If my dad hates liberals and feminists, he hates me. If he hates Muslims and unauthorized immigrants, he hates the people that I love.
“You can’t cut people out of your life if their politics don’t align with yours,” my therapist told me. We were sitting in her office a few days after the election discussing how I felt about my father supporting Donald Trump. I paused to pet her dog while I pondered her words.
As I left her office that day, I resolved to take her advice. Politics shouldn’t divide families, I reminded myself. So I’ve done my best to let my emotions simmer rather than boil.
It’s been three months now and I’m beginning to see that she was right — but in a very different way than she intended. I don’t need to cut my dad out of my life because the distance between us just keeps growing.
My dad’s the only father I’ve ever known. He adopted me when I was five years old, after he and my mom got married, and he’s been my dad ever since. But as much as I adored him as a little girl, those easy early days sometimes feel like a fantasy. I remember the joy I felt when he would walk through the door after work, how much fun I had when we played together — but those memories are hazy and flimsy now.
The dad I remember most from my childhood isn’t the smiling man who loved to play softball with his co-workers, the man whose smile could right my world. The dad I remember is the one who grew increasingly angry and unpredictable, who isolated himself alone in his shop and who listened to Rush Limbaugh and conservative radio while he worked.
By the time I was a teenager, my dad and I rarely spoke to each other. I remember him for his outbursts of anger more than anything else. As an adult, I learned that he’d suffered from untreated depression for the latter half of my childhood. As a child, all I knew was that my dad was no longer safe.
I didn’t give up on my dad easily. As a teenager, I kept trying to talk to him and involve him in my life. I read the newspaper and talked to him about current events. And when he got Rush Limbaugh’s books, I read those, too. I was eager to find our way back to those simple years when he was the sun and I was the moon.
Unlike most people in my life who have hurt me, my dad and I have had the tough conversations. He has owned his part of the breakdown of our relationship, and he has apologized to me for the pain he has caused. He’s been there for me as an adult, sometimes going to the extreme, and he has always been there for my kids, too.
I’ve told myself a thousand times that there’s no point in reliving the past. All we can do is move forward. The problem is, the future doesn’t feel much safer than the past.
I’m not afraid of my dad anymore, but there’s something familiar about his face when he spews political rhetoric. It’s stony and cold. I recognize that face, and it’s not one that I trust. It’s not the face of a man who is moving forward.
Politics aren’t supposed to define us, yet it’s impossible not to see how my dad’s politics align with the past version of himself he says he regrets being. He’s a Christian who wants to build a wall and turn people away, who posts scathing criticisms of liberals and feminists on his Facebook wall every day. Not long ago, he posted a meme from a conservative site with a picture of Jesus on it. “Even heaven has a wall and extreme vetting,” it said.
The next day, he posted a meme endorsing Betsy DeVos, even though his granddaughter relies on special education services in her public school. That’s when I knew the dad of my childhood, the one with the contagious laugh and the easy smile, was gone — lost to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the easy option of fear-mongering and hate.
Whether it’s right or wrong, my politics do define me. They speak to my values and beliefs, and they push me to do better when I make mistakes. I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum, and we can agree on at least a few core principles, like the importance of human rights and compassion. My dad disagrees, and it’s impossible for me not to think less of him for it.
If my dad hates liberals and feminists, he hates me. If he hates Muslims and unauthorized immigrants, he hates the people that I love. And if he doesn’t believe my daughters, or my bisexual sons, or my autistic child, or any living people on this planet aren’t valuable and equal, then he is rejecting my most basic beliefs.
If he was anyone else, I would shake my head and walk away. But he’s my dad, so I keep trying, even though the distance between us has widened into a chasm. As time goes by, it’s becoming harder and harder to see what’s left for me on the other side.