My dad also tells me straight up that he thinks homosexuality or any sexuality that deviates from heterosexuality is a “disease.” I am a biology major, so I have tried to explain to him what sexuality means, how it is determined, and how it is NOT a disease. I believe my dad does listen, but he continues to perceive LGBTQ community as “not normal.”
Same goes with races. My dad firmly believes that Africans are “lazy” and certain races/ethnic groups/religions are “bad.” He is extremely Islamophobic. He is seriously concerned with my safety (I live in Canada) around the refugees that Canada has been accepting. Many of my friends are or were refugees and are some of the most wonderful people I know. It hurts to hear someone I love being ignorant and unaware of how exactly his behavior and perceptions are the root problems of hatred in this world.
Thankfully, since my dad and I do not live in the same country, I don’t have to deal with this issue often (only sometimes on the phone or once a year in person). But I would like to find a way to make some changes. I just don’t know if that is possible, given that my dad is 60 years old and pretty set in his ways of thinking. What should I do or say when my dad makes a racist, bigoted, and/or misogynistic comment next time? Remain silent so we can live in peace? Reason back which causes both of us a great deal of distress and stress? I’d appreciate your advice, Wendy! — Tired of the Racist Rants
I think the way to handle your father’s racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, etc., depends on what your goals are and how likely you think you are to meet them. Do you want to maintain a peaceful relationship with him? Change his mind about social issues and how he views people who are different from him? Have harmonious visits together? You probably already realize what the best way is to maintain peace and harmony with your father. You avoid confrontation about the issues on which you differ. But you want more than simply maintaining harmony. You want to elicit some changes.
Do you feel that change is at all possible for your father? You say he’s 60 and “pretty set in his ways of thinking.” Well, one way to gauge whether there might be room for change, or at least an option of his listening to you, is to ask him about his ways of thinking. WHY is he afraid of Muslims and refugees? WHY does he think certain races are lazy? WHY does he think women can only be good at sewing and cooking and not at driving? And then listen to what he has to say with an open mind — the same open mind you’d wish he would listen to you with. Maybe he will listen to you with an open mind if you give him the same courtesy (which I know is hard when what you believe you’ll hear is just a bunch of hateful -isms). And then you hopefully have a dialogue, wherein you share your feelings and examples of people who don’t fit the little boxes your father would like to put them in.
Maybe your father doesn’t change. Or maybe the change doesn’t come quickly or obviously. Maybe his thinking progresses so slowly and so quietly that you’re never aware of it and you keep dreading your visits and phone calls with him because you can’t stand to hear his ignorant comments anymore. You may even find that, as he ages, the opposite of what you hope for happens — he may become even more married to his way of thinking and he may express himself and his opposing beliefs even more disrespectfully and frequently. And if/when that happens — when you feel you’ve reached the limit of what you can withstand (maybe you’re already there) — you need to tell your father that, in order for you to continue any sort of relationship with him, you must agree to disagree and that he needs to keep remarks that belittle other groups of people to himself when in your presence.
If/when you realize that no amount of dialogue will change anything, and if you decide that you still want to have a peaceful and harmonious relationship with him, you’ll need to avoid any discussions about social issues that you disagree about and he will have to stop making his bigoted remarks. If you and he cannot do that, you have every right to cut him out of your life. I know people who do this thinking it’s the action that will finally get their bigoted parent to change, but I think they’re fooling themselves. What cutting out a bigoted family member may do though is preserve your own sanity and energy — at least the sanity and energy that would be threatened dealing with the racist rants and trying to elicit some change. Of course, cutting out a family member has its own baggage, and you’ll have to decide whether that baggage is better than the burden you carry keeping in touch with someone who makes you feel so crappy with the garbage he constantly spews. Maybe others who have been in a similar situation can speak to such a decision…
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.