San Francisco as a single parent in the midst of a cultural revolution.

Alysia Abbott writes about their relationship and what it was like growing up in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS crisis in her new book, "Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father."

Abbott joins the show to talk about how she first learned her father was gay, what it was like growing up with a single gay father and why she chose that particular image for the cover of her book. 

Interview Highlights:

On the photo on the cover of her book:
"It reminds me a bit of Tatum and Ryan O'Neal from 'Paper Moon,'" a father-daughter story. He takes her and they live on the road pulling schemes. I felt that was a little bit like my father and I. We were living outside the rules of society in our own private relationship and romance. So I see that romance in the photograph."

On when she first understood that her father was gay:
"Once I entered school, I started really taking notice of what families looked like and how they looked on television and how they looked in magazines. This is what a family looked like. I knew that I didn't have a mother, which I really wanted, so I, even at some points as a child, asked my dad why he couldn't date girls. He said that he had friends who were girls but he was more interested in boys, and that was a little hard for me...felt that I wanted a family that mirrored the families I saw around me.

On her parents' relationship:
"It was difficult for me when I found the journals showing the last year of my mother's life…I was too young when she died. So here I had this opportunity to see her living, but what I was seeing was a lot of tension between my parents. That he was in love with another man, and they were still together, but this love he had for this other man was so profound for my father that he would write love letters and poems to him. I think in my mind, growing up I had believed that my mother was the one he was madly in love with. Somehow, as a child, I foolishly believed that he was so in love with her that it turned him gay. He couldn't be with another woman because my mother died and it broke his heart so much."

On imagining what her live would've been like had her mother lived:
"I spent a lot of time imagining that as a child because I believed that it was more convenient for me to imagine an alternative world where my mother had lived, my parents would stay together, my father wouldn't be gay…But if she had lived, they may have divorced. If they had divorced, I may have lived with her…I wouldn't have lived with my father, and so much of who I am today is a product of being raised by my father. And I'm happy. It was a wonderful world that he created and brought me into."

On taking care of her father after he got AIDS:
"That chapter in our lives was coming off of my spending three and-a-half years abroad…I wasn't watching him decline, so by the time he wanted me to move out, I had a very hard time processing the reality that he was so sick he could die within six months to a year, because he was my everything. He was my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, he was my whole family. Ultimately, I'm really glad I had that opportunity."