My dad is a Republican. Republican-ish. Sometimes I refer to him as a recovering Republican. His Republicanism can be difficult for me, at times, as I am not a Republican. Not even a little.
*I originally wrote this in 2012 - give or take. Last week my dad called to tell me a story so it feels relevant to revisit and update his Republican recovery:
"Hey Doodle, you got a half a sec for a story?"
"You know, I've been a registered Republican for my entire voting life? Well, I got a letter in the mail from the National Republican Committee. It talked about how awful the Democrats are and what a champion Trump is. And then it had a tear-off section and you check a box to donate $50 or $100 or more.
So I checked the 'other' box and hand wrote a note:
Donald Trump makes me ashamed to be a Republican. Please give him the enclosed 5 cents and tell him to spend it wisely.
And he Scotch-taped a nickel to the donation form.
He laughed so hard at his own punchline. I couldn't laugh - I was in awe of him.
When I was in the sixth grade I took Speech as an elective. Every week we were given a topic and we had to write three to six pages on the topic, then read it aloud to the class. It was Speech-light. Just getting our pre-pubescent selves comfortable in front of a room, speaking full sentences while we shifted our weight from one foot to the other, occasionally flipping our hair á la Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano.
We feigned mild discomfort and disinterest, though I firmly believe that each of us secretly hoped that our personal stories and essays would elicit a spark of unspoken connectivity with a certain other classmate - for me it was Justin Velanos - so handsome with his chin length hair parted down the middle.
One week our topic was "pollution" and each of us talked about its negative effects and the importance of getting rid of factories, refineries and big-rig trucks for a few minutes. Sixth grade was before the internet, so we got our information from newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias and our parents. I wish I had copies of our class' entire speech copy - it would be such a tell of each of each of our backgrounds and resources.
Our final speech was to be on a topic of our own choosing. I sat at the table in our dining room with my parents and we discussed what I could write about. We had already covered our greatest fears, our most proud accomplishments, our best friend and the person we admired most, as a class. I needed something epic and profound and darn it I needed Justin to notice me already.
My dad suggested, "the other side of pollution."
"What would happen if we got rid of all the pollution producing and creating factories? Where would those people work? How would they keep sending their kids to dance class?"
My dad has a knack for putting things into non-sophisticated terms so that those of us who do not have MBAs from Haas can follow along.
I wrote a speech about the human interest side of pollution. The people who have spent their entire working lives making plastic bottles in a factory. The people who make their living and support their families in refineries.
You see, I am from Long Beach, a port town and a stone's throw from the Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, the Union Oil refinery in San Pedro, the Exxon-Mobil refinery in Torrance and the De Menno-Kerdoon refinery in Compton. Needless to say, we have a lot of pollution in the old LBC, and thousands of jobs that rely in some way or another on those pollution producing and driving industries.
At age eleven I didn't have the knowledge base or resources to suggest green-alternatives, mass education programs for corporations and government subsidies to make clean energy a priority. I was not like the kids of today who could give a TED talk by age thirteen. But, my dad did instill in me a sense of open-mindedness that definitely caught the three whole people listening in Mr. Partington's speech class a bit off guard. What about all the job loss if we just closed factories? Where would we get gas for our cars without oil refineries? How would products get from the port to the rest of the world without big-rig trucks?
Today, when my dad and I have our weekly breakfast dates, I have to actively and consciously listen with an open mind. I tend to get riled up pretty easily when we talk politics and economics. Race, religion, sex, gender and equality too. He sees things through a very specific lens. He thinks like a scientist with a background in money. I think like a bleeding-heart empathizer.
But over the years, my dad will sometimes look at me and say, "it's the other side of pollution, Bean." That's how he guides me into calming down, and listening to what is actually being said. To take away the emotional context and listen to the facts. Then, and only then, will I be able to hear the context for what it actually is and form an opinion.
I find that the people I admire and respect most are ones who have strong, passionate convictions, can speak clearly and have the ability to share their facts with anyone, not just supporters. Disagreements and different points of view are what fuel conversation in this country. It's how we ask ourselves and our peers to take a hard look at fact and context instead of believing blanket ideals that were taught to us without considering all sides. It's how we question whether our morals are actually moral or whether they are extremist.
Considering and learning all sides is a reminder for me to stay open. To see things with my eyes. Hear things with my ears. And stay open in my heart. It is NOT my job to judge.
Boom, my dad, the yogi. Give him his 200-hour Yoga Alliance certificate already.