A Letter from Dad

An email I got from my dad about a week ago. Reprinted with his (hesitant) permission. (It’s not so much that minds his thoughts and feelings being shared with the public as he hates to think he’s doing my job for me.)

Hi Joe,

I thought I’d write to you, talk a little bit about the election. It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid the last few days. Your mom isn’t handling it too well. She isnt crying as much as she was, but there’s a sadness that hangs around her. I’m hoping it fades. Seeing you kids at Thanksgiving will probably help. Knowing her, she’ll start planning the menu this week, so she’ll have something pleasant to occupy her mind. I think she needs it. And maybe I just need to write somebody something and I picked you. You don’t have to thank me.

Maybe I picked you because you’ve always taken credit for “converting” me from a Republican to a Democrat. I think you probably know this, but I’m going to tell you again: the Republican party had more to do with that than you did. The term “liberal Republican” was going out of style even before the Arne Carlsons and Dave Durenbergers of this world retired from politics. I don’t feel like a Democrat as much as I feel like a man without a country (more today than ever.) But I don’t think the Republican party of my youth is coming back, so I’ll keep voting Democratic and hope for the best. If you want to take credit for it, go ahead. 

But as much as I’d love to turn off politics and ignore it, I don’t think we can. I think ignorance (true ignorance) of what’s going on in the world put us in this situation. Sometimes I think, “Well, let the world go to hell in a handcart. Serves ’em right. I’m a 63 year old white guy in a small town in northern Minnesota. I’ll probably be dead and gone before we feel it around here.” But then I think about you kids and Kevin’s kids and Owen’s kids and maybe your kids some day (your mother’s more optimistic about that than I am) and I realize there’s more at stake than just me. So I’ve got some advice for you. (I know you’re probably rolling your eyes. That’s why I email you. I like to think you’re a captive audience.)

First, don’t give in to despair. It’s an easy emotion. Rather than search for answers, we simply tell ourselves, “To hell with it. The world is completely evil and there’s nothing we can do to change it.” Personally, I’ve never seen the benefit in despair. If I had given in to it, I never would’ve gotten the hardware store off the ground, never would’ve gotten through some of the lean years. The only way you achieve something is by never giving up. I don’t tell you boys this enough, but I’m proud of all of you. You all had goals: Kevin wanted to be a lawyer. Owen wanted to take over the store. You wanted to be a writer. All of you achieved it and I know it wasn’t easy for any of you. Nothing worthwhile comes from giving up. Please remember that.

Second, stay connected. Governments need to be held accountable and they’re held accountable by an informed electorate. Take advantage of being in the opposition. It can be useful. It gives you an opportunity to clarify what you believe in and to sharpen your arguments. To take stock of what went right and what went wrong when you had power. And to take stock of what the other guys are doing. They built their campaign on a foundation of empty promises. Hold them to that and don’t let them off the hook when they come up short (and they almost-certainly will.)

I think the hardest thing to do will be to understand why the election was lost. It’s like going through the rubble of your house after a fire. It’s a task you’d rather avoid all together, but it needs to be done. The fact is that something about the Republicans’ message resonated with enough people in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and nearly Minnesota that they won the election. What were they offering that we weren’t? Why did the Democrat’s message fall short? What issues do we need to address? We have to be honest about our own failures. It’s the only way forward. It’s easy to demonize the opposition (and they make it easier all the time) but that’s not going to get us anywhere. Let’s not forget, we didn’t think people were stupid when they were voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. It’s too easy to dismiss the opposition as a collection of ill-informed racists. We have to ask why this election turned out the way it did and not simply dismiss it as an act of collective stupidity.

One thing this whole campaign has taught me-and I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m the one who’s been talking about being honest-we need to do so much better by the women in our lives. Your mother is my partner and my best friend and she has been for almost 40 years. And I’ve always tried to teach you boys to respect the women in your lives. But sometimes an event comes along that puts your beliefs to the test, that makes you ask, “Am I really doing this right? Am I following through on what I believe? Can I do better?” This election should have been about who was qualified and who was not. Instead, it became about who was likable and who wasn’t. Groping women was dismissed as “locker room talk.” I played football in high school. I’ve had poker nights regularly since before you were born. Nobody’s ever talked about rape as if it were an acceptable thing. I wouldn’t dream of wasting my time trying to correct a terminal frat-boy narcissist like Donald Trump. But I think we all need to check in and ask ourselves: can we do better? The answer is almost always going to be yes.

There are going to be some tough times ahead. Health insurance is going away. There will be attempts to restore state-sponsored bigotry. We’ll need to stay vigilant and informed. We’re going to need to resist it at every turn, to make our voices heard. No matter what people will tell you, we still live in a democracy. Dissent needs to be an essential part of it. Yes, people will use the tired old standby of questioning your patriotism, but we’ve been down that road before. It’s an empty argument (and a hypocritical one after the last eight years.)

But in the middle of all this, we can’t lose sight of the things that bring us joy. For me, it’s seeing my family during the holidays. Going out for walks with your mom (as long as this beautiful fall weather holds.) Seeing my friends on poker night. You have a gift for making people laugh. I want you to use it as much as you can and any way that you want to use it. I think people need it now, maybe more than ever. I hope you remember what Pastor Tony would say when you were growing up, about how we need to use our gifts and talents in the service of others. Now would be a good time to use yours. 

And please remember this: I’ve always accepted, from the time I was your age and even earlier, that progress is inevitable. My concern has always been what that progress would look like and what values we’d give up when it took place. But no matter what people say, the history of this country-the history of this world, really-has always been toward greater acceptance and understanding. Maybe problems aren’t resolved as quickly as we like, maybe they aren’t resolved as neatly as we like, but there’s always progress. Look where this country was 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, 200 years ago. Look how far we’ve come with women’s right, civil rights, gay rights. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. But that doesn’t mean progress hasn’t been made and won’t be made. There are always those who, through their own fear and small-mindedness, will act like an anchor. But it doesn’t mean we’ll go backwards. Instead of thinking every generation is the end of the world as we know it, I think every generation gets more tolerant, more understanding, more inclusive. It’s always just a matter of time. Please remember that. And never give up hoping. Never give in to despair.

Thanks for listening. Keep your chin up. And if you need anything, I’m here for you. Oh, and call your mother. I think she’d like to know you’re doing okay. (Don’t roll your eyes. Just do it.)



%d bloggers like this: