Trump brought out the hidden monster within my father.
The monster was already there. But Trump told my dad that his bigotry is ok.
A Monday in Late October, 8:30 PM
My father is sleeping in the guest bedroom right now. He made his way up the stairs to his quarters at the end of the hall shortly after 8 pm: a bit early, to be sure, but long enough after our meal that he fulfilled standard familial expectations and had been deemed a dinner participant. Although he spent much of the event chuckling at his phone screen, he had indeed thoroughly enjoyed a meal cooked to perfection by his very talented son-in-law, my husband, who, according to my dad, ought to have been a chef instead of a scientist.
After one guffaw (met with no reaction), he looks over the top of his glasses and asks me if I know what’s funny. I don’t, I answer calmly, stifling the annoyance I feel, busy cutting strips of chicken to put on the baby’s high-chair tray, inwardly unwilling to neglect this basic task of parenthood to instead stand over my father’s shoulder to see the media he has been consuming on his Android screen.
His visit to our new home comes just weeks after we moved in, following a cross-country relocation we made to be closer to my husband’s parents.
A Saturday in Early October, 10:30 PM
I accept his visitation request in the generally docile way I’ve come to interact with him; he is irascible, and I’ve learned to oblige and just get through it. In preparation for his upcoming presence, I accelerate my tittering around from room to room, unloading half a box, getting sidetracked by hanging a picture, losing the boxcutter in the process, returning to the task of unpacking, frantically rummaging around for the boxcutter until I give up to go find the wine bottle opener that has the little curved knife on one end, just to unearth the contents of the next box. Half my genes are his.
Feed the baby, change the baby, bathe the baby, rinse, lather, repeat.
A Saturday in Late October, 12:05 PM
I finished unpacking and organizing the guest room late last night, at least to the point of relative comfort compared to sleeping at a nondescript hotel 36 minutes away in the next decent-sized city. The evening went like this: I passed the baby (screaming) into my very hospitable husband’s arms and disappeared up the stairs to set the room up carefully and deliberately in a way I thought would suit my father.
He arrives in a dark Mustang convertible, parking out on the street in front of the house. The weather has just dipped below freezing, and my husband wonders quietly why he’d picked that car. We are regaled a drawn out tale of an upgrade for his elite status with the car rental company, pointing out that he just couldn’t pass up a Mustang and that they treated him like royalty.
“It pays to be an elite member, you know.” He tosses his long wool overcoat and cowboy hat onto the nearest living room chair in what I perceive as an attempt to underscore his story of self-importance.
Hands on his hips, he paces loudly across a room in a house he’s never before seen. It feels right to offer him a tour. I’d managed to mostly unpack the rest of the common rooms this morning before his hours-later-than-expected-arrival (he felt like sleeping in; this is his vacation, after all), save a few picture frames leaned against the wall at the floorboards, a broom here, a dustpan there. While less than presentable, it’s at least no longer treacherous.
The soundtrack of our tour is a steady stream of recycled puns and those 3 or 4 short memories that he always recites about my childhood. The clomping of his bootheels in deliberate, slow succession on our hardwood floors. I’ve always hated the way he saunters like that; is it an act of confidence, an assertion of dominance, does he know that it’s intimidating? The tour ends at his room for the week, in the farthest corner of the house. I ask him if he needs anything straight away; he doesn’t, yet, but will let me know if he does and leaves me with a defensive comment about how the baby won’t grab his finger.
A Thursday in Late October, 5 PM:
My in-laws have invited us over for dinner, an attempt at blending a family that will never be. There are left-leaning political signs at their driveway. Upon seeing them, my dad tells me about a “diversity initiative” his employer is putting on. He’s annoyed to be forced to do the training. “It’s an inconvenience,” he says.
I counter with a story of a young Black woman at my company who made a list of all the times she’s felt marginalized, how her life as a young professional has been all about being inconvenienced. I tell him about how our CEO took up her plight and made a call to action across the company to be aware of the behaviors she cited. I’m trying to impress upon him that even in the generally conservative oil industry, leadership acknowledges that diversity training is necessary. My dad responds by asking if I’ve ever heard of ‘sticks and stones’.
“Sure,” I said, not quite picking up on his meaning.
“She needs to be less sensitive. Her list reeks of political correctness. I hate that we have to go out of our way to censor ourselves just on the small chance that it will hurt her feelings; I hate that we have to be PC, hate it with a white hot venom.” He punctuates white hot venom so overtly that spit escapes on the Ts.
“Say what you will about him, but that is one great thing about Donald Trump.”
Defeated, I ask him to please just be nice to my in-laws.
The Next Day
After very little deliberation, he packs his luggage a day earlier than expected. He’s been at our home for almost a week now, but today he is bothered by the audio on our guest room TV (it’s off balance, apparently) and there isn’t a mirror anywhere in the room. He’s going to stay the night in that Hilton 36 minutes north of town, and we can catch up with him up there tomorrow if we want to. We agree to meet at the zoo. It is cold, to be sure, but our 11 month-old isn’t likely to be entertained by much else, at least not anything that feels safe enough during the era of social distancing. This week our county is #3 on the list of national COVID hot spots.
Saturday, Halloween, 2020
Eighteen, or so, minutes late for our reservation at the zoo, my dad arrives (the baby is fussy, irritable from standing around without anything fun to look at). My husband makes small talk with my father, alleviating the pressure I’m feeling to come up with something non-polarizing to say.
Yeah, he did have fun at karaoke last night, but the seating wasn’t the best, and the owner should probably rethink his layout if he wants it to be a proper karaoke bar. My husband casually asks him if the seating was 6' apart — no — and did he wear a mask? He said he wore it into the bar, but no one else inside had one on, and he’ll be damned if he was going to be the only person in there wearing a mask.
He leans in to beep the baby’s nose. I instinctively pull her away after realizing he’s just spent several hours singing into a microphone with a bar full of strangers in a COVID hotspot. I offend him, not on purpose, but a week into his visit, my willingness to oblige is waning.
Who is this man? I don’t remember growing up with a narcissistic, racist, pandemic-denying father. When did this happen? Some time in the summer of 2018 is when I remember first catching him in a lie, attempting to cover his tracks after I caught him pulling a fast one on a college girl I knew, some 45 years his junior. That was the same year he unfriended me on social media, for an anti-gun post I shared following the Parkland shooting. It was also the year I got married, when about a month prior he threatened to not attend my wedding, finally agreeing to walk me down the aisle only if I would, literally, tell him that I needed him to be there.
He wasn’t like this before. I had a reasonably supportive (though hot tempered, to be sure) father growing up; in 6th grade, he vehemently attacked a family member that expressed disdain for my puppy-love-relationship with a Black boy from school (I’m white). He wasn’t racist, as far as anyone could tell; he was all for equal rights, including marriage for all, and many of the things that I stand for today, like a woman’s right to choose.
Yet somehow, over the course of the last few years, he’s become someone else. He’s turned into a man that argues with me over whether or not anthropogenic climate change is real, leaning on anecdotes from his broadcasting career (“I remember reporting the coldest year on record when I worked at Radio Network”) and completely dismissing visual representations of temperature data and my expertise on the matter, as if a PhD in Earth & Environmental Science and a career at one of the top 5 oil companies in the world aren’t legitimate credentials.
He denies that there is any support whatsoever for national healthcare in countries like Canada and the UK, despite overwhelming citizen satisfaction, yet he continues to assert that national healthcare in the USA would be a nightmare. He isn’t bothered by the fact that I have 2 autoimmune diseases that require daily synthetic hormones to ward off death. He doesn’t care that when I was in grad school my insulin cost almost $2000/month because my student health insurance wouldn’t cover insulin for insulin-dependent diabetics; they would only cover it for non-insulin-dependent diabetics.
And worst of all, he believes that requiring diversity training that teaches employees about micro-aggressions and acceptable language for race-related conversations in the workplace is an infringement upon his personal rights because it is a form of censorship, and by God, he will not stand for that!
I remember when I first started thinking that my dad’s behavioral change could be connected to the Trump presidency. It seemed like a bit of a reach, frankly. Could one public figure really influence my father, a man in his 60s, such that he could become this whole new terrible person?
Recently, I came across a documentary called The Brainwashing of My Dad. It was essentially the story of my own father, and it made me realize that my dad isn’t the only one in America who’s been impacted in this way. It’s another kind of pandemic, a mental health pandemic.
Donald Trump has created a culture of acceptance for my father’s selfish thinking. He has publicly given my father permission to put his own desires above those of anyone else. Trump has not only justified my father’s selfishness, he has been a hero for narcissism, normalizing this personality disorder on the global stage.
Today is the final day in the USA to vote, the final day to take a stand against selfish ideologies and move the political needle in this country toward equity for all.
This story is 100% true. No identifying information has been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Dad wouldn’t want me to censor myself anyway, right?