I Grew Up in the Kind of Family Beloved By Republicans -- And It Was Hell
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His cohort of men was raised to believe that doing “the right thing” meant knuckling under and buying a ring. They were taught that if they put food on the table, they’d never have to swallow their anger. Providing was enough, until it wasn’t. And it never is. My father wanted a life bigger than the yard he mowed. He made us pay for everything our presence cheated him of.
Whenever I need to forgive him, which happens more often as I grow older, I remember the moment he was most proud of me, when a self-portrait I’d done was selected for a state-wide high school art show in the governor’s mansion. The portrait bore my features — the nose that never healed cleanly from a break and still slopes to the right; my father’s eyes and my mother’s mouth — but it was too pretty to be me. It’d been done for a grade, all soft angles and immaculate lighting and as we walked away from it, my father put his arm around my shoulder. As a child, I’d craved his touch as much as I’d feared it; by the time I was a teenager, we were enemy combatants forced to share a neutral country: I’d earned the luxury of being surprised by the weight of his hand.
“It’s good that you have something you love,” he said. He spoke with a hangdog guilelessness that conjured the few photographs of him as a boy: A butterball in a Little League uniform, a cowboy costume, a pair of Levis with rolled cuffs.
I will never know what that little boy wanted to be when he grew up, and I doubt that my father can bear to remember. My mother will never get to be a teacher, which is what she’d wanted when she was a little girl in a hand-sewn jumper; my grandmother would only pay for a typing course.
Still, everything I have in life — a job my father can brag about and an apartment my mother says is “cute, for a single girl” — and everything I’ve become — writer, activist, friend — is not always because of them, it’s often despite them, despite their best intentions, despite everything they were told to be.
My family was never part of the 47 percent Mitt Romney derided for being “dependent on government.” We never wanted for healthcare, for food or for housing — but we were victims. All the hashtags and memes about bayonets and binders full of women serve a purpose, but they can never encapsulate the madness of insisting that rape — if it results in motherhood — is a blessing. The crushing conformity of family first — and at any cost — will make victims of us all: the woman forced to relive the worst night of her life every time she feels the baby kick; the man who has always wanted to be a father, but never will because of whom he loves; and the little girl at the kitchen table who must choose “eight” or “I don’t know.”