Living in a Divided Country — I mean, Family: A Love Letter

November 14, 2016

The way to show your love for someone is by respecting their privacy.

That was the ethos of the Scandinavian-Midwestern household where I grew up. Of course that was never, ever explicitly stated. Stating things explicitly is confrontational. Confrontation is rude. And worse than rude, it’s uncomfortable.

Naturally, adult relationships initially confused me. It’s tricky to figure out when someone is respecting my privacy (out of love) and when they just don’t give a shit. Because the actions of the first and the second are, in fact, identical.

This election has been tough on my family of origin. We are a divided family. I love Hillary Clinton. I’m not lukewarm. I don’t think she’s the lesser of two evils. I passionately want her to be President of the United States. (I still can’t bring myself to say that in the past tense.) My father listens to Rush Limbaugh while driving in the car or washing dishes and he checks in with the conservative internet several times a day. He did not think Trump was the best candidate. He expected to lose when Trump became the nominee. Beyond that, he’s a closed book.

It’s a dilemma. He doesn’t ask me about my views. I’m supposed to leave him to his. Those are the rules. It’s because we love each other and respect the other’s privacy, right?

Because we do love each other. My father is a kind man who helps his neighbors and tends his garden and loves to cook family meals and is always happy to see me and my kids. He sings in a mens chorus. Their concert circuit is nursing homes, the local school for the blind and a residence for adults with mental disabilities. He cares about positively contributing in his community. He does the most good — if I may borrow HRC’s Methodist saying.

And he contributes to politicians who want to repeal Roe v. Wade and to impeach President Obama and who think we’d all be safer with a gun on every hip.

I know he loves me. The hard part is, I don’t think he wants to know me.

It’s like with his parents before him — my grandparents. I knew that they loved me but there was just a narrow sliver of what they wanted to know about me. I felt they were most proud that I learned to speak Norwegian and that I married a white man. You’re studying performing arts? “Oh, my!” You went to a liberal arts school? “Oh, I see.” Then, silence. They respected my privacy.

I reached out to my dad the morning I learned that Trump will be our new president. I’m not sure why I did that except that, even as adults, we think our parents might comfort us when we’re hurting. I thought he might be kind about it and somehow help me with perspective.

I have this cockamamy idea that he will be proud of me for my intellect and for engaging in the public discourse. I’m asking myself, “What is the lesson in this election?” My curiosity has not deserted me. I refuse to blindly rage. I can be both wounded and curious at the same time.

Because there’s this yawning divide in our country. And in my family.

“What do I tell my young boys, Dad, about a man who can say and do such awful things toward women and then rise to the highest office in the land?”

“Honey, all that groping, that’s just biology. It’s always been there and always will be. It’s just a part of life, that, at some point, you have to learn to live with.”

Record scratch. What?

We had to cut the conversation short. Or he was going to be late for tai chi.

Alright, listen up, Old Man. I have loved and admired you from the day I was born. But this will not do. You are better than this.

This is my new activism. I don’t know if you hold your views because you don’t understand harassment, or, if you know, you just don’t care. And I know that I run the risk of real pain if I discover that the experience of women is unimportant to you. I know I can’t expect you to change political parties or to change anything. But I can change how I show up.

The next time you find yourself thinking that groping is just biology, please hear your daughter’s voice with this replacement thought: No woman should ever be touched without her consent.

Groping and harassing speech lives on in a woman long after a fella has enjoyed his joke — if that’s what they call it. It makes women live smaller. It leads to depression. As one of my dear friends put it: “It’s so much more than the groping, though, isn’t it? It’s the tiny cuts that amount to learned frailty and that dance of survival just because you are a woman.” Rape victims walk among us everyday. You can’t tell by looking at them.

Many women, when first asked about non-consensual touch, will tell you that they’ve been lucky and it’s never happened to them. But give them a heartbeat to think about it, and they remember their own stories. Many of us have learned to block it out from our foremost thoughts. But it’s there. And when our president-elect speaks of behaviors that we recognize, it all comes back.

This is rule breaking stuff, I know. I expect we will do this badly at first. But according to the talk of our time, Muslims are expected to look out for and report on other Muslims. So, as one of my own kind, I guess I have to take responsibility for you too.

You are not the enemy. But words matter. Don’t let your words support and enable the actions of people who cause real hurt to real women. This election must be the end of the era of keeping such opposing thoughts in privacy.

Grow, Dad. See your daughter like she has something valuable and important to say. I forgive you. I’m sorry. I love you.