You’ve got problems, I’ve got advice. This advice isn’t sugar-coated — in fact, it’s sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.
This week we have a son who doesn’t know how to deal with his father’s often-racist email chains.
Keep in mind, I’m not a therapist or any other kind of health professional — just a guy who’s willing to tell it like it is. I simply want to give you the tools you need to enrich your damn lives. If for whatever reason you don’t like my advice, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now then, let’s get on with it.
With the exception of my brother, all of my family is of the “brainwashed by Murdoch News” ilk. I am a giant bleeding heart liberal. I also have a relationship with all of them that could best be described as “cordial” and I’ve long since given up hoping to improve that. We’re just very different people and I’ve made my peace with that.
I keep my interaction with them on social media to a minimum in the name of keeping the peace. Several years ago I went through a round of eye roll-inducing chain mail forwards from my uncle who is my dad’s older brother, which I began responding to with links from Snopes or other sources disproving whatever idiocy was forwarded to him. My uncle is a bully and didn’t like when I did this and whined endlessly about it, but it eventually had the desired effect of getting me removed from his email forwards.
Unfortunately, my uncle is also a pretty significant influence on my dad. Dad’s always been relatively conservative but in the last few years he’s tacked hard to the right in a pretty disappointing and disgusting fashion. Right now I largely ignore the emails, though I do occasionally respond with a link debunking whatever was in it depending on how egregiously stupid it was.
My question is, should I continue this current behaviour or should I become more aggressive in trying to deter him from sending them to me? Staying silent feels shitty but I’m under no illusions of dad having an epiphany and realising “HEY BEING A RACIST PIECE OF SHIT ISN’T FOR ME!” And while my relationship with my parents is lukewarm at best, I don’t particularly want it to deteriorate. It feels like little potential upside with a lot of potential downside of confronting him about it, but it’s still tempting to try.
Not So Fortunate Son
Hey Not So Fortunate Son:
Silence isn’t the answer here, but you’re right, you shouldn’t be under any illusion that you can change your dad’s mind. I’m sure he’s the “set in his ways” type. You’re a grown man with your own opinions of the world, and it seems like your political discussions are creating a rift that will only continue to grow as time goes on.
You’re a little disappointed in your conservative, racist father. He’s a little disappointed in his bleeding heart liberal son. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still maintain a cordial — as you put it — relationship with him. Who knows? You might even be able to mend things a bit too. Might.
How? First, stop firing back. Don’t take the bait. Your responses are just feeding the fire, Not so Fortunate Son. Then, if you can’t stand watching those forwards show up in your inbox, tell him to please stop sending you those emails! You do not owe your father any email fealty. Don’t just shoot off an angry email in response, though. Give your request in person, or at least on the phone. He needs to know you’re serious about it and not just being a whiny snowflake. It’s time to be brave and stand up for yourself, kid.
When he asks why or gives you shit about it — and this is vital — be very serious and tell him it’s because you’re family and you love him, but you feel like this behaviour is creating a gap in your relationship and you don’t want it to get any wider than you feel it already is. He needs to know. He might be on the other end of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be somewhat understanding when it comes to his own kin.
Tell him you’d be happy to receive an email, call, or text from him as long as it’s not about politics. Tell him you’d rather talk about the good ol’ days (if there were any), sports, hunting, cars, movies, anything else. Or plan a father-son activity to reconnect and give both of you a chance to understand each other a bit better. You must escape the political news tug of war! Focus on what you like about your father, if anything, and go from there. Email chains are never a good way to really communicate or understand someone, so don’t let that become the focus of your relationship.
If that doesn’t work, and he doesn’t stop, block his emails — then tell him you did. You gotta’ do what’s right for you and your happiness, but he still needs to know. And this process should’t be one final attack, a coup de grâce — no, you’re bowing out. You’re different people — you’ve made your peace with that — so let him think he’s won and move on.
Don’t poke the bear, let him eat, and move to greener pastures. Hopefully one where you and your dad can have a catch and focus on finding some less-racist middle ground.