It’s rather troublesome that my dad is the one who introduced me to Leonard Cohen. But that’s okay. There are poisons come with their own antidotes and I’ve learned that my dad was one such killer/elixir combination. And it’s not even him. It’s not personal. Life itself is what kills you while making the food for the new person that will emerge from the ashes.
Like the second week of November bringing Trump’s election and Cohen’s death. Though the first was shocking, the second expected, in retrospect, they were both inevitable. There was solace, if not an antidote exactly, in Kate McKinnon singing Halleluiah as Clinton on national television that Saturday.
And solace has come for me in the peace that arrives with good boundaries. I reject the villains that seem to be rising in the world and in our country, but I see that they’ve always been there and that previous leaders were just milder flavors of the same dish. And perhaps that’s worse, like biryani with no chili; faded to a point where you can’t tell what it really is.
My anger at a country that would elect a regime that could grab me or my daughter by the pussy, inculcate my sons into a toxic cesspool of patriarchal masculinity, put us and other Muslims in concentration camps, endorse the new slavery of the school-to-prison pipeline for my black brothers and sisters was a crucible for me.
The crucible was made stronger knowing that 53% of people ostensibly like me, my fellow white women, had voted for this new world order.
What was wrong with them? Did I suffer from the same ailment? I mean, maybe I had the sense to vote for the person who wasn’t going to build a wall on our Southern border and implement a bunch of Nazi-like bullshit, but the root causes of their decision to either endorse or ignore those things, were those roots in my subterranean world also?
Were we white women allowing our desire for approval by white men, who would never see us as equals anyway, to influence our allegiance? This is where the personal becomes universal. We may be trying to please daddy or hubby, but in doing so we become agents of the patriarchy.
There was a lot of clashing of identities and stereotypes as I looked around and tried to understand. I still don’t know who my black stepmother voted for. She expressed confusion before the election about what to do because Trump and Clinton were equally poor choices in her eyes. I maybe could have understood that if Clinton’s faults were creating the “super predator” and contributing to the mass incarceration of black men. But it was more to do with “the gays” and “the baby killers,” I think, both of which conflict with her Seventh Day Adventist outlook.
My stepmother once told me I should stop speaking out for gay rights if it was upsetting my in-laws, that it had nothing to do with me and it wasn’t a hill I should die on.
Two weeks after the election, with all this fermenting inside of me, I could no longer serve the people who’d taken advantage of my love and trust. As I cleaned my house to host my father for Thanksgiving, it all felt wrong. I was filled with unadulterated rage, such that I said a prayer over the salad I made, asking that it not be filled with hatred and that it be good for all who ate it. I was reminded of all the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my childhood building one atop the other, an unbroken chain that mirrored the links between my parents’ pain and my own. It felt like I had to cut that tie or decide it was okay to knot it around my children’s hearts.
Just a few days later, there was a spate of stories about the trauma endured during filming by the female actress in Last Tango in Paris, an X-rated movie my father had screened in our home and where I was the only child in the audience. I stopped sleep and all important deadlines to make the first twist in the first link.
My open letter to my father was one of the hardest of a million steps I had to take to unshackle myself and my children from the narratives of our families and our skins and our countries.
So, though the letter was personal, it also wasn’t.
It wasn’t personal because I had nothing against my father. It’s likely he did the best he could with what he knew and the strength he had. It’s not personal because I just did what was necessary to save me and my children. It’s not personal because it’s universal. This is what we all must do if we’re to move forward. Cutting out what we won’t accept, even if it contains aspects we love, is what we have to do to find out what’s under our soil, uprooting illness and fertilizing the healthy roots that have been graceful enough penetrate the earth and sometimes hang on by a pebble, waiting for this moment.