It was Veterans Day and I was anticipating calling my dad because he served in the Marines during Vietnam and I always call him on Veterans Day. This year was different. This year I needed to gain my courage to call him. Why do you ask? Well, let me first describe a bit about my father and myself. My father graduated high school and went directly into the military and fought in combat in Vietnam. He enjoys hunting, eating the wild game he hunts and decorating his house with the mounted deer and fish he hunted. He retired from a blue-collar job where he worked for 30 years and lives in a rural part of New York State. Now, a little bit about myself, after I graduated from High school I went to on receive an undergraduate degree and then a Masters degree in fine art in the United Kingdom. I enjoy traveling, I am vegan and I decorate my house with artwork from the many countries I had traveled. I taught in an inner city public school that has the most diverse student population in the entire state of Colorado, and I live in the large urban city of Denver. You may gather we have different opinions especially when it comes to this past election. I was nervous about speaking with my dad because the conversation would inevitably turn to politics.
I began to think about the 99% of the people I surround myself with are liberal. Yes my friends look different, have a variety of religious beliefs, diverse sexual preferences and have diverse cultural heritage. Yet we all share the same political views. I really wanted to take this opportunity to try and understand the other side and I chose to begin by asking my father. How can I approach such a heated topic with someone I know does not agree with me? Well I planned to simply ask questions and listen.
Now this was not an easy task, I had to get my bearings before entering such a conversation. I practiced yoga for an hour, I meditated for 20 minutes, and had a few cups of tea while mustering up the courage to call him. And then he actually rang me. We had our usual dad/daughter small talk; We chatted about the weather in New York and Denver, he asked If everyone was healthy, and chatted about his veterans day plans. And then he asked me, “So what else is going on”. I responded, “well I am not very happy about the election results” and he said, “yeah I figured you wouldn’t be”. Then I dug into the most calm place and voice I could express, “Dad, can I ask you why you voted for Trump?” and he responded, “Ya know Shauna I don’t want to get in a political argument about this” and once again, as calm as I could be, “Dad I don’t want to have an argument either. Most of the people I surround myself with are also liberal, so it’s very hard for me to understand your motivation. I am curious as to what was it about Trumps platform that really appealed to you?” I was being sincere and my dad could sense it and therefore our conversation began. He spoke about his concern of the corruption in the government and that there needs to be a change. In his experience life has only continued to become more challenging. The small rural town I grew up in is shrinking. People have moved away for more job opportunity. The major industries of carpet manufactures have left years ago with no economy to replace it. Taxes are incredibly high and continue to grow as more and more people leave. Most people are living paycheck to paycheck. I completely understand this because these are the precise reasons why I left. And every time I return I can see more homes abandoned and boarded up, the city just continues to degrade. This is not an exaggeration. A movie called ”No Beast So Fierce” was filmed in our town because the director said our town looks post-apocalyptic.
He went on to talk about immigration and ISIS. This is when I could feel myself starting to get agitated and felt myself wanting to interrupt to disprove him. Yet I knew better, because if I did jump in and attack, the conversation would end and he would shut down. So I continued to listen. And he began to listen to me too. We then found a small space of common ground, our concern for the environment. My parents raised me with the love of nature; camping and hiking and my father spends lots of time outside as a sportsman. I thought to myself, maybe we are not so different. My father then went on to say that some of Trump’s rhetoric “was not kosher.” This was a big sigh of relief for me, because it was these words that had disturbed me most about Trump’s campaign. I thought again maybe we are not so different.
This was not an easy conversation to have, yet I can say it went better than I expected. Not all of these conversations are going to go smoothly. I believe we need to start this form of listening and communication. Even though I did not agree with most of my Father’s viewpoints, I was respectful and I have a better understanding of his motivations. I also understand that we are different people leading different lives, which shape our political outlook. There was no yelling or finger pointing at one another. We both spoke openly and honestly, because there was a space of trust created. I believe this is how we begin to move forward, begin to heal, and begin to unify once again. At the end of the day we all want to be seen and heard and we should begin with making a bridge to those in our lives that we love and care for who have different views than ourselves.