As I scanned the bookshop today searching for something interesting to read about relationships, people, psychology etc. I was drawn to a book jacket with President Trump’s face on it. “Populismus vs. Politik” (populism vs. politics) the title said. I smirked and thought, in today’s society with everyone tuned into social media 24/7 why are we really surprised that populism won over politics? We are living in an egoistic, materialistic, self- and selfie-obsessed and status-concerned culture and who better to lead the sheep than someone who also possesses these qualities? The people spoke. They chose their leader.
Whenever I hear people mention President Trump, see articles written about him or scan newspaper headlines where his name and photograph are plastered on the front page, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about him. People slate him and think he is an idiot, even worse than Bush, and citizens of many countries think he is the worst person to lead America. They shake their heads in disgust, they protest in the streets against him, they brand him with hurtful labels and no doubt he receives daily hate mail and death threats. I know the local bookies in the UK were taking bets on how long he would last until he would be assassinated. As a politician he has limited experience, his international relations skills are shockingly appalling and his idea of hospitality looks more like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is presented as sexist and anti-women, is racist slash xenophobic and is rather rude and arrogant and way too orange. If I were American, I would not have voted for him to be president. My dad would have, even if just to have knocked Hillary out of the race.
But as a man, behind the President title, I can’t help feel a little affection and compassion for him as certain qualities remind me of my dad and my grandparents. When people attack Trump, his character, his life, his work, I can’t help but feel they are attacking my dad’s character and generation, too. I feel torn between defending Trump and my dad, and shaking my head in unified disgust. Trump is like Marmite. You either love him or hate him. I seem to be stuck in the middle though being a bit of both. When my uni housemate Carol (not her real name), a devout almost militant feminist and lawyer, accused me openly on Facebook of being a Trump supporter who allows women to be objectified and abused, that actually hurt. She obviously doesn’t know me well. She doesn’t know the relationship battles I have had with my father and she doesn’t know my history with men. I don’t think she wanted to know either. As a lawyer you see things in black and white and try to fit your arguments into the black and white to win a case. The grey area doesn’t do well in court. And psychology and feelings just blur the case further. She has her own experiences and judgments. She is entitled to them but I’m entitled to mine, too. And I would never defend someone who abused women, and men for that matter.
I didn’t buy a book in the end, but it did get me thinking about my dad, enough to inspire me to go home and write this post so I’d like to dedicate this post to my dad on what would have been his 67th birthday today (04.04.17).
My relationship with my dad had always been stormy. During my younger years I idolized him when listening in awe to his adventures in the Middle East and Africa and marveled at his endless knowledge on every subject. He made us laugh often and played around; he liked entertaining. He changed nappies, he tucked us into bed and looked after us when we were sick. He wasn’t always physcially present but you knew he was always there for you. As much as I adored and looked up to my dad, I simultaneously hated him for his uncontrollable hatred towards black people and his apparent anger and jealousy towards my brother who he beat a little more often and harder than deserved. He was quick to anger, his temper incredibly short and he seemed constantly angry at something. He was a smart man, no university degree but had worked his way up from the bottom starting his first job on a building site at thirteen years old. He rode his bike to work, tool bag on the handlebars. For a large portion of his self-employment he traveled all over the world to some of the most unusual places well off the beaten tourist track. He had the privilege of meeting some very wealthy and famous people, too. I was quiet, I observed, wondered, and accepted this man as my father but I also feared him. To me fear and respect went hand in hand.
During my teenage years we fought. I started to see things differently and I braved opening my mouth. I realized I did not share his views on the world, on women, on immigrants so I religiously defended my point of view. Dad would label me “brainwashed” and “a head-case” arguing that the school was to blame for putting socialist trash in my mind. I never won arguments. With dad, you just shut up when he started to raise his voice and threw out the insults. I would have this fury and hate build inside me, so much so that I couldn’t wait to be away from him and change my surname, and I would storm off to my room. I wanted nothing to do with him nor to be associated with him. The frustration of not being able to just debate or have my opinion acknowledged drove me crazy. I felt like I was in a dictatorship. I rebelled and spoke back to him, in a house where “children should be seen and not heard,” “don’t back answer your parents” and “while you’re under my roof you will do and think as I say” I was treading on thin ice. I still feared him, but the closer I came to 18, the sooner I knew I would be moving away to think and do as I pleased. Freedom.
During my uni days I tried to talk to dad about the things I was learning. I studied German and Russian. I tried to use academia as a way to bond and make conversation. Dad hated the Germans but only based on stories he had heard from school and his parents. Up until his late 50’s he hadn’t actually met a German. But he would mimic them as Basil Fawlty did (John Cleese in the British satirical comedy Fawlty Towers) and would mock their accents. I tried to show him a compassionate side to German people. I picked out examples were German citizens had tried to protect Jewish people. I wanted him to open up his mind and perspective more. I think I may have helped soften him in the end but his deep repulsion of everything foreign wasn’t going to disappear entirely. We were able to bond a little over interesting political topics, even if it meant me keeping stumm about what I really thought.
During my twenties and having rowed with dad some more, after dad had no choice but to accept my Ukrainian husband and after he realized I am just as stubborn and out spoken as he is, we kind of came to a truce. Well, I gave up fighting him and just tried to accept dad for who he was and not try to change him. If people were going to have an issue with him, then dad would have to deal with the consequences. I couldn’t protect him against anti-racial laws and I couldn’t make him see what he didn’t want to see. You can’t change everyone and rather than hate and fight, I’d prefer to look at the good sides and try to enjoy those. I let him tell his sexist and racist jokes, I tutted in disapproval and I endeavored to listen to him and learn who he was as a person. I returned to just observing but this time tried to analyse him to understand him more and try to see things from his point of view. I was tired of fighting someone who was just indifferent to me. I had to accept that I would never have a close relationship with him but I wanted to learn his lingo, find out how he ticked and try to communicate. I wanted to know him as a person and understand why he was the way he was. I wanted a friend not an enemy. He was a hard, very guarded person who hid his true feelings. He was a clown and joked much of the time. He was a jack the lad yet a lone wolf. Emotionally, he carried heavy burdens and wouldn’t share the load. He was stubborn and sometimes secretive. At times he could be Jekyll and Hyde. He voiced his outrage and disgust at people, politics, the state of the country but never revealed his true feelings about his family or his goals and dreams and rarely did he tell us kids he loved us and was proud of us. We just knew that was dad’s way. Feelings and letting your guard down made you vulnerable and dad hated that but everyone needed clear defined values and to know what they stood for.
My dad died on the 28th April, 2013 when I was 28. He committed suicide.
Writing dad’s eulogy was one of the hardest things I ever had to write. I wrote and read my nana’s eulogy and I’ve written and read a few speeches and readings in my time too at family and friends’ occasions. But with dad, his death came unexpectedly and I still hadn’t decided how I felt about him. I couldn’t write that I both hated and loved him like Marmite. I had to leave out stories that might shock and damage his character (you’re not supposed to talk ill of the dead) and I had to dig down and sort out all the good from the bad to find material to use for the speech. I didn’t sleep for two days whilst writing the eulogy. The family were looking up to me to do a good job and yet I was completely torn inside so I do what I do best and distance myself emotionally and put on a good show but 4 years on and I’m still anaylsing things and trying to work out what kind of relationship I had with my dad.
I didn’t know much about Donald Trump, but when he entered the limelight in the run up for presidency I was quite taken aback on how similar he is to my dad and how conflicted I felt when people voiced their disgust at him. It kept me awake at night. Would people hate my dad as much as they hated Trump? What kind of person was I for loving my dad if he was like Trump?
Proud, hard grafter
Dad never had it easy. He worked hard. Like Trump, he hated weeds growing in his back garden, he hated people riding off the backs off others and hated illegal immigrants who just drained society. He hated the labour supporters on benefits who were too lazy to work and who drank their dole money down the local pub each night. While you could eat, breathe, walk and talk there was no reason in his mind why you couldn’t get off your backside and work. He hated scroungers and was too proud to take handouts; a work ethic and mentality I also share. He wanted to contribute to society and country, not take from it. He was a grafter, a true blue conservative, he enjoyed his job working hard and often sold himself short. He had good working relationships with people across all social classes from the poor to the very rich. In contrast to Trump, he was not materialistic nor rich, he was a simple man who didn’t need much in life. He liked traditional British food, not foreign cuisines, and liked coming home to a cooked meal every night. He hated pictures of himself and was more humble than egoistic but he worked his butt off and put in 14 hour days and sacrificed a lot of family time in order to bring home enough money to keep a roof over our heads.
Dad cared and went out of his way many a time to help others, even strangers he barely knew. He made mum breakfast every single day. He visited his parents and took fresh eggs and flowers to them when they were alive and when they passed he visited their graves as often as he could. He visited and kept in touch with his brothers and his nieces and nephews. He was family oriented. In an emergency he was always there. He often took us kids to work with him and always picked up the phone when we called. He never drank alcohol; cigarettes were his vice and he never let someone eat or smoke alone. He was our taxi driver taking us and picking us up, even rescuing our friends, from all locations over the south coast at every and any hour without complaining or asking for petrol money. He gave blood regularly and was registered as an organ donor (he specified on his card for white recipients only *rolls eyes*). He supported the US military and British Armed Forces and often wished he had been born earlier to have fought in WW2. He stood up against bullies and was quick to defend us kids when things got tough at work or in relationships. He kept in touch regularly yet respected our privacy as adults. If we ever needed money or help he was there and he never expected a penny back. He never asked to be repaid. As a parent he knew if we needed help, he needed to provide.
Racist and xenophobic
My dad however, was xenophobic and he hated black people. In their own countries it was fine, in the UK it was not. We were not allowed to have any black friends. He disliked any coloured skin and every ethnicity that was not ‘English’ and hated foreigners who came to the UK who did not speak English. Having a British passport but not a grasp of the language angered him more than anything else. Why should they have a passport like him and be entitled to benefits when they know nothing about England nor speak the language? He would cross off “British” and write “English” on every form claiming that you will never find a black Englishman. We flew the St. George’s and American flags in our garden, not the Union Jack. He was interested in politics and although the local conservative party wanted him to run for MP and get involved, he declined saying it was a dirty poncey job kissing the backsides of posh people. I would joke that I think he would have fit more with the BNP than the conservatives. My dad grew up in a country dominated by white people and rich deep in history; to suddenly see other ethnicities “invade” and “take over” threatened the image of what was once a strong British Empire with colonies all over the world. He was a proud man, close to his father whose perspective on the world he shared, loved his country but he felt let down by the government on many issues not just immigration. Whilst in other countries dad adhered to local rules and regulations and was polite but back in his home country, on his turf, his view was England comes first, you should adopt English ways and customs otherwise foreigners should stay in their own countries. Charity starts in your own country, not bailing out other third world countries who will only drag you down to their economic levels.
Sexist and condescending
Like Trump he disliked women in the work place and felt their place was at home or in lower paid positions. Higher up than that and they didn’t have the balls for the job. The only exception was Maggie Thatcher whose politics he loved. But the Iron Lady, in dad’s eyes, wasn’t exactly an attractive woman so she didn’t count. I grew up under the “you can’t have both beauty and brains” judgment. Women were emotional, often kids came first not the job and they were just unreliable moaning too much about period pain, little Johnny’s grades at school and what they were going to wear to the work’s Christmas party. Dad would make jokes about women, blonde jokes no end despite having a blonde daughter, and the way he’d describe women colleagues was nothing short of condescending and insulting. As a woman who was interested in a career I felt uneasy. But I didn’t count. Dad was OK around me supporting my career even if he wasn’t thrilled at my choices in life, and thought I was clever; after all, I’m his daughter and it was just all the other women. What didn’t concern him or his family directly, he disliked. While I appreciated his support for me and his sort-of-approval (like Trump who supports his daughter who works with him in office and his wife who he defends against harsh critics) I didn’t agree on his overall mentality of women in the workplace nor sexual harassment jokes. Dad however, spoke his mind. Whether male or female, rich or poor, he spoke to everyone in the same way.
Intelligent and up to date with trends
Dad studied swimming pool engineering and had qualifications in chemistry, physics, biology, maths, had certifications and was approved to handle gas and electrics and had general knowledge of building, engineering and even marine navigation. He knew a little Arabic language, was familiar with Arab culture and had spent a few years in the Middle East during the coups in the 80’s. He could also speak a little French. He was atheist but had read the Bible and knew how to quote it in arguments against allowing Muslims to practice their faith retorting that England is a Christian country. He was a fan of technology and gadgets and seemed to adapt to most things fairly quickly. He was well read and kept up with newspapers and gossip regularly; even if it was from right wing sources. He could start up conversations easily with anyone he met and was a natural charismatic orator with excellent persuasive skills. He had a certain relaxed yet raw edge to him that captured people’s intrigue and interest.
Passionate with a strong sense of identity
Dad grew up in a time where the youth had more manners, jobs were readily available and life was slower, simpler and family time meant spending time eating, drinking and socializing together rather than liking each other’s Facebook posts from opposite ends of the house. People interacted, communicated and did things face to face. People had integrity, morals and respected one another. People helped one another and were polite. Values that many people of his generation complain are missing in society these days. He knew where he came from and what he liked. He wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers and speak his mind often being blunt, straight to the point, sometimes coarse and usually saying the things people were too afraid to admit. He hated being wrong, rarely apologized and he didn’t care if he insulted or offended. “Enough with the political correctness bullshit” he’d say. “If your feelings are hurt by a label then you’re a pansy, not a man.” He was hard line and liked well defined labels and things he understood. He had no time for wimps, no time for anything effeminate and couldn’t stand gay people let alone transgender bi-sexuals. Vegetarians and vegans clearly had something wrong with them mentally. He was skeptical and mistrustful of anyone who didn’t eat meat. He was conservative, old school, believed in a certain set of values and knew what he stood for and what was important to him. The more he saw England wilt away and lose its backbone the angrier he became. Frustrated with the state of society, he loudly voiced his grievances and opinions, often dividing people into “sympathizers” and “haters.” He never sat on the fence but rather took a side, defended it and you knew where you stood with dad. I think there is something to be said about that blunt transparent honesty. About not being afraid to believe in something with conviction and pride. It is refreshing. Too many people sit on the fence and um and ah about things, afraid to be rejected, afraid to be hated, afraid to pin themselves to a statement and stand by it.
Take a moment and look back at history
Dad had been born in the 50’s, the post war and throw away era. He’d gone through the crazy hippie 60’s and 70’s with all the drugs and sexual freedom, through the punky 80’s, he’d started his own business and settled down with a wife and had 4 kids, he’d seen the arrival of the Internet with dial up and mobile phones, 9/11 then Facebook, he gave up his business and began working for an American company and he’d witnessed a whole barrel of changes in a relatively short period of his life. Of all the generations, I think my parents’ generation have seen the most amount of changes and how they have coped to understand it, keep up and adjust is beyond me. They have gone from practically zero technology, refrigerators, black and white TVs with 3 channels to 110% reliance on touch screen and instant interactive technology and 4-D cinematic experiences in the home. From old classic, now considered vintage, cars to electric run arounds the size of matchboxes, from women being 50’s house wives to frenzied career women demanding both maternity leave and the same pay as men. International travel isn’t just for the rich anymore and it is easier now than ever before to emigrate to another country. There has been a huge shift in power between the sexes, in society and rapid and constant change in technology has made things unstable and uncertain in all areas of life. Dad’s generation grew up thinking they would have one job for life and retire and get a good send off, nowadays they find themselves a stone’s throw away from retirement looking for a new job because they have been laid off and oh, retirement age just increased and there’s no payout. They grew up thinking their lives would be similar to their parents’ but it isn’t. No one knows what the heck is happening and now we have Brexit on the cards! What the hell is going on? I can understand the frustration, the fear, the instability. I can understand how both dad and Trump want things to go back to the “good ole’ days” and slow down. I can understand why dad thought immigrants are to blame because they came to the country parallel to the other changes happening. I can understand how he felt seeing foreigners being more successful in his own country. Possibly slight pangs of jealousy and entitlement.
So what now?
Trump is dad’s generation. They are three years apart in age. I think, like dad and most people, Trump is still living in the past. Trump wants the US to go back to how he remembers it. He wants to turn the clocks back. So many people reminisce about the past, they compare it constantly to today and they like posts on Facebook picturing old gadgets, toys, food and relics from their childhoods. People enjoy the illusion of security that living in the past provides. It’s what they know and where they are comfortable. They are afraid of change. Afraid of screwing up. Afraid of the unknown. Trump knows this and his followers want to go back to the time before, too.
While I don’t think Trump should have been voted as President, ultimately the people chose him and everyone deserves a chance. The voting is a reflection on society today and if people don’t like it then it should be a wakeup call. Whether Trump can deliver what the people want time will tell. I only hope he doesn’t damage European relations in the process. I do want America to prosper and Trump is a successful businessman and hard grafter despite his character flaws. I hope the changes his cabinet make will be good changes not regressive ones. What he does as a President he will have to be held accountable for, and being a politician is a horrible job in my opinion. I wouldn’t want to do it. I hate politics.
I am not excusing Trump’s behaviour nor justifying or supporting Trump’s personality. I do not know the real man behind the media image we are shown. I think he is perhaps a kind decent man to his family and friends. I am merely looking at him from another perspective. While people bash him for everything he has said and done, I would ask you to think about your parents and grandparents and try to see things from their perspective. I would ask you to look at society back then too. I would ask you to remember their comments and impressions on immigrants and maybe for once, just look at Trump as a 70-year-old grandfather. He is not an evil dictator. He loves his country and just wants the best for it and wants the best for his family. Try to put your own egos aside, your own views and judgments and try to see life through the eyes of a 1950’s child. I admire his bravery, his determination, his passion and pride, even if he is a sexist, egoistic orange buffoon who should be in retirement not the White House. You can’t like everything about a person and a president isn’t your friend. He is your leader and he has to make tough decisions you don’t have to. He and his cabinet carry that burden of responsibility. But take a look at society, at what people want. Part of me can’t help but smile and think of my dad and how he’d be rooting for Trump and cheering in comradery. I’m not sure what my dad would have thought about Trump, he might have thought he was an idiot, but he would have definitely admired and approved of his brash honesty and plans on immigration. I loved and still do love my dad, both the good and bad sides. And I, too, stood up to my dad, defended my beliefs and argued against what I hated in true democratic style. I tried to teach him but I also tried to learn from him and I think we need to do the same with Trump. Protest and fight against him all you want, defend your beliefs and rights but don’t be too harsh to judge the man behind the title and listen to what the people want and start making changes at the grass roots level. If your hatred of him has inspired you to get up and get involved in things you care about then thank him for that. Even that alone, is a positive, no?
I know you may not agree with me and you may hate my dad and judge me and my family after reading this. You didn’t know my dad, nor lived with him day in and day out. I would say you are not in a position to judge him nor I and nor President Trump really. Part of dad is in me. I am 50% of my mum and 50% of my dad. To try to erase my dad is like trying to erase part of my existence, to deny my history, of who I am and what makes me me. I can only thank my dad for his strength, for how he inspired me to be passionate in all that I do and not be afraid to speak my mind. To stand up for what I believe in, even if people do not agree, and for the love he showed me and for being the best parent he could be. No one is perfect. I can take my experience and try to understand it, or just accept it and know that I am different.