A Conservative Tasked Me With Explaining Why My Dad The Veteran Didn’t Like Conservatives

We tussled. I said he wouldn’t care about why my father, a veteran, didn’t like conservatives. He said I should write about why.

It’s the 1960s. Everyone’s liberal, right? Not in each of the households raising my parents, blocks apart from each other. No way. These people are God-fearing, Bible-thumping, John Wayne-loving Americans. These are future Nixon voters.

Grandpa Third Reich

Grandpa Third Reich was a chickenhawk. It has always been my nickname for him, because he came from pure Germans. He looked really Aryan. He told racist jokes but then whined if you called him racist because he went to a black dentist in the 1960s “when no one else was going to black dentists in our town.” He wanted a medal for that, trust me.

Grandpa Third Reich even unnaturally admired Clara Ford, Henry Ford’s wife. If you know the history of the Ford family. They were America’s Nazis. In fact, Hitler was inspired by Henry Ford in many ways, and said so.

When I spent time in Germany, I got to learn just how much Hitler fetishized American white people. He was inspired by their history. He heard of their manifest destiny, and he rolled out lebensraum, which is German for living space. Germans were supposed to have a Godgiven right to it. Just like we Europeans had a Godgiven right to the land in America. Remember when we sold that story? Manifest destiny? He ate that up.

Well, anyway, Grandpa Third Reich raised my mother. He inherited money from a wealthy uncle who was a banker in St. Paul. Like most wealthy men, he was a chickenhawk. Like most chickenhawks, his conservatism was all talk born of privilege. He didn’t fight in World War II. He went to chiropractic college after finishing community college.

Another Medium writer recently summarized his explanations of the successes of white people by describing some research:

Researchers rigged a game of Monopoly, and they told players it was rigged. They told them. It was rigged, but the players who won the game still tried to explain to everyone how they were superior game players. They went into detail about how they did this or did that to win the game. Dude, you started with most of the cash, remember? We told you that. “Um, yeah, but looook, how I still excel in my skills,” the winners still said.

That was Grandpa Third Reich. He loved to talk about “those people” because he listened to Rush Limbaugh daily. Those people were always doing things wrong. They were always doing stupid things. They were always doing violent things. White people were successful. They worked hard. They raised their children in an upright way.

Grandpa Third Reich was himself a failure by most measures of white people success. Sure, he was an minor innovator. But Tesla died broke and mentally ill, too. Grandpa wasn’t, of course, any Tesla.

The Brays

Grandpa Third Reich was my mother’s father. Grandpa Bray was old-school Puritan American conservative. I mean he was a strict Catholic — mass three days a week — but his own ancestors would have been conflicted about that. He’s descended mostly from Mayflower Puritans. Grandma Bray actually comes from a different Mayflower Puritan. She betrayed their Protestantism far more recently. She converted to marry Grandpa.

My Bray grandparents get no nickname though perhaps they should. Their conservatism was just as damaging as Grandpa Third Reich’s with his false patriotism, blatant racism, and behavioral hypocrisy. The Brays raised my father in such a way that he believed serving in the military was the only way you served this country.

There was the Vietnam War. Of course, he was going to enlist. He didn’t know it at the time — my father became a genealogist later — but he was part of a long line of American veterans. Back to the Pequot Wars, more than 100 years before we were a country. It is not something to be proud of to be associated with the Pequot Wars. It means you massacred Indians.

My father was just trying to be like his father, a WWII veteran (standing with his mother)

The military experience did not traumatize my father. This isn’t a story of the horrors of war. His unit was called up to go to Thailand, but the orders were canceled. He never went overseas. Instead, he bounced around to assignments in Colorado, Texas, and eventually Arizona. Why? Who knows?

He contracted an infection. It’s called Valley Fever. The long name for that is Coccidioidomycosis. It’s a fungal lung infection. He got it at the same time he got Hepatitis B. I don’t know what was going on. But about six months later, the story goes, there was a man singing in the mess hall. My father told him to stop. Multiple times. Before attacking the man. The only thing is the man was never singing.

He spent some undefined amount of time in the air force psychiatric hospital, then received an honorably medical discharge. He was deemed to have schizoaffective disorder. All the fun of schizophrenia. All the fun of depression.

Parts of his mental illness were crossed with delusions about the Mormon Church, going to another planet named Zircon, and another soldier who may or may not have been real named Alex. My father was three and a half years into his four-year service in the military. He expected to go to war. He never did.

So, if liberals were shouting nasty things at Vietnam veterans as they came home from war. My father’s parents were embarrassed and confused, so they were saying nasty things to him, too. It was hard to get my father to talk about it. He wouldn’t go into detail about what things were specifically said to him. But his white knuckles on the steering wheel getting closer and closer to the Bray grandparents’ house in my childhood haunt me. Whatever they said hurt him deeply.

I can imagine. They probably called him lazy, when instead he was really depressed. They probably called him crazy. They might have called him any number of insulting names. In their minds, he was a huge disappointment.

My Parents Meet

My father said his family kicked him out. Before he was ready to go. Before he was healthy. Mom and dad said, “Son, get out.” He didn’t know where to go, so he went to Salt Lake City, Utah. He had been there once before with Alex.

Alex, his buddy from the military, was a black Mormon. I always looked at Dad kind of cock-eyed at that one. Mormons love to recruit everybody. But the fact this man was a black Mormon before they denounced their own history of racism in late 1970s always seemed strange to me. Given my father’s mental illness, you couldn’t always trust his reality-testing. But someone took him to Salt Lake City on leave. Someone took him to see the angel Moroni trumpeting from the temple. He felt that angel had been calling him back. So, to Salt Lake, he went.

As a new convert, the church set him up. In some ways, the church can take care of its own. He was given a job at the massive genealogical library in Salt Lake City, the one Mormons are known throughout the world for building. He saw a woman there that he had seen once before. He had met her briefly at the Mormon Church in Cedar Falls, IA.

What a crazy coincidence! How on Earth was a woman from his hometown also working at the Genealogical Library with him in Utah? When they get to talking, the coincidences do not stop piling up. They grew up blocks from each other for the first fourteen years of their lives. They hadn’t met, because my father had been at Catholic School.

What Had My Mom Been Up To?

My dad is twenty-three years old by now. My mother is actually a year older than he is. What has she been doing with her life? Mom did grow up a few blocks from my dad until she was fourteen. But then, my mother’s pregnant teen sister caught her father, the chiropractor, giving more than a back adjustment to a patient when her sister opened the door without knocking.

To save his marriage and his pregnant teen daughter’s reputation, Grandpa Third Reich had to be innovative, which as I may have mentioned, he was. Quite. He decided to use his inheritance to buy 40 acres of land in a little exurban town north of Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa metropolitan area. On this land, he planned to build recreational vehicles.

It was the 1960s, and Winnebago was not a big name yet. There had already been innovators in the area of recreational vehicles going back to when cars were first developed. But, the interstates were new, and there was room for a growth industry.

My grandfather quickly developed two new patents. His RV was on the cover of a K-Mart Travel Guide:

My grandfather’s RV pictured on a 1960s KMart Road Atlas

He was even featured in Ford’s travel magazine. As a Ford enthusiast, he was over the moon.

I’ve heard it said that there are three kinds of entrepreneur, and you almost never find all three in the same man: the inventor, the salesman, and the capitalist. True to form, my grandpa was no salesman and no capitalist. Luckily, his sons could sell anything.

That still left the capitalist. An underwriters company was brought in after the company was already starting to turn a profit. They made significant changes to the company that were frankly stupid from a sales perspective, but as the money men, they thought they should have say over sales. Sales dropped precipitously. Just to give you an example, my grandfather’s innovation included RVs that folded out, so his business cards folded out like so:

Original business cards from the RV business

The underwriters replaced these business cards with plain white ones that had four pine trees across the top. I don’t have a sample. But, that was their branding for an RV company. Four pine trees across the top of their plain white business card. My grandfather was innovating business cards before they made funky business cards. These moneymen forced them to change the branding like that.

There were other problems. Plenty of them were my grandfather’s. Some his ego. His ego was spun part of the time from his bipolar disorder. He had type II, where it affects your emotional lability but not usually causes psychosis.

That’s where my mom got it from. It’s not like he willed it to her. Here, my dear daughter, this is my bipolar disorder which I bequeath to you. Everyone’s heard of that disorder where people hurt their children over and over in order to get attention so they can go to the doctor for treatment? Munchhausen's-by-proxy? My mom had a case of plain old Munchhausen’s as she was growing up, too. She would fake injury to get attention, mostly because she wasn’t getting attention. She got kind of lost in the six children in her family. If she hid, they would leave her places when they left. She did it to prove they didn’t notice her. And then they wouldn’t.

She wasn’t totally socially awkward. She was on her high school basketball team. She says it was just because she was tall, and that tracks. She was 5'10", but she said she was always the boss in her friendships. I never was, so I guess I see her as doing better than I did in high school.

The small town she moved to after childhood was so small there were only 32 people in her graduating class. She left for college having never tried pot in the 1960s. She may have been born the year the World War II ended, but she was from the Silent Generation as they call the one before the Boomers.

She didn’t even like fifties music. It was too raucous. She liked to play classical music or showtunes like from Oklahoma. She finished college unsure of what to do with herself. If she hadn’t been her church’s organist, she may not have heard what God wanted her to do next.

God’s Plan

If there is one thing to know about my mother, something — her preacher, her horoscope, the direction the leaves on her houseplant are all pointing — something is sending her a message from God. She’s always looking for where it is coming from next.

Someone in her church had a son do a mission to New Guinea. Well, there it was. The Lord was telling my mother to do a Lutheran mission to New Guinea. Within no time after college graduation, Grandpa Third Reich stepped on my grandma’s head…literally, she was napping on the floor, and he stood on her…at my mother’s going away party, and off my mother went.

It did not go well. The work she was supposed to be doing went just fine. She taught English to native people of New Guinea for eighteen months. She liked some of the students, but not others. One boy got angry at her for correcting him. He gave her “the evil eye” stating he was cursing her. As in with a hex. My mother was suspicious by nature, and the boy’s stare spooked her.

But there was something about to happen with her health, too. She developed some form of mono. It’s hard to say what she had given her lack of immunities to tropical diseases. During her hospitalization for it, the doctor decided she wasn’t really sick. She was psychologically depressed.

To this day, my mother becomes livid with the memory. The doctor gave her antidepressants. Since she knew she was actually sick, she put them in the drawer next to her bed, opting not to take them. When the doctor discovered what she had been doing, he made her take all of them. A handful. At once.

He watched her swallow the pills. Then, she went on a one week high apparently. The German family she was living with said, “I’ve never seen a person go from so sick in bed to so full of energy in one afternoon.” Regardless, a week later, she tried to swallow another handful of pills again on her own. This time, to take her life.

Needless to say, they sent her home. Was she really suicidal? Was she really sick? Was she just reacting to those pills? It hardly matters in the long term, and I chose to believe my mother’s account to how it actually happened. What it actually meant was something different. It meant she was not okay. It was going to end up meaning she was not okay for a long, long time. If my mother’s hair got gray, which it doesn’t, it would have been gray by the time, she was okay again.

How Did My Mother’s Family Treat Her?

My mother’s family handles mental illness differently than the Brays. The Third Reich family has always had a wonderful denial/fuck-you kind of attitude toward it, which at first breath sounds similar to how the Brays react. But it’s not.

The Brays were blindsided by my dad. I’m not sure if there has been any mental illness in his family lines, but I haven’t easily found it. There are no other living Brays with a reported case of mental illness. When it hit them out of the blue, they did not treat my father well.

But by the time I was born, the Brays were financially and emotionally assisting my parents in a limited capacity. The Third Reich clan always saw my mom as a burden, and it wasn’t theirs. They were the kind of conservatives that would go and on about how only families, not government, should be taking care of people on welfare right in front of the sister on welfare they were not taking care on. I kid you not. Remember when Craig T. Nelson said, “I never got any help from anybody when I was on food stamps?”

I heard him and wondered if maybe my grandpa was his father. Same damn mentality. He did step out on my grandma. Is Craig T. Nelson’s mother a prostitute?

So begins my saga of why our family grew to despise conservatives. As the political drama marches on, if you’re interested, please give me a clap. It lets me know if I’m on the right track in telling this story, which I have tried to tell a million ways. It was always meant to be a political book. I just never quite imagined it as the answer to a conservative’s question before. And so, Jon D Thornton, that’s part one. But then we have the whole losing their whole kids to foster care saga still to come, which explains further still why they loathe conservatives. Something about losing your kids when you don’t have enough food…

Here is part 2