I Could Hate You If I Didn’t Love You
Caring for the ‘enemy’
My dad and I couldn’t be a better microcosmic embodiment of the social, political, ethical, and moral polarities presently and historically dividing this country than if we’d been created in separate test tubes by a mad social scientist. Though we share DNA, our stark differences throw a real monkey wrench into the nature vs. nurture argument in determining personality and character, among other things.
In short, I’m not ‘a chip off the ‘ole block’ I am more like the proverbial axe taking a swing at the entire family tree with its long branches of ignorance, racism and denial of social responsibilities. At the very least, I’m going to carve my initials deep into its bark before I’m through.
I’m what my dad and much of his ilk would refer to as a ‘bleeding heart liberal’. Believe me, it’s not meant as a compliment and it’s been a painfully apparent fact of judgement, at least for my dad, since I was a very young girl.
Growing up, many nights around the supper table ended in the mutual and muttered grumblings of a stalemate — a ceasefire between him and I concerning the topics of a woman’s right to equal career opportunities and pay, along with the swirling undertow of persisiting racial and social inequality amid the sluggish, if not stalled civil rights movement of the 1970s.
The ceasefire between us was imposed and enforced by my mom whose political hand she held close to the vest.
There’s no sugarcoating the facts, my dad was and is what I have come to think of as a general racist, as well as misogynist. Before you assume I’m qualifying or mitigating his racism or sexism in any way, hear me out. Generally speaking, he’s the sort of racist/sexist who makes broad, sweeping and usually detrimental assumptions and judgements about a particular race of people, blustering and complaining about them from the privacy of his own home and/or among other likeminded fellows.
However, if and when a general racist is confronted by a face to face encounter with the object of his discriminating judgement in the form of an individual separated from the target group, and such person is (as is always the case) in stark contrast to the stereotype he has been taken for granted to be, well then, there is a chance my father will concede to the exception before him but, will retain his generally racist conclusions and stereotypes regarding all others in the target group he has yet to encounter.
Racism such as this is impersonal, deep-seated, cowardly and unchallenged by it’s host; thus it’s easily and purposefully fed by the likes of radical conservative interests and allied media outlets.
I’m deeply disappointed in him in this regard and this creates an undercurrent of conflict and uneasiness between us.
He is on the opposite and confounding ground of a self-delusional moral knoll which I’ve yet been able to delineate to my standard of accuracy due to the faulty logic and reason, complex layers of hypocrisy and the countless contradictions buried deep within this ‘tail-wagging-the-dog’ type of thinking.
And so, there is an electrically charged fence always running hot with interference between us and neither one of us can listen long to the other. We, or rather I, must step gingerly through the mine field of the current political landscape or else risk being emotionally blown apart.
Yesterday, my innocent comment of empathy and compassion regarding the uniquely untenable position the Puerto Rican/Americans find themselves in post Hurricane Maria brought a storm of blustery defense of Trump and his administration from my father. His tirade sounded perfectly scripted by the endless hours of Fox News programming he ingests every single day.
Last week, it was his assessment of the NFL football players’ protest actions during the playing of the national anthem when they “took a knee” whereas, he came to the conclusion the players were ‘disrespecting the flag’. Of course, we disagreed but with unaccustomed patience and strange restraint, I reminded my father of my service to our country and when I swore to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, I did so for everyone, for every American citizen regardless of what I personally thought of their reason to exercise their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and protest because this is what it’s supposed to mean to live in a free society.
Unlike me, my father spent not a day of his life in military service to his country. I’ve wondered if there isn’t a kernel of guilt burrowed in the loam of his reasoning like a grain of sand which has hardened into this shiny faux pearl of conservative doctrines he’s swallowed hook line and sinker.
I want to rub this vulnerability clean and make him see the folly of his beliefs but, for the sake of my mother and the household peace, which is already far too precarious in infirmity of mind and body, I retreat to my corner with my perpetually bloody tongue.
I might have easily lost my mind and begun shouting at him and upon realizing how dangerously close I was to stepping on that emotional landmine, I clamped down hard on my jaw and kept silent while trying to find anywhere but on his face to rest my eyes.
‘I could hate you if I didn’t love you,’ I thought to myself as tears burned behind my eyes. I’m sure he felt much the same way towards me in that moment.
Warning: politically sensitive digression interjected below
I think my dad may be unaware he is supporting some bastardized form of manipulation disguised as last-gasp patriotism because he is so absolutely brainwashed with a regurgitated and twisted version of American patriotism as understood and defined by the Fox News Brethren of Programmers whose roster must be filled with fearful, impotent, middle-aged white men and women courting bruised, over-inflated egos and distorted perceptions of freedom, race, power, and gender. The patriarch is drowning in its own vitriol and delusion and who shall they draft to captain the ship but a shallow buffoon with neuroses so numerous as to outweigh one hundred times any accidental finding of moral character one may erroneously attribute to him but, I digress…
Nevertheless, the situation we find ourselves in has demanded we establish neutral ground. The common ground my dad and I have found upon which to meet is the need to care for my beloved mother, his wife and sole mate of 62 years. This need unites us in our cause but it is demanding, unrelenting and my dad’s health and stamina is fair, at best, although his mind is reasonably intact (if you discount the tampering done to it by Fox News and the like) he’s grown more and more dependent on me for help and though he can ill afford to alienate me, he cannot help himself from regaling me with unsolicited political and social opinion on some days.
It’s tedious but imperative this rigorous practice of separating him from his political allegiances. But there remains a shadow of unwilling complicity which hovers over me in my dedication to caring for him. Even while I do so I remind myself that he is entitled and must be afforded the same freedom to be as ignorant or as enlightened as he chooses, just as I am.
A final thought
Our neighbor, a WWII Navy veteran, and later an Air Force veteran was laid to rest this week at the age of 91. At the cemetery, while I stood at attention and saluted his service to our country, I remember thinking how substantive, honorable and redemptive this man’s life was compared to someone like Donald J Trump’s life. For my neighbor the tenets of freedom and democracy meant something beyond his own life and comfort. Standing behind his widow and sons, I asked myself how we could have gotten it so desperately wrong as to allow a man like Trump to hold the highest office in the country while supplanting the honor, dignity and legacy of loyal service of thousands of men and women just like my neighbor? I’m certain I’ll wait a long time for a satisfactory answer.
I know I’m cutting my dad short today but, as I write this I simply don’t have the desire or patience to redeem my father by citing his confounding qualities of character which would contradict my anger and disappointment in him with pride and affection, not today, anyway.
© S Lynn Knight, 2017