With nothing else on the schedule for the day, I found myself looking at some old photos recently. There was one where my dad and I were at an Opening Day Phillies game, with big smiles on our faces, hopeful for the season ahead. There was another showcasing the two of us after a long day on the beach, and a third where he had attached a wagon to his riding lawn mower and was pulling me around. I started reminiscing about each of those moments because things were much simpler back then and my relationship with my dad was immensely strong. As the past several months have progressed, I’m finding that those moments reside far in the past and the relationship has, in some aspects, noticeably weakened.
We’ve gotten into disagreements in the past just as any father and son have, but those conflicts were about miniscule things that we both moved on from the next day: staying out with friends an hour later, finishing up one last match in a video game, etc. The arguments we find ourselves involved in these days sadly don’t deal with such minute issues. As I’ve grown more invested in politics since I became old enough to vote, I’ve come to realize that my dad and I are on increasingly different sides of the political spectrum.
I suppose that’s to be expected. Seeing as he’s a 60-year-old white male, I understand why my dad has certain values and political interests that I, his 23-year-old son, don’t share. We’ve had vastly different life experiences and upbringings, I get that. But while my dad has typically kept his politics secretive throughout much of my lifetime, that hasn’t been the case within the current political climate the country finds itself in.
A staunch Trump supporter (perhaps even more so now than when he voted for him back in 2016), my dad lives up to the stereotype: he makes it a point to watch Fox News each day after work while pointing out multiple times that the “mainstream media” (i.e. anything that isn’t Fox News) is biased. To him, a Trump press conference is as important as a Philadelphia Eagles game is to me (their current performance notwithstanding).
There eventually came a point where I struggled to remain silent when my dad either brought up Trump or decided to leave his press conference on the television while our family was eating dinner. Much to his chagrin, I’d interject when something outlandish was said either during the press conferences or by my dad, attempting to sway him towards the other side using factual information backed up by legitimate sources. Of course, I learned quickly that I was fighting a losing battle each time we began “debating” (and I use that term loosely).
The debates quickly turned into shouting and insults being hurled in my direction, with me trying my best not to respond with the same ferocity although, admittedly, I failed occasionally. I was in the wrong too, but it was hard not to match his tone of voice because of the way he viewed me in those moments. No matter how logical or factual my argument was, I’d be met with the same responses: “They brainwashed you, all you do is listen to their bias and propaganda,” “That man has done more for this country than any other President and all you do is disrespect him,” “Four more years is exactly what we need, he’ll fix everything!” I think my personal favorite has been, “Do you want to live in a socialist country? Go live in Cuba and tell me how it is” even when the topic of socialism was never brought up.
I could deal with those responses. They were maddening, sure, but following some time alone I knew I’d be fine. It was the responses that belittled my intelligence that I began to take major exception to. From being called a “[redacted] idiot” to the constant “You have no idea what you’re talking about” simply because I disagreed with his views, I found myself drifting away from the man I used to look up to the most when I was younger.
I can’t even remember what the argument was about, but there was one especially bad night where our tempers flared worse than they ever have before that left me in tears in my bedroom, unsure of what steps to take next to try and mend our relationship. As a young boy, my dad taught me to stand up for myself if I was ever disrespected, but standing up to my dad felt wrong. I was lost and had no idea what to do; I didn’t know if I should swallow my pride again and apologize as I had done in the past, or wait and see if my dad would take the time to apologize to me. Call it passive aggressive, immature, or any other word you’d like to use, but my dad and I didn’t say a word to each other for a week. It took my mom forcing both of us into the kitchen for us to reconcile our differences.
While that afternoon’s mediation worked for a small amount of time, it clearly wasn’t a permanent solution as the aforementioned events still occurred. After the Eagles played the Washington Football Team on September 13th, my dad learned that the Eagles had remained in the locker room during the national anthem which, not surprisingly, rubbed him the wrong way. As I was talking to my mom about the game before dinner, my dad proudly proclaimed, “I’m done with the NFL. I’m protesting the protestors and I’m not watching another game again.”
Against my better judgment, I asked why it upset him so much that the players decided to remain in the locker room for the anthem. Following the prototypical “our soldiers died for their right to play this game for so much money, I’d love to see what would happen if I tried to do what they did at my job,” I tried to reason with him. “Their job isn’t and will never be like your job,” I began, “and the soldiers fought for our right to have a voice and protest any injustices that occur, not to simply show blind allegiance to a flag.” He didn’t have a response to my statement, and when I asked if he really wasn’t going to watch the Eagles game with me the following Sunday, I was met with a simple “No.”
While I didn’t show it, I got a little emotional—watching Eagles games together had been our thing since I was old enough to comprehend football, and it was one of things I missed the most when I was away at college. I think he later realized he might have jumped the proverbial gun; when I picked him up from work the next day, we talked about the team and the upcoming game. When Sunday afternoon arrived, we were seated next to each other watching the Eagles as we had done for the past 17 years or so. They lost, but it was still nice to share that three-plus hour period with my him. It was as if things hadn’t changed between us.
Moments like that are still prevalent in our day-to-day life, don’t get me wrong. Going to the local hardware store, helping shovel dirt for a backyard project he’s undertaking, sitting together on our deck—during these moments, we’ll throw some jokes around, have some fun, crack open a couple brewskis, and showcase what the perfect father-son relationship looks like. It’s what happens between those moments that’s become increasingly tough to swallow and what I honestly never expected to happen as I grew up around him. Between those moments, I’m seemingly not viewed as his son, but rather another example of a brainwashed college-educated left-wing nutjob who doesn’t share the same views as his old man. I’m constantly told that I’m misinformed and that voting Biden or any other democrat will lead to my quality of life significantly worsening.
This post was inspired by one written by Deborah Handover in June that I found myself relating to more and more as 2020 inches to a close. Towards the end of her piece, there’s half of a paragraph that I want to quote because it succinctly expresses how I view my dad as it relates to politics:
“I have a front-row seat to the mindset and behavior of the classic Trump supporter, and I am alarmed by what I see. It is a steady stream of misinformation that twists and bends to justify the unjustifiable, to deny the undeniable, built on an unmovable foundation of bitterness and distrust. He lives in a world completely apart from my own, rides a train of thought on which he appears to be the only passenger, and finds solace in his own discontent.”
I say “relates to politics” because this post isn’t meant to out my dad as a typical Trump supporter. He’s a blue-collar husband who has done everything he can to give my mom and I a great life over the past two-plus decades. He’s always there to lend a hand to his friends and family whenever they need it. He doesn’t fly any variation of the Trump 2020 flags that you can find out in the wild, he would never join or advocate for a group like the Proud Boys or the Three Percenters, and he doesn’t own a Make America Great Again hat or bumper sticker. He’s not racist or misogynistic and he shares none of the values that Trump personifies each and every day. Yes, I too often wonder how someone can support Trump if they share none of his values, but that’s a case study for a different day. Maybe you’d argue that my dad is actually all of these things and I’m just too blind or loyal or stupid to notice; fair.
All of this is to say that the only time we clash is when we engage in a political conversation. I imagine that’s the case for many other people around the country, and there’s no easy way to gauge what the appropriate response is considering the negative ramifications that four more years of Trump would bring. Do you cut the other person off completely, never speaking to them again? Do you concede that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, even if some of those opinions could have potentially dangerous consequences? Do you find some option in the middle?
After yet another recent outburst when I was trying to explain mail-in voting to him, I’ve finally accepted that I’ll never change my dad’s mind about anything political. He’s deeply entrenched in his beliefs, and no amount of research I present to him will persuade him to switch sides. I can definitely envision more disagreements over the next four weeks leading up to Election Day and then in the following weeks after Trump inevitably contests the election results. Our relationship won’t be 100 percent perfect like it once was ever again.
At the end of the day, he’s my dad and he’s the only one I’ll ever have. You can argue that I’m showcasing my privilege by not completely cutting him off and, yes, I can totally understand why you’d make that argument. As a mid-20s heterosexual white male with a college degree, anything Trump does likely won’t affect the way I live. I won’t risk being deported, I won’t be disproportionally targeted by police officers because of the color of my skin, I won’t be shunned because of my sexual beliefs, I’ll never have an issue finding a job or finding a place to live; the list can go on and on. That isn’t the case for some of my friends and other people that I know, not to mention that millions of people around the country that I don’t know.
If you take anything from the previous 1900 words, I hope it’s to take advantage of your right to vote over the next several weeks. As Handover so kindly noted in her article, “The only — only — solution is to outnumber him” with “him” representing the typical Trump supporter. Because I know someone will condescendingly ask, I obviously want you to vote for Joe Biden and the other democrats that are running; I don’t think the democratic party in its current form is perfect, but it’s better than the alternative.
In a speech that Greta Thunberg provided for the opening track of the The 1975’s latest album, the 17-year-old activist stated, “Now is not the time for speaking politely or focusing on what we can or cannot say. Now is the time to speak clearly.” While the speech was in regards to climate change, the statement can be attached to the current political climate we find ourselves in. Vote, strongly encourage others to vote, and help people vote if they need assistance. Whether you mail your ballot, deliver it to a local drop box, or fill out a provisional ballot at your polling location on November 3rd, voting is the only way anything in this country can change for the better. We can’t fix everything at once, but we can take a giant first step.