Throughout the 2016 election, my father became my sounding board for engaging, political dialogue. I have deep respect for his wisdom and success in business, and his willingness to debate without shame or attacks. He’s protective of his daughter and is constantly reminding me that, “No one will ever have your back like your dad!” I know he loves me, and I feel safe with him.
I recently sent him a video of Anderson Cooper interviewing Megyn Kelly. In her announcement to leave FOX News, she revealed degrading comments and blatant threats that were directed to her by Trump. I contacted my dad because I was feeling sad that our president is verbally abusive, and scared about Roe vs. Wade being overturned and the protection of women’s rights in general.
His reply caught me off guard, “Maybe I should care more about Roe vs. Wade, but I’m more worried about you getting your next book deal and hitting your business goals. Just be grateful you weren’t born in Syria or Afghanistan where people are struggling to find their next meal.”
Usually, my dad is the voice of reason. He has a way of calming and bringing me back to what’s important, but this time, my frustration only intensified. To expand the conversation, I sent the video to my mom, asking what she thought of the exchange between Trump and Kelly.
In the past, my mother has shied away from political discourse. With family as her priority, she didn’t feel involved enough to form a diplomatic opinion. Early in life, she voted for her father’s choice in candidates. Later, she became a staunch Democrat, even though her husband was a faithful Republican. I find myself somewhere in between politically—an arm around each parent, so to speak.
My mom’s reaction to the video was strikingly different. In a voice of quiet rage, she said, “Erin, this brings up issues that I thought I had resolved and buried years ago, like when I was assaulted as a child and was terrified to speak up; or when I would minimize myself around men, so they could feel important; or when I was bullied by respected people and was made to look like the crazy one. It is absolutely tragic that we have our first openly abusive president. No one should tolerate behavior like his!”
Her words hooked me emotionally, and then, a distant childhood memory reappeared. My brothers and I used to demean my mom because she went to therapy and women’s groups. Since she kept going back, year after year, we assumed she wasn’t being helped, or maybe she wasn’t applying it correctly. I remember silently winning every mother-daughter argument in my teens because I could see my mother struggling to find her voice. She was notorious for shutting down, and her silence would be the ultimate punishment for everyone, including her.
At age 42, I understand now that my mom’s pursuit of support was not only healthy, it was desperately needed. As a family, we made fun of her, but she had enough self-trust to know she didn’t deserve poor treatment, and she had enough self-respect to learn how to reclaim control of her life. She never accepted the status quo, but she never fought it publicly, either. Instead, she would quietly process her emotions with friends and her women’s group.
Today, I realize that my mother’s viewpoint is more informed than ever. In her 70s, she has become an elder whose perspectives are to be heard, considered, and used as an example. My father might always be my resource for finances or business, but I will never again ask him to define my realities or priorities as a woman. It’s the knowledge of my mother and other female elders who I want to hear from now. In retrospect, I should have inquired and listened a long time ago.
In reading Anna Louise Strong’s book, I Change Worlds, she describes her career as a journalist and activist in the early 1900s. She said, “Not until I have it down on paper do I firmly grasp what I know.” She left a trail of evidence about having to use pseudo names for protection and how the sensation of loneliness was palpable in her work. The career women who came before us made sacrifices for our rights today.
These women also understand abuse. They see through its veiled and manipulative language, and they have lived through its undeniable danger. They know that every child who is raised in an environment of abuse has residual effects as an adult, often PTSD. As mothers and women of age, there’s no way they’ll allow the father of our country to terrorize us, distort reality, and cause emotional harm in the name of economic progress!
My mother’s true brilliance has taken center stage, and it’s bonding us like never before. We made a promise to stand up to this abusive administration and to refuse being treated like uninformed, foolish children. We’ve come too far to be defenseless and blind, and now I have my mother to help lead the way.