Listening with Love: Father/Daughter Talks Across the Political Divide

Published 7:35 am Saturday, June 17, 2023

This is my first Father’ Day without a father. My dad passed away about a month ago and, through tears, I’m reflecting on all he taught me.

My dad was a Republican and my mother a Democrat. It’s a rare combination these days and gives me perspective on our current national divisions.

Dad was a West Point grad who later went into the international oil and gas business. Mom is a passionate early childhood educator. They married because they shared a love of adventure and wanted to travel the world.

They shared ideals as well, which they transmitted to their children. Together they taught my brother and me quintessential American values: acting with integrity, working hard for a living, and treasuring family. They also taught us to take every opportunity for laughter, love, and enjoying life.

With different political views, my dad and I had frequent disagreements. Sometimes those became outright fights, particularly when I was a self-righteous college student. But we loved and respected each other, so we listened. We also stumbled across tricks to help difficult conversations, such as taking a few deep breaths when things became heated and throwing in a joke or two to defuse tensions.

As Dad talked about growing up in rural Wyoming, I learned respect for safety-conscious gun owners. In turn, Dad learned the reality of sexual harassment, becoming outraged on my behalf as I described degrading workplace comments.

We used our love to enable us to truly hear each other. Occasionally we even allowed our opinions to be changed, though admittedly usually a day later, after we’d cooled down and reflected on the conversation. I miss those dining room table arguments and the new perspectives they brought.

As I witness the anger and division in our country now, I think about how my father and I learned so much together. I am hopeful. I was gratified by the support we received across political lines when we announced his death — calls, cards, and even living tributes in the form of trees planted in Yellowstone in his name. All that mattered to our disparate friends and family was that we needed human kindness in our grief. Political views were irrelevant.

The staff at the hospital in Tualatin, Oregon operated with the same assumption. Every single person treated Dad, and us, with respect and immense kindness. Since some wore masks and some didn’t, there clearly was a range of political views. What they shared was the belief that each life is valuable, that we all have something to contribute, and that we all should be respected simply for being.

My dad, Stephen Clark Burrell, shared that belief. He passed it to me, and I want to celebrate this Father’s Day by thanking him.

 

Melinda Burrell, PhD, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a former humanitarian aid worker and now trains on the neuroscience of communication and conflict. She is vice-chair of the National Association for Community Mediation, which offers resources for community approaches to difficult issues