There is more that unites us than divides us. — Mauricio Macri, president of Argentina
In previous election years, my Fox News-watching Dad and I kept the peace by giving each other space around elections. It (usually) was all playful banter during the primaries and conventions. We gracefully parted ways for a few weeks before Election Day, then carefully felt each other out afterward before resuming our sometimes friendly, sometimes harsh back-and-forth.
But 2016 was different. My mom died four months ago, throwing us together in one of the most intense life situation humans go through. We are joined in the common, gut-wrenching bond of grief, as it should be. There would be no parting of the ways in October. There could be no grace period in November.
Last week, I was in my hometown, just 30 minutes away, and stopped by somewhat unexpectedly to see Dad. He was sitting in his recliner with his blind and needy orange cat, watching something on his oversized flat-screen TV. I took the attached recliner to his left, where Mom always sat. We talked about some family stuff that needed to be dealt with and then started talking about how we miss Mom.
He was a tad weepy that day. I suspect he is more often than I realize because I don’t see him as much as I should. Part of that is distance. Part schedule. Part, honestly, is that I don’t know what to say to him anymore. I’ve read so many stories on Pantsuit Nation and its subsidiaries about family members and friends parting ways because the #imwithher supporter could no longer stomach the #makeamericagreatagain voter.
That is me. That is my dad. But this will not be our future.
For two hours, we laughed, tried not to cry (didn’t always succeed), told funny stories about Mom, shared when we missed her most. About an hour in, he said, “Would it upset you to watch some video of her?” That sounded delightful. He and Mom were passionate about travel (mostly Mom) and motorcycles (mostly Dad). They took many cross-country trips on their motorcycles, a few in the ’90s with another couple who had a penchant for video editing.
We were suddenly transported on that oversized flat-screen TV to 1992, when Mom was a few years younger than I am now. Dad fast forwarded past the lovely scenery to the mundane scenes at restaurants, tourist stops, campsites. To hear Mom’s voice after four months was like coming home to a place I thought I’d never see again. I was entranced. After a while, I started glancing at the clock, partly out of habit and partly because I did have stuff to do. But this was where I wanted and needed to be. So I sat still in Mom’s recliner for as long as Dad was willing to watch those videos with me.
This was a visceral reminder that there is more that unites us than divides us.
That said, there is much that divides us. I am preaching to the choir here when I say that the values of a man who thinks Donald Trump is the best thing for our country while truly believing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are its downfall are hurtful to say the least.
I think about our country’s political situation more than I think about parenting my kids at this moment. More than I sit in grief over my mom. That isn’t to say the latter aren’t infinitely more important. It is to say that at this moment in time, I — probably like you — am as passionate as I’ve ever been about politics and the progressive movement. Yet to be with my Dad in the way we both need means to be quiet about the million points of light and passion and shock and disdain bounding from my brain much of the day.
But for two hours, none of that mattered. Trump’s tweets didn’t matter. The Electoral College (which is No. 1 on my shit list today, by the way) didn’t matter. Tax returns, e-mails, Rex Tillerson, Pantsuit Nation, Wisconsin didn’t matter. Even Russia (!!!!) didn’t matter.
And it was OK.
Nothing changed in our political landscape in those two hours. When I left, I’m sure he turned on Fox News and posted something idiotic to Facebook, which I’d have to call him on as soon as I saw it. When I got in my car, I checked Twitter and The New York Times to see if the Hamilton Electors were making any progress.
But for two hours, I was reminded that there is life outside of politics. There is death outside of the Clinton loss. There is love outside of Pantsuit Nation. That Trump voters are multi-faceted people … many of whom we love. That’s the messy truth, as Van Jones calls it. It is messy for every obvious reason. And it is truth.
I will sit with that messy truth throughout this holiday season. Because it sucks without my mom. And I will try to remember this messy truth when I hit the ground running to fight against everything my dad believes in come January.
And when I forget, I will watch this video again to remember a time when hope and unity felt possible. And I will remember this two hours with my dad as proof. Because when I want to hate a Trump supporter, I will know my perceived enemy most likely has some of my dad in him. And, I hope, when my dad wants to hate a Clinton supporter, he will remember that liberal has some of me in her.
Sure, our politics help define us. But we must remember (oh this is so hard!) that they are not the total equation.