Sunday, June 18, 2017

My father

It wasn't hard to write about my mother on Mothers' Day. Writing about my father today, about what he might have made of what has happened to his country, is harder.

You see, he was one of those disappointed middle class white men living in a dying rust belt city whose "career" never amounted to much. His father was solidly upper middle class; his siblings were genuinely successful or at least dramatically engaged with their times. My father was the drone of the family. He held respectable low-end middle class white collar jobs which he diligently and loyally performed until the sort of locally-based businesses he worked for disappeared. He was too young (12) to serve in World War I and too old (36) to serve in World War II. His contribution to that great national emergency was in the accounting department of an aircraft production factory.

He did his duty as a (not terribly successful) provider, loved my mother fiercely with a love that was returned, and lived what he thought an unremarkable, honorable life. He was socially awkward, perhaps because he had stuttered as a child and occasionally slipped back into this condition. He dealt with the world by avoiding occasions that required sociability.

He was also intelligent, well read on a few subjects that interested him such as Civil War history, and capable of learning when he wanted to. In retirement, he walked and rode his bicycle about until his advancing blindness led him to run into a parked car. EP describes him as having been "rigid." He knew how he liked to perform the activities of daily living and was uncomfortable with change. As he aged and advanced into the COPD that eventually killed him (in 1991), he became addicted to television. Since he was both progressively more blind and deaf, this meant the TV blared at top volume all day and evening during his last years.

His expressed politics were what I'd call aggressively "grumpy." He thought all politicians (except perhaps a few he'd gone to high school with and maybe even them) were lying crooks. He was a conventional white racist, not hostile, just oblivious. He voted Republican without much thinking about it.

But there was a countervailing side to him. His idea of the right way for a good man to live, was the Jimmy Stewart character in such films as You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. His idea of a good man was generous and on the side of the little people, always.

So I find myself wondering -- if he'd been alive, would this classic Trump voter have voted for Trump? I do think my mother would have been a countervailing influence. My very existence would also have weighed against such a vote; he respected me and my life without ever making any particular effort to understand the legions of ways in which we differed. If I believed my path was good for me, that was good enough for him.

But Trump's TV persona, his willingness to smash convention, and to express white men's angst at a changing society, would have appealed to him. My father was the sort of guy who might never have told anyone, even my mother, what choice he made in the election, just to keep everyone slightly irritated and off-balance.

I loved him very much.

The photo dates from about 1970, I think. The pipe served him as what he thought a marker of a sort of distinction, as well as enabling him to claim to his parents that he didn't smoke cigarettes, a total fabrication.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

Your father is an example, as are many others I know and have known of his ilk, why the stereotype of the GOP voter is wrong. Sure there are bigots there, as there are in humankind in general. Most though just feel cheated by a system that has not had their interests at heart. They are frustrated by political correctness in some cases run amok. They believe in following the rules and have seen too many get away with not doing that and being rewarded for it. They would vote for a Democrat (many supported Obama) if they believed they cared about them and not just the elites. An example of how Trump won them over is what he did this last week with talking up apprenticeship programs. Whether he genuinely cares about the working class who knows. But that apprenticeship program is something nobody else has been able or wanted to talk up and very important to the segment of American who need good jobs but don't want or aren't cut out for college. I think that kind of thing is more why right wingers supported Trump and it's not what many on the left believe. If we get more running like Sanders, who I can also see putting for such programs for the workers, Dems can win. It was Sanders who wanted to make college more affordable for the middle, who have a hard time with the soaring tuitions and explains the dropout rates in states like Oregon where they should not be that high but the kids lose hope there is anything out there for them. We need a Democrat warrior, who doesn't have all of the baggage of a Trump. The problem is by the time they get to the level where they could run for President, most have already sold out. Your father sounds like a good man. Mine was too and of the same ilk.

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