It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “Ashamed of My Dad” who felt very betrayed by her father voting for Trump and wondered how to reconcile that betrayal and her love for him, as well as how to deal with him while visiting over the holidays. Her update is below.
So I ended up talking to my dad about the election over the holidays while I was home for a few days, as well as some hurtful things he’s said to me over the past few years. When I was younger we had a decent relationship, but the older I get the more strained it has become. For example, when I broke up with a verbally abusive and alcoholic ex-boyfriend he said: “Well, have you thought about YOUR role in all of this?”(I had talked to my dad about a lot of our issues prior to breaking up, and had really used him as emotional support during what was a really shitty year, which made that comment extra hurtful and has made me distance myself from him some). He says things like that every so often. I think that our issues outside of the election just amplified the betrayal I felt about him voting for Trumpelstiltskin after saying he wasn’t going to vote, since my feelings towards him were already kind of raw.
It didn’t go well, unfortunately. When I mentioned some of the things he had said that really hurt my feelings, he denied ever saying them, and only acquiesced that it was possible he had said them when my mom stood up for me. Talking to him can be kind of difficult, because he has a tendency to deny having ever said things, or that I “took them the wrong way” or “he didn’t mean it like that.” He also has a tendency to paint women as “crazy” when they have emotions, so talking to him often means having my own father talk to me like I’m an irrational harpy. I’ve tried getting him to go to therapy as a family before when I was in my early 20’s, which he wouldn’t do, so I’ve gone on my own to try and figure out the best way to have a relationship with him, but it’s still frustrating. I know he loves me, in that he would go to the ends of the earth if I were in trouble, but emotionally I’m not sure how to connect with him anymore.
When I tried talking about different points about politics, it turned into a rant against black people (“They need to stop playing the victim card!”), immigrants (“I’m sick of them coming into this country. I’m SICK of it.”), sexism doesn’t exist, and that he’s “tired of being blamed for everything because he’s a white man”! I would ask him to elaborate or explain his position better, but he mainly brushed it aside or would talk about unrelated topics. He tried to downplay things I brought up, such as sexual harassment at work, by saying that he experiences more sexual harassment than women do. I’m not saying men can’t be sexually harassed, but I am saying that it tends to happen to women more than men, which he was trying to deny. It ended with him saying (about my non-white, first generation boyfriend who is kind, incredibly bright, gentle, and good to me): “You know, I don’t know how compatible you and your boyfriend can be, since you come from such different backgrounds.”
So it didn’t really go that well. He told me he’s not a racist or sexist, and that voting for Trump didn’t make him one, so I said, “Ok, since that’s the case, will you call your representatives or say anything if he tries to pass laws that are unjust? I think that’s our responsibility.” And he didn’t say anything in response, so I’ll take that as a “no.” It seemed like his main reason for voting for Trump was that he “couldn’t let Hillary get away with ‘it.'”
On the other hand, my mom and I don’t agree on everything politically, but I feel like we can have a respectful debate and we’ll listen to each other’s points! She has even changed her mind over the years about things like LGBTQ rights! We send a lot of political emails, and I know my dad reads them, so I’m hoping that maybe something clicks with him.
My boyfriend had a pretty awkward holiday experience, too. His whole extended family immigrated here about 30 years ago, and his aunt’s white boyfriend was at dinner. He’s apparently been really nice in the past, but went on an anti-immigrant rant at a table full of immigrants, declared that “Trump won,” and that he “guesses he’s a racist,” and dropped the N-word several times in front of my boyfriend’s black mom. So I guess he thinks that’s OK now, since Trump is president…
I guess that’s the update. I feel like I’ve written a lot, but also not enough, because how can you accurately/fairly condense a relationship into a letter, while also throwing the burning dumpster fire that is current American politics into the mix?
Thank you for your advice, and the action plans, Wendy! As this presidency goes on, I’m sure my dad and I will have more debates…
Oh! Also when I was talking to my dad about illegal immigrants — “What about children who were brought here when they were small, know no other life, and had no choice in coming here? Wouldn’t it make sense to give them the opportunity to become part of the society they grew up in?” — my dad responded with: “Well, their PARENTS had a choice.” Who is this person saying these things??? — Still Ashamed of My Dad
Shortly after Trump was elected, I was pretty adamant about how it was the responsibility of those of us with Trump-voting family members and friends to talk to them about our feelings and try to bridge the great divide in our country. In the almost three months since the election, I’ve changed my stance a bit. I still think it’s important to talk to the Trump-supporting people in your life, but only if they’re reasonable people whom you believe could be receptive to hearing opposing views and may even change their own views and behavior. How can you tell if they are? I would think by this point in Trump’s presidency, which has only been ten days but has already been so momentous, if a person has any chance of seeing the light, he would be have seen it by now. Are the Trump supporters you know, including your dad, SAOMD, showing any kind of buyer’s remorse? Have they expressed any disdain at all for the unconstitutional and inhumane orders Trump has signed, for the raging racists he’s nominated for his cabinet, for the obvious conflicts of interests he’s ignored, or the batshit crazy-ass tweets he can’t stop with? Do they seem at all phased by the fascist way he’s discrediting the media, or his obsession over the results of an election he won, or his silence over the mass increase in hate crimes in his name? What about his budding bromance with Putin? What about how he fired our acting Attorney General for disagreeing with him and suggested that anyone else who disagrees with him should step down from their posts? Does any of that bother them? If none of this alarming, dictator-like behavior raises any concern with them, then it’s probably safe to assume that, unless something Trump does directly hurts them, they’ll remain unmoved and there’s nothing you can say or do to affect them.
It sucks when you realize someone you care about is either so brainwashed, so willfully ignorant, so racist/sexist/xenophobic, or so totally apathetic to not care about the sanctity of our democracy, to say nothing about the state of humanity and our environment, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. In the interest of your relationship with your dad, I would suggest that as long as you feel outraged by the state of our country and our government, which he is partly responsible for by voting for a monster, you limit the amount of time you spend with and talking to him. You say that you don’t know how to connect to him, and so maybe you just don’t. Maybe you let your history together be connection enough to maintain a surface-level relationship, and the role he played in raising an independent-thinking, strong woman be the light by which you view him when you need to think well of him.
You can still love your dad while acknowledging he’s flawed — that his way of thinking is deeply disturbing. Save the “respectful debates” for your mother, whom you say is reasonable, and keep conversations with your dad on more superficial topics that aren’t guaranteed to divide you further since you know that deeper-level talks are fruitless with him anyway.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.