A funny thing happened on the way to my daughter’s wedding. Well…we haven’t actually gotten there yet. The wedding isn’t until next weekend. But in the four years since she met her fiancé, they have changed the way I view the world.
Born to a Republican father who essentially got to vote twice because he told my mother how to vote, I revolted. I registered as a Democrat as soon as I turned eighteen, though I didn’t tell my father, a man who laughingly informed me that before he would give my husband his blessing, the man would have to sign a paper promising to vote Republican. When Nixon resigned in disgrace a few months after I registered to vote, I became convinced that Republicans represented all that was wrong with the world. The long list of strident Republicans who’ve spoken for the party in the years since, and particularly after 9/11, reinforced that view.
Born to a bleeding heart liberal Democrat, my daughter didn’t tell me right away that her new boyfriend was a registered Republican. She knew that I worried enough that he had served in Iraq. Did he show any signs of PTSD? “No, Mom,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Does he still have a gun? “Yes, Mom,” she said with just the slightest puff of frustration, “but he’s been trained to use it safely.”
Eager to meet his family when they became serious, I pressed Ashley to give me some dates when I could invite them to dinner. She resisted. When I pressed her about it, she admitted that his father was as staunch a Republican as I was a Democrat and that Larry, her boyfriend, was a registered Republican. She had already created a worst case dinner scenario in her head.
“You know, Mom, I don’t always agree with your political views,” she said. And she told me about an incident that had happened a few days earlier when a homeless woman asked her for money to buy lunch. She shook her head and went into the sandwich shop, where she bought the woman a meal. When she offered it to the woman on her way out, she accepted it with an ungrateful roll of the eyes and told Ashley what she really needed was money. Tears in her eyes, Ashley admitted to me that it was hard to know how to help homeless people.
She’s right, of course. She has one uncle who died of a prescription drug overdose and another who died in a car accident with heroin in his bloodstream. We’ve talked often about how hard it was when my brothers asked for money and how helpless I felt in the face of their addictions. Fixing the issues that face us is complicated, and none of us have the answers.
When the Washington Post published an article in July about the electoral participation of mixed partisan couples, I sent a link to my daughter and her fiancé. Ashley didn’t respond. But Larry did—with an emoji, eyes covered, and the text, “I can see the headline in the link.” I laughed. His amiability and sense of humor are two of the reasons I’ve grown to love him.
The unexpected bonus for me, though, is that I’ve grown to love his parents as well. They are smart and hard-working people. His father is a veteran and small-business owner who became a single parent to three children when Larry’s mother died tragically. His stepmother is a lawyer, who in her year as president of the county bar association chose as her project to organize lawyers to address the opioid epidemic. She and her colleagues have gone to numerous school and community events to give educational presentations about what we can do to help our children before they are tempted to try heroin.
Most of all, my daughter’s future in-laws are kind and inclusive. In the years since our children fell in love, my husband and I have been invited to Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas Eve, and even to dinner on the day Larry proposed.
His parents and I have never once discussed politics, and I have no idea how they voted this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if they voted for Trump, as was their right. But something happens when you sit down at a table and share bread and wine with people who are different from you. They are part of the reason I can’t label all those who don’t share my political views as ignorant and unthinking.
The Post article from July pointed out something interesting—that young people are much more likely to be in mixed partisan marriages. Perhaps this is the key to some day being able to work together for a better world—to have fewer people who dig in their heels at the two political extremes.
Don’t misunderstand me. I still wholeheartedly favor sensible gun control laws and a ban of assault weapons. But there’s a part of me that’s comforted that Larry will know how to use a gun to protect Ashley as best he can if any of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic stories turn out to be real. I still believe with my whole heart that Christ’s command to take care of the poor is my primary responsibility as a Christian. But sometimes a bleeding heart liberal needs to admit that charity alone isn’t enough to help her addict brothers. Even Christ held people to account. And as much as I might disagree with them, people whose political perspective is different might offer some solutions if we try to look for a third way together.
On this Veterans’ Day I’m reminded that the break-through moment in my relationship with my future son-in-law came when he and I attended an event at Politics and Prose to hear Phil Klay read from Redeployment, which later won the Pulitzer for fiction. Larry and Klay were in Fallujah at the same time, and as I watched his face and talked with him about what Klay had to say, I knew my daughter’s future husband was a man of substance whose loss of his mother and his service to our country had given him a keen understanding of what’s important in life.
And so, next weekend, when our children marry, I won’t just be accepting our political differences, I’ll be celebrating them. Because I’ve watched Larry as he’s tried to be open-minded with his pushy future mother-in-law. I’ve seen how he deals with the loss of his mother and grandfather. And when I lost my own mother, he was there for me as well. I’ve seen how he makes Ashley laugh when she’s too much like her terminally serious mother. I’ve seen how he respects and loves his parents and his grandparents, how devoted he is to his maternal grandmother, who has suffered great loss, how he values his family and friends.
I am a better citizen and a better person because he is in my life. And on this Veterans’ Day after the most contentious election of my lifetime, that’s what I hope for my country, too.