Freshman year. My parents and I had said our last goodbyes and given our final hugs. They were walking out of my dorm room when my dad paused to offer these parting words. “You might become a Democrat for a while when you’re here. But I’m not worried. It won’t last.”
He might have been surprised but his response was even more unexpected. He never repeated his veiled hope. Rather, he asked about my political opinions whenever I came home for a break. Within a year, he started to call me at college to discuss current events.
I spent the summer after graduation with my parents at our cabin. Our family friend, Dave, came for a visit. One night at dinner, Dave made a disparaging comment about the welfare system. My dad glanced at me, which I interpreted as a “Don’t engage” look. I was wrong.
Instead, he suggested that I share my opinion on the issue. For the next 45 minutes or so, a dinner debate ensued. It grew heated. I knew my mom was uncomfortable when she got up to wash the dishes. Honestly, arguing with my parents’ friend – someone I still respectfully addressed by his last name – felt strange to me as well. Dave and I eventually lost steam and the conversation turned to something more benign. As I left the table, I heard my dad say, “She can hold her own.”
On election day in 2008, my dad called to tell me that he voted for Barack Obama. It was the first time he had cast a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. At that moment, I realized something remarkable. I had always assumed that he talked politics with me because he knew I was interested in them. It was a way to connect. What I hadn’t realized is that he respected me enough to really listen to my point of view. And be open to changing his.
Today, when my daughters and I disagree about something, I find myself thinking that they just lack the life experience to appreciate that I’m right. They’ll come around to seeing things my way. “It won’t last.” I wonder what might happen instead if I spent more time listening to their perspectives – listening well enough to really understand them. What long-held opinions and ideas might I be pushed to rethink? Can I be open to change?
Thanks, dad, for modeling how its done.
Image: Dewey vs. Truman (The Great Debate), Norman Rockwell