Not My Father’s Son: Who I Am and What I Stand For
Over Thanksgiving, I had a heated argument (read: screaming match) with my father over his political views in front of my immediate family and several uncles and aunts. Needless to say, some f-bombs were thrown.
Before diving in though, I want to be perfectly clear: I am not trying to shame my father in any way, although he might interpret it as such. To me, retelling this story is a useful exercise in putting pen to paper on what I believe in and the values that I stand for through my opposition to my father’s views.
The Shitshow That Was Thanksgiving Dinner
To start with, my father is a Republican, big-R. That’s the party he votes for and identifies with, and although he calls himself a “staunch Republican,” I have serious doubts as to whether he actually knows the import of those words. He’s also a retired engineer, with an undergraduate degree from USC and a graduate degree from Cal. Poly. Pomona, so he’s educated. And he’s super religious.
Because of that, I never asked him about the election, and purposely avoided any political discussion, for fear that he would accuse me of laying a trap for him.
Instead, he volunteered information regarding his vote for Trump to my Uncle Steve, who is both a Veteran and of Japanese descent. (In fact, his father was interned during WWII.)
“… I voted for Trump,” my dad said before glancing over to me. Whether it was to gloat or not, I didn’t care.
But boy was I livid. Yes, I know that he and I are from reliably blue California, so his vote was not determinative in any way (thank goodness). The reason why I was livid was because I asked him for his rationale and his thoughts on a wide range of issues and how they impacted his decision to vote for Trump. This lasted an excruciating and exhausting two hours.
And it was clear from his answers that he simply didn’t care about any of these items. His opinions primarily flowed from his evangelical christian theology. Not facts. Not campaign promises or other policy positions. Everything flowed from his faith — something that I can’t intellectually rebut, because it’s his belief system. A belief system that he thinks pits Christianity against Islam, and that justifies misogny.
These are my conclusions about my father from Thanksgiving dinner:
- He is Islamaphobic and he believes that America is a “Christian Nation,” which should wage a religious war against Islam and justifies a ban on Muslims and registry;
- He is a misogynist who believes that women (including my mom) should be subservient, according to his conception of faith and Christianity;
- He lacks even a bare-bones or “basic” understanding of American civics, from the bedrock Separation of Church and State to how our system of Checks and Balances work;
- He lacks an understanding of the history of this country regarding race and the treatment of minorities, as well as the world at large;
- He is your average uninformed (not stupid, just uninformed) American consumer of fake news outlets in that he only seeks out stories that confirm his Islamaphobic, misogynistic Evengelical Christian theology, regardless of how repugnant, racist or xenophobic those news sources are, including those that peddle in White ethno-state ideology;
- His being a minority is not dispositive in his mind, because: (1) Congress wouldn’t let Trump do anything to Asians (despite the fact that Republicans control Congress, and despite the fact that Trump surrogates are already utilizing Japanese internment as a legal precedent for a Muslim Registry); and (2) “God won’t let that happen” (after I informed him that Republicans will, in fact, control Congress during the new administration); and
- Every single one of his political views are antithetical to the values that I cherish and hold dear.
And as much as it pains me to write this — I am not my father’s son.
Race, Religion, and History
My father is an immigrant as are (almost) all Americans. He was 13 years old when he fled from Hong Kong to the U.S. in the late 1960s (along with my grandparents and his siblings). Before that, they lived in comfort in HK, but China was undergoing a period of substantial instability with the government taking various industries and imprisoning and/or killing dissidents and academics. This was China under Mao’s Cultural Revolution. So they immigrated to the U.S. and worked very hard to build a life here.
With all of that in mind, I simply couldn’t reconcile how he could vote for someone whose campaign platform was so rooted in anti-immigration, xenophobia, islamaphobia, and misogny. Little did I know, Trump was right up my dad’s alley on all of those fronts — and mainly because of his religious zealotry.
“Dad, you do know that YOU’RE an immigrant and a minority, right? And that you don’t have a place in Trump’s America,” I asked, admittedly enraged.
My dad’s response was a resounding “Yeah, I know I’m Chinese,” but nothing else. Just a blank stare, as if so what?
This baffled me that he could vote against his self-interest in such a nonchalant manner. After all, Trump wants to build a wall and he wants to register an unpopular minority group.
Unlike my father, I’m not religious at all. I grew up going to Church, but have largely shunned any religion because I found it antithetical to my beliefs. Love and compassion, equal rights for all, the protection of civil liberties. This clash of world views came to a head in 2008 when my parents’ church advocated for the passage of Proposition 8 in California (which banned marriage equality). My parents personally picketed and spread despicable lies about the LGBTQ community being child rapists and molesters (e.g., my dad forwarded articles from the notorious “Dr.” Tam). Needless to say, it’s been more than a decade since I’ve been to Church, and my relationship with my parents has been strained.
When it came to being a minority though, I thought my dad would understand. After all, his skin was the same as mine and his eyes were just as slanted. He must have experienced discrimination and I thought he would understand growing up in America being one of the “others.” I thought that he wouldn’t want others to be treated that way.
“None of that’s going to happen to us,” my dad said, referring to Asians.
Again, I was exasperated.
I responded that “Trump’s people are already pushing for a registry of Muslims, citing to Japanese internment as legal precedent, and you’re saying that they won’t do that to us? If they do it to one minority, what’s going to stop them from doing the same — or worse — to another minority?”
My dad looked over at me, and again gave me that dumbfounded look which seemed to suggest a, “so what?”
“Congress wouldn’t let Trump do that to Asians,” my dad said emphatically.
I was incredulous, and quite literally pulling at my hair. I told him that the election meant we would have a unified government where the presidency and Congress were both controlled by the same party — Republicans, so it was highly unlikely that Congress would act as a strong check on executive power.
His response was even more exasperating, “God will protect us.”
Are. You. F@#king. Kidding. Me.
“Dad, really, you’re going to say that God will protect us? How about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, did God protect us then? Or how about Japanese Internment during WWII, did God protect Japanese Americans then?”
Nothing. No response whatsoever.
Then a few seconds later, my dad said “Stop trying to convince me about Hilllary, I would’ve never voted for her!”
“Dad, you already voted. I’m not trying to change that. I’m just trying to understand why you voted the way that you did,” I responded.
Again, no response.
Misogyny Masquerading as “Traditional Family Values” and Christianity
A few minutes later, and then it really came out.
“I would NEVER vote for her,” he shouted, and with disdain.
From the way he said it, you could tell there was real animosity behind it. I knew that the Republican party was deathly-afraid of HRC. I mean why else would you smear someone for the past 25 years? Benghazi. Emails. They just didn’t want her in the White House.
What surprised me, however, was how completely open my dad was about his sexist attitudes and his misogny.
“Why don’t you like Hillary?” my wife asked him.
“Because she stayed with him after he cheated,” my dad said.
AGAIN. ARE. YOU. F@&KING. KIDDING. ME.
“Bill wasn’t running for President. And what does that have to do with anything? Are you saying that if you cheated and mom stayed with you, that you would fault her for that?”
A few moments later, “Well, I would’ve voted for Bernie if he won the nomination.”
And at this point, my wife was now livid. Because that was straight-up f$#ked-up sexist misogynist bullshit.
My dad might not hate women. He just believes that they shouldn’t run a household, much less an entire country.
And again, he started to go on about religion, and how the man is the “head” of the household. A complete non-starter of an argument with me.
At this point, my Uncle Steve chimed in telling my dad that he shouldn’t respond by citing to his Christian faith because faith is unverifiable. It has no logical or factual structure for which to argue against. It’s just whatever he believes.
My dad’s response was that “But why? America is a Christian Nation.”
I almost pulled out the Constitution so I could show him the First Amendment.
Exasperated, I responded “Dad, you know this country has a Separation of Church and State, right? We are NOT a theocracy. In fact, the Pilgrims left England because they were escaping religious persecution and that one of the bedrock principles of this nation is the freedom of, and the freedom FROM, religion?”
But my dad didn’t care. Verifiable historical truths were irrelvant to him.
He read somewhere on the Internet — nowhere where he could point me to — that the U.S. was a Christian Nation, and that it had always been since its founding. Thus, it must be true. No book or historical reference. Nothing. It’s just on the Internet.
Or maybe his pastor told him. Who f&*king knows?
In my mind, I kept thinking to myself, how do you argue with willful ignorance? My dad’s obviously not stupid. He’s just incredibly ill-informed. In fact, it’s a weaponized religious evangelical christian theology that has purposefully kept him misinformed.
It’s like trying to get a loved one out of a cult.
“So what do you want me to do? I would never vote for Hillary.” my dad asks.
“I don’t give a sh*t if you don’t want to vote for her. But why vote for him? You can always not vote for someone for President or write in a candidate,” I said.
“He’s not that bad, I just don’t think he can speak well, and he just talks without thinking,” he responds.
“You can’t just hope that someone is going to do what you want them to do even though he hasn’t said anything to that effect. You can’t just vote for someone because they have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to their name.”
F%$k. My. Life.
“Dad, the Muslim registry and ban is very frightening, it’s a precursor to more discrimination, possibly internment and/or concentration camps” I said.
“Good. Islam is a cancer,” my dad interrupted.
“Dad, there’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and you don’t seriously think they’ve all committed terrorists acts, do you? There’s also terrorists who claim to be Christian like the KKK. There’s also terrorists who claim to be Buddhists.”
“We should have another Crusade against the Muslims.”
I couldn’t believe it, he wanted a religious war. Next came the part which I’m not very proud of.
“Dad, if America starts to follow that path, to intern a minority group, Lydia and I are moving out of the country. To New Zealand, or to to the Netherlands, or wherever. Mom and Karen can come with us. But you’re not welcome.”
I was stunned. My dad is a bigot. And he was cloaking himself in the light of Jesus to justify it. He is bigoted against Muslims, against women — especially powerful women that challenged the “traditional” role of women as homemakers and caretakers — against immigrants, and against LGBTQ people.
And what’s frustrating to me beyond all belief is that there was no amount of information or argument that could convince him otherwise.
Deep down somewhere, I know the dad that I love is still in there somewhere. I’m not sure where, and I don’t know how to reach him. But he’s in there. Somewhere.
Who I Am & What I Stand For
So what did this Thanksgiving hell teach me about myself? Here’s a start:
- I’m an American — born and raised by immigrant parents.
- I believe in an America where all people are equal before the law and where all people’s rights are respected, regardless of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political or other creed, property, birth or other status.
- I believe that immigrants are people who are deserving of equal dignity and respect, regardless of whether they are “legal,” “illegal,” “documented” or “undocumented.”
- I believe that a free and robust press act as an essential bulwark against the abuses of government.
- I believe in the freedom of speech and expression and of the right to peaceably assemble.
- I believe in the freedom of each person to practice their own religion, and in an America that is fully separated from any religion.
- I believe that no person should be subject to torture or to cruel or inhumane punishment.
- I believe that America should have automatic voter registration and I believe that voting should be so easy that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote, if they so choose.
- I believe in the freedom of all couples and individuals as to their reproductive rights, free from discrimination, coercion or violence.
- I believe that women’s rights are human rights. And I believe that equal work deserves equal pay.
- I believe that fathers and mothers shouldn’t have to choose between their financial security and caring for a newborn and that America should have nationwide paid parental leave. Maternity and paternity. Or maternity/maternity, paternity/paternity, etc.
- I believe that love is stronger than hate. And I believe that hope is stronger than fear.