Daddy issues in the Trump era

The other day a journalist asked me what parts of my anti-Trump satire Freedom City are true. Do I advocate violence or revolution? Am I a cuckold like Beach Sands? Was I a skinhead like Joseph Kaline? Do I make bombs in my spare time?

It’s fiction, I told her, but the underlying themes are true.

Asked for an example, I blurted out that two of my characters have “daddy issues”—something I didn’t even realize until the words left my mouth

For one character, Langston “FD” Hamdi, his father’s death upended his education and spurred him to becoming a graffiti artist. “With his father gone he couldn’t imagine anything more important and beautiful than a simple mural honoring his memory. And he didn’t need to go to school for that.”

For Joseph Kaline, a former Nazi skinhead, it was an epiphany about his father that made him turn his life around and renounce bigotry: “[For] the first time in Joe’s life he realized what an ignorant, homicidal asshole he had become, just like his father.”

When I created these characters with such different backgrounds I didn’t recognize what they have in common. FD’s father, who he idolized, died from cancer. Joe simply rejected his abusive father, who he loathed. The common denominator is that both their dads were irrevocably gone. In retrospect, it’s plain how this theme found its way into my story, because I haven’t talked to my own father since before Trump’s inauguration.

I know I’m not alone. With Trump’s most fervent base consisting primarily of white male Baby Boomers—the FOX “News” crowd—many of us born to these men are having our relationships tested. I’ve lost count how many friends have told me that they too have limited or cut off contact with their fathers for the same reason.

I certainly can’t speak for every progressive person who’s in the same situation, but I can describe my own turning point.

A graduate of the Naval Academy, successful, seemingly intelligent, in many ways my father is an admirable man. Now that he’s retired, he brews beer, which he drinks on his porch with a handyman named Rabbit. My father is generous, often funny, and he spoils his grandchildren. He’s also a far-right conservative—always has been—and so when he and Rabbit are drinking beer on the porch you might hear him parroting those FOX “News” taking points we’re all so sick of hearing about: entitlements, Obama, the liberal media, her emails, etc.

There was a time when I believed much of what he said, because he’s my dad and I once looked up to him. I didn’t know any better. By the time I finished college, however, I realized that his political views are more or less insane. Still, I assumed these whacky opinions were harmless. Everyone is entitled to his own beliefs, right? During the Republican primaries, my dad commented that he would vote for “the Donald.” I laughed. I assumed that was the appropriate response.

We all know how the election turned out.

And this is where my father’s beliefs went from being insane hypotheticals to an assault on my family and me. “The Donald”—big surprise—is a monster. The ways in which he’s destabilizing our democracy are countless, and I don’t want to delve into all of them here. The point is that, unlike the mere ephemeral rants of a man brainwashed by FOX “News,” now I have to worry about things like:

  • Will my elderly mother (divorced from my father when I was four), who is on untold medicines to prevent pulmonary embolisms, see cuts to her Medicare that could impact her health or even kill her?
  • Will my son, now fourteen, be drafted into the military in four years to fight whatever war Trump starts with his flippant tweets?
  • Will my partner and I, who live within sight of the U.S. Capitol, be incinerated in a nuclear blast because Trump refuses to read his daily intelligence briefs?
  • Will my son or my daughter, almost thirteen, be murdered at school by some psychopath in a Trump hat who was able to get a gun without a background check?
  • Should either of my kids be gay, will they be permitted to marry their partners? Will they be subject to legally sanctioned harassment and discrimination?
  • Should my daughter ever be raped and become pregnant, will she be forced to raise her rapist’s child because of Trump’s extremist judicial appointments?
  • When or if my kids have children—hopefully a very long time from now—will the United States even be a democracy anymore?

I can go on and on, but you get the point. These were not questions I took seriously before. Now they keep me up at night—and I mean that literally; I literally stare at the ceiling and worry my family is going to die. This is to say nothing about the racism, the sexism, the brazen corruption, and the hypocrisy.

And this takes me back to my father and to all the other white male Baby Boomers who helped carry Trump into the White House. I guess the clincher was my realization that an intelligent man can’t possibly be both a Trump supporter and a good person. For me, Trump’s election was when my perception of my father as an admirable or “good” person, like FD’s father, effectively died. Like Joe Kaline, I’ve chosen to limit my contact with what remains, because I can’t help but see that man as a willing accomplice in the existential threat against my mother, my children, my partner, my friends, my community, and every other thing that I love.

From a strictly emotional standpoint, I suppose, every word of Freedom City is true. Within its pages, my “daddy issues”—among other afflictions—are laid bare. I just didn’t see them until after the book was written.

 

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