Special events can bring out the worst in people. It’s natural. Weddings for instance. These can be emotionally draining for the parents, and participants, of these celebrations. Placing one up next to a Holiday like Thanksgiving? Well, it can be both amazing and come with some friction in the troubling era of the Alt-Right.
So, I have a relative who has an uncontrollable bad-boy sense of humor. He’s a loving father and a good husband to his wife. A great person to go drinking all night with and partying on the patio on a summer day. This man is a force of nature all of his own. Italian. Great cook. Fun to be around, for the most part.
And yet he has a history of sitting in his chair, violently grabbing the remote control and shouting “LIAR,” and other obscenities, at the TV when Obama came on the news. Devoutly anti Democrat. Unwilling to listen to anything besides his own rhetoric, or that of Fox News, or worse. I’ve known the guy for 27 years now. I accept how he is, because he is more than this.
However, it was while at his daughter’s wedding dinner when he was making the “dad speech” that he crossed a line. With me at least. This is the family that I chose to spend most of my “family time” with, over my own, through the past two plus decades. And while my own clan is rural and leans conservative, we have our own hardliners and, not to mention our fair share of instabilities, I never felt made lesser by speech that was intended to exclude a whole segment of the American populous. Part of which I am a member. For once I don’t mean gay either, but Democrat.
It’s funny, I read Brene Brown’s book titled “Braving the Wilderness.” She describes a ton of great ideas and paradigms in this book. It’s on my re-read list for some time when I am out camping overnight. But as it relates to this post, she talks about “speaking truth to bullshit.” Not in the sense of challenging conflicting ideas, but in leaning into discomfort. Listening. Trying to understand. Empathizing. Above all else, remaining civil. She also talks about coming together as a family. All kinds of ideologies and walks of life present. Laughing, dancing and enjoying great home cooked food.
So, when I confronted my relative, with a flat face, that I didn’t think what he said was funny his wife dutifully interjected and dismissed me by saying “oh, that’s just how he is!” Well, that was it for me. I know how he is. I’ve known him for 27 years. We’ve partied, laughed, enjoyed the same family together and still, this. With me and my husband in the room. For his daughter’s wedding dinner speech.
Clearly, this was an opportunity for me to turn the other cheek, but I felt that it was important for me to convey how belittled his words made me feel. “I don’t care who my daughter marries as long as it isn’t a Democrat! Bwa Ha Ha Ha Ha!” <applause> From the man who I repeatedly watched scream at the TV when Obama, or some other figure, was on, after he hit mute, refusing to listen and expressing nothing but pure unveiled hatred while opening his home to us as guests.
The challenge becomes realizing when we are actually attacking family members though. Not just family members, but each other in the larger world. We would do better to speak truth to bullshit more often. Not by challenging ideas that don’t agree with yours or mine, but by telling each other how they make us feel. Just as I wished to convey with my statement that that particular part of the speech was offensive to me. It made me feel unwelcome within the family itself. I suppose it was not anti gay, at least not outright anyway, still, I tend to draw my line slowly. Like over 27 years in this case. I felt that I could not hold back on this one, and the communication was at least semi private. Or at least very quiet and low drama.
Like most things, time heals all wounds. But I wonder, how good is it at bridging these kinds of rifts when one of the parties involved can’t even listen to opposing ideas on TV without screaming at the device fully muted? I know though, this is just how he is. It’s OK. Right???