Dad died three months ago.
A few days before he passed, I got to spend some precious time alone with him; it was a hard, painful, beautiful day of reckoning and reconnecting. For the first time ever, Dad was fully transparent with me about his joys, regrets, hopes, doubts, and his many fears.
I drove home at the end of that day, sat in my truck and sobbed like a wounded child.
I cried because Dad was dying and all I could do was embrace that awful truth. I also cried for how my new understanding of him felt like a cruel gift wrapped in mockery, a gift that seemed both too little and too late.
Why had he waited almost fifty years to offer me an honest glimpse into his soul, and what was I supposed to do with that now? Thirty, twenty, or even one year ago, and that gift would have been useful. Perhaps then I could have better loved the man who so often confounded me with his stubborn silence and passivity. If only I would have better known him, then perhaps we could have avoided the many pitfalls that had sabotaged our relationship over the years.
But, perhaps, I was crying because of my own guilt. I’d never really tried to understand him.
“Well, isn’t that freaking convenient!” my cousin, Randy, yells at the television.
Elizabeth Warren, who had once been the frontrunner, just ended her presidential bid and she’s offering a thinly veiled explanation for her demise.
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“Oh,” Randy pipes up in an awful impersonation that, to me, sounds like a drunken fairy godmother, “They didn’t let me be president because I’m a girl! Waaaaaa!” Randy finishes off his beer and slams down the empty mug. “God, I’m so sick of it.”
Randy is an over-the-top Trump supporter. Like many Trump supporters, he owns no stock; he survives paycheck to paycheck, and he will probably die owing more than he’s worth. Randy squeaked by in high school. He doesn’t read books. He’s been married, divorced, and filed bankruptcy twice; but he still gets by okay because he’s not afraid to get up every day and work hard at his job where he makes slightly more than a livable wage.
Randy is a fairly average guy here in West Virginia. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never understood his extreme passion for a president who seems incapable of understanding the struggles of the working poor. The president’s economic and social policies fail to offer much (if anything at all) to people like Randy. How, then, has my cousin been duped into voting against his own self-interests? Is he really just that ignorant?
As we watch the news of Elizabeth Warren’s forfeit, I’m hardly prepared for the gift that Randy is about to hand me.
“So, you don’t think sexism is a real thing in America?” I ask.
“Of course it’s real,” Randy fires back. “But it’s also just another excuse.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“All those freaking liberals want excuses to hand out like participation trophies,” he says. “She doesn’t get to be president because she’s a woman. That guy didn’t get the job because he’s black. Somebody didn’t treat them right because they’re gay. All these people want an excuse when things don’t go their way. But guess what—when things don’t work out for me, I don’t get an excuse. When I fail, it’s just because I’m a poor, lazy dumbass who just wasn’t good enough!”
And there it is: the truth about Randy and so many like him.
Donald Trump has somehow tapped into the decades of frustration and failure my cousin and many poor whites have experienced. Although I completely disagree with Randy, I’m beginning to understand him. While many point out the president’s disturbing rhetoric as being racist, xenophobic, misogynistic … (the list goes on), Randy sees something else entirely. He sees Donald Trump as his defender in a land of no excuses, a place where no one gets special treatment because of their gender, race, or sexuality. Randy’s never received special treatment or the luxury of excuses, so why should anyone else?
To be clear, I’m not aiming to champion or even condone this attitude. However, I am hoping to shed some light into what seems a heart of darkness.
Understanding where Randy is coming from equips me to better navigate some hard—and necessary!—discussions … while salvaging our relationship.
Two days after my time with Dad, he became almost completely unresponsive. I could do little more than sit and watch him slowly drift away to whatever awaits us all on that other shore.
To be honest, I felt robbed.
God, how I wished I’d had just bit more time with him. With all he’d shared on his final day of lucidity, we surely could have patched a great many potholes on the road we’d been traveling together.
If only …
Right now, many of our relationships are under assault by American politics. However, what if we all gave just a little effort toward understanding that person who’s become the adversary? What if we quit trying to prove each other wrong and, instead, tried to see something that we’ve all been missing? What if we actually tried to identify the source of our opponent’s passion rather than simply dismissing it and them?
What if we could be better than the people we elect?
What if we were all bold enough to shine a light into the darkness, risk a little grace, and find our way out of this mess … together?
It might have come a bit late, but Dad showed me how to do just that by lifting the veil that surrounded his heart. For a brief moment, I saw the real man instead of my assumptions, and I am blessed by that gift.
Friends, it’s not too late.
You want to help heal our nation? Share this and encourage some hard, honest discussions with a little peace, love, and understanding.
*(Randy is a composite character representing several of my friends and family members.)
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