Sunday, December 20, 2015


It snowed this morning, just a little bit.

Around here the first dusting usually comes a day or two on either side of Thanksgiving, so this was right on time.

It reminded me of my Dad.

Right after college I went to Yemen to teach English with the United States Peace Corps. I lived on the shores of the Red Sea for two years and the temperature never went below 50 degrees. Often it was over 100. I did not see my family once in those two years.

When I came back it was the Fall of 1989 and the Berlin Wall was coming down before our eyes. I lived with my parents in their house in Wilmington, Delaware while I figured out what I wanted to do next. While I figured it out, I took a job working for my Uncle Steven, stripping the finish off the cement floors of his warehouse and then resealing them. It was a job that gave me a lot of time to think.

The warehouse was very near my Dad’s office, so he and I carpooled each day. He drove, I sat, we talked.

My father and I never had much of a problem talking. There was sports. Politics. The weather. My siblings. My mom. His work. But we never went much below the surface. And this was fine with me. I’m pretty sure it was fine with him too. Those rides to and from work were good.

And then one morning in late November we were on I-95 nearing our exit when the radio weatherman said it might snow. I had not seen snow for more than two years. And something about the forecast made me suddenly choke up and almost cry. To cover my embarrassment I tried to say how excited I was about the chance of snow, but it didn’t come out right. My Dad could hear the emotion in my voice.

I snuck a peek at him as he drove. He looked a bit stricken.

Emotion was not something we dealt with very much in the Dawson house. And my father had grown up in a Dawson house, too, so he had even more practice not talking about deep feelings than I did. I could tell from that half-second glimpse of his face that he registered my verklempt-ness. And I could tell from the sudden quiet that he did not want to talk about it.

Or maybe it wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe he just didn’t know how to talk about it. Maybe emotions are like spoken language. There is a window of time when we are young where we are able to produce an enormous range of sounds using our lips, tongue, and throat. As we age, we lose the ability to produce sounds we have not heard other humans using. This is one reason learning a foreign language can be so difficult as an adult. We have trouble hearing and reproducing some of the sounds if they are not part of the aural palette of our birth language.

My Dad told many stories of growing up in Wilmington and then moving out to the country in Yorklyn, Delaware as a teenager. I used to think I knew a fair amount about his childhood. Looking back, I was wrong. While I knew a fair amount about some of the things that happened to him growing up---having to hitch to and from school, falling through the hayloft floor as he helped build a new barn, meeting my Mom at a CYO young adult Catholic dance---I can only imagine how he felt about these things.

He simply did not talk much about his feelings. He and my Mom were married for more than fifty years and I did not have access to the things they talked about when they were alone. But to me, there were just a few broad categories of emotion: happy, angry, sad, excited. I never really heard much about some of the more complicated mixtures of emotion that, in my experience, seem to be the stuff of life: melancholy, bittersweet sadness, whatever that feeling is called when you win an athletic contest but your best friend has lost and you feel both thrilled and sympathetic, or the simultaneous pride and bereftness you feel when your teenage daughter needs you less and starts getting along fine out in the world without your help.

So, sitting in my Dad’s car in I-95 traffic that morning I did not know how to tell him about how much I had missed him and my Mom while I was in Yemen. Or about how terrifying it was to hand over my passport at the airport in Sana’a when I had first arrived. Or about my doubts that I could make it through two years in such a foreign place. Or about how thrilling it felt to be walking around a foreign country at 22, speaking Arabic and getting along on my own. Or about the deep loneliness that hit when the only other Peace Corps volunteer in the town of 250,000 where I lived stopped talking to me. Or about my growing certainty that I could not stay in Delaware, even though that was where my whole family lived. Or about my fear that I was 24 and worried that I had already done the most adventurous thing I was ever going to do in my life.

All of these feelings were boiling around in me as we took the exit for D and S Warehousing and I got out of the car, put my bag lunch in the fridge, and got to work stripping away the old sealant. But I couldn’t tell my Dad. We simply did not have the vocabulary to talk about it.

It is now 26 years later. My Dad died of a heart attack last year and I never did tell him about those things stuck in my throat that morning in his car. But over the years my understanding of what was going on in that car has changed. My Dad was a smart and caring man. The things I was feeling would not have been foreign to him, even though the experiences that led to the feelings would have been. I think now that if I had simply started talking, he would have understood. He may have been a bit uncomfortable—especially at first. But he would have understood and maybe even helped me gain some perspective.

I do not have many regrets in my life. Very few, in fact. But that car ride is one of them. I blew the chance to open up a whole new relationship with my Dad. The story I have told myself over the years is that he was just too uncomfortable with talking about emotions.

But seeing the snow this morning and remembering that ride, it has become clear that it was my discomfort that stopped me from saying anything. We had a few conversations that strayed into risky emotional territory over the ensuing years, but then we would retreat to the old standby topics of sports and politics and the weather if things seemed to be heading somewhere neither of us was willing to go.

This Thanksgiving brought a real stew of feelings: pride in what I have made of my life, wonder at who my daughter has become, thankfulness for the love of my wife, guilt about not going to Delaware to be with my Mom and siblings, and one huge dollop of regret that I did not trust my Dad and myself enough that morning in the car to turn and say, “Can we just park here and talk for a few minutes?”

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Donald Trump for President

Maybe it would be a good thing if Donald Trump were to win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. It would certainly make things clear to all just what sort of country we want to be.

It would not matter if the Democrats chose Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O’Malley—in all three cases the differences between the Democrat and the Republican would be clear and vast.

All three of the Democratic candidates have a working knowledge of how government works. They know that passing laws and enacting policies is messy and hard and requires more than a strong wish and forceful words.

Donald Trump does not know this. He really believes that he could order a round-up of all of the people in this country illegally and that it would actually happen. What—exactly—would that look like? I would like Mr. Trump to explain the details of his plan. How much would it cost? Who would do the work? Who would guard the border while every single officer was busy catching and deporting people? Who would pick the fruit and vegetables when it was harvest time? Who would do all the jobs Americans don’t do any more? Would the children who ARE citizens be left behind without parents? If so, how would the US pay to take care of these young, parentless citizens?

Donald Trump says he would build a secure wall between the US and Mexico and make the Mexicans pay for it.  What—exactly—would that look like? I would like to hear Mr. Trump explain the details of his plan. How would he convince Mexico to pay for a wall they don’t want or need? Would he start some sort of economic war with the US’s second biggest trade partner?

Donald Trump says he would place a 20% tax on all imported goods. Let me repeat that: Donald Trump says he would place a 20% tax on all imported goods. I am no economist, (then again, neither is Donald Trump), but I can see that that would make everything more expensive. It would also cost millions of American jobs. Every other country on Earth would feel justified in matching our tax and American companies that make goods for export would be forced to lay off workers and/or close up shop.

Donald Trump says that climate change is a hoax. He knows this because of his many years studying the complex systems that make the Earth’s climate? No. He knows this because it still gets cold in the winter sometimes. He also says that the hoax of global warming was invented by the Chinese to take our economic advantages away.

 Donald Trump says that vaccines cause autism. He knows this because he saw it happen to a kid once.

So, if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination for the Presidency the choice before the American people will be obvious. Are we the sort of country that wants our President to govern from his gut without regard to science, military or economic reality, or the Constitution? Are we the sort of country that is fearful of everything foreign? Are we the kind of country that is willing to bleed the Earth dry and further pollute the air and water and raise long-term temperatures and sea levels just so we can keep our cheap oil prices? Are we a country willing to raise an obvious bully to the highest position in the land?

I do not think we are that sort of country. Let Donald Trump win the nomination and then watch as he collects 35% of the vote. At least then he and his supporters will realize once and for all that they are the minority and their policies and beliefs are rejected by most of their fellow Americans.

Donald Trump is giving voice to people who are mad and scared—he is their id and he has a big microphone. We certainly cannot simply sit back and let him spew his lies unchecked. We need to do what Chuck Todd of NBC News did last weekend and push Donald Trump when he lies. But in the end we need to have faith that the US is not the country Donald Trump thinks it is and the American voters are not the frightened selfish bullies he thinks we are.

We need to keep the words of Molly Ivins in mind: "When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as 'enemies,' it's time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and it is also a good way to wreck a country." We will not let anyone like Donald Trump wreck this country. And to prove it, I hope he wins the Republican nomination so we can once and for all reject what he and his supporters stand for.