How can I love my Republican parents?

The people who gave birth to me support George Bush. How can that be?

Published August 24, 2007 10:48AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

How can I love my parents when they are supporters of the most corrupt, willfully ignorant, deceitful, lying administration in our nation's history?

If we were not related by blood, I would have nothing to do with these people. The Bush presidency has ruined our reputation in the world, destroyed many of our civil liberties and increased the divide between the rich and the poor. Plus they think torture is just dandy!

I don't have any Republican friends. I don't like to talk to Republicans mostly. I find them ignorant of other cultures, and smug -- feeling that our country is the best in the world -- period.

I lived in a foreign country for several years and have traveled to several others. I find many things good about America but I think there are many things to be improved. When I visit my parents, politics is generally off the table for discussion. Occasionally it will come up with tense, sometimes angry results. They have no idea of my political thoughts and don't want to hear them. On the whole my relationship with them is better than many I've seen. We're not estranged, they didn't abuse me, but I don't really like them. I simply shut up and endure the visit.

I live on the East Coast, they live in the Southwest. I know I should love them. They supported me, helped me through college and such. But we have nothing in common and I dread seeing them. They embarrass me sometimes. Why should I spend time with people I don't like and resent for helping to lead my country in the wrong direction? Will I ever enjoy spending time with them again? It doesn't feel like it's possible. They say that you miss your parents when they're gone, no matter what your relationship was like. That might be true but I don't miss them now when they live 2,500 miles away. Can I change my attitude? I doubt it. Maybe you can shed some light.

A Bad Son

Dear Bad Son,

So you have nothing in common with your parents, you dread seeing them, you are embarrassed by them, don't see why you should spend time with them and doubt that you ever will enjoy spending time with them.


You ask if you can change your attitude. I think you probably can.

Here is an idea for an exercise, or thought experiment, that you might try. I thought this all up on my own. It's premised on the assumption that even though you have had very different experiences, you have the same brand of processor. So though your experiences have been very different, you process experience and arrive at conclusions in similar ways. Knowing this, it should be possible for you to imagine the experiences that have made your father who he is. So ask yourself, what would it take to make my dad into a Republican?

Pretend you are your father. Explain how you got to be the way you are. Not why you think George Bush is a good man, but why you are who you are, why you identify with George Bush and the Republican Party, what it feels like to you, what you get out of it. What experiences did you have that led you to this point in life? Now, your dad has probably told you stories about his early life and struggles. You grew up with him. You know where he worked and what his attitudes toward life were. So talk for him, in his voice. Tell the story. Try to get his voice, his facial expressions. That's right, mimic your father. Try to get his posture, the way he walks, the way he stands.

Then ask yourself, what does it feel like to your dad? In particular, what does it feel like to him to be a Republican? Like, what is his face doing when he says he is a Republican? How is he standing? Is he apologetic? Is he proud? Is he grandstanding?

If it was an emotion, or a gesture, what would his Republicanism be? Would it be a sad, mournful tune? Would it be a rebel yell?

What needs does his Republicanism meet in his own life? Does it meet his need for affiliation? (That is, are his friends also Republican? Does he get together with Republicans and have a good time? Does he identify with and emulate prominent Republicans?) Is it functional? (That is, if he is a corporate man, it may be that Republicans treat his business better than Democrats do, giving his business a better regulatory environment and better taxes, and it may be that his personal financial situation does better in a Republican environment.) Are there historical reasons for his Republicanism? (Were his parents Republicans? Has he been a Republican for a long time?)

So get a feeling for what this is all about with your dad. Do the same thing with your mom. Think about her story. Get inside her head. What has her life been like that she would find comfort and meaning in the Republican Party? Mimic her face, her gestures. Try to feel what she feels.

As you do this, consider your own political beliefs, and what they feel like, and how they fit into your social world. You say you have no Republican friends. So does that mean that you feel particularly strongly about agreement as a component of friendship? Do you have any friends you like just because they are funny, or because you have been through things together and you admire how they handled certain tough situations? If not, I might suggest that you and your father are alike in this way: That you are both a little narrow in your choice of friends. If he is narrow and you are narrow, then it is not likely for there to be much common ground. But you would have common ground in the style and manner in which you have processed your experiences: Your experiences have led you to affiliate almost exclusively with non-Republicans; his experience has been different, and yet he has processed it in the same way, and reached the same conclusion: stay away from anybody who does not agree with him.

Now, your attitude about all this will not change overnight. You are in a state of anger toward your parents. There may be reasons for that aside from their political affiliations. That is OK. It is possible to love people and also be angry at them. It is possible to love people and disapprove of the way they run their lives. We are talking about filial love here.

You know, this just occurred to me: the connection between "affiliation" and "filial." Sure enough, when I look it up in the Online Etymological Dictionary, I see that the two words have a common Latin root. "Filius," as I recall from high school Latin, means "son." And, as the dictionary points out, "affiliation" comes from the Latin "affiliare" -- to adopt a son. So this need for affiliation has some kind of familial echo: We seek affiliation as we seek family. So, not to psychoanalyze you, but the way you and your father seek different political affiliations may have some deep resonance with other family conflicts or differences. You have "adopted" different beliefs. You may even feel some kind or primal dissatisfaction with the fact that your father has "adopted" beliefs inimical to your own, as if he had, by doing so, given you an obnoxious, competing sibling. I know that's stretching it, but then, it only gets really interesting when we stretch it a little!

So how can you love a Republican? You can love a Republican because family love is an unbreakable connection. It isn't an idea. Love is not approval or agreement. It's a bond. So when you ask why you should spend time with them, remember this: There is such a thing as enduring bonds of blood. These people gave you life. Your mom gave birth to you. We humans feel deeply connected with those who bore us.

(Oh, that's a good pun, isn't it?)

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