He wins the conversation but not my heart

low-angle photo of U.S. flag placed on gray pole

A conflict resolution between Trump supporter dad and his socialist daughter.

Maya is twenty-eight years old and has a long history of disappointments and a “full belly”* where her dad is concerned. He is conservative, a Trump supporter, economy-oriented, and an information consumer. She is socialist and concerned with social dynamics. For years, their relationship has suffered from their miscommunication. And now she is on the verge of giving up on him completely.

For the last several years, she has been getting familiar with her inner world, trying out living communities to see what that’s like, and hoping to see a better world fueled by cooperation, shared living, and caring for each other. When I talked with her, she was already in a process of deepening her relationships and speaking her truth more. It has worked with everyone but her father. “No, my dad is a lost cause,” she says, convinced. “He is a narcissist, closed-minded, selfish, facts-oriented, very bad listener. He is like a running train that rolls over anything that stands in its way. I even believe he is not normal; something is deeply wrong with him.”

Is he aware of that, I wonder? “No, he believes he is a great dad. He is ‘old school’ and believes in traditional success. He wants me to thrive, get a career, make lots of money, be successful, and of course get married and have children. He’s worked hard all his life to provide for his family. He was never educated. He started with just a few dollars in his pocket, and he made a successful business all by himself. It worked for him. Therefore he believes that I should do the same.”

And what do you believe? “Oh Yael, I can’t avoid the feeling that we are so different! I can’t understand how a person I am so close to biologically can be so far from me emotionally. It hurts so much to be so alienated from him—I want to avoid that feeling! I do everything to avoid him. I even stopped answering his calls, but he keeps calling me and asking why I’m avoiding him. You see, he will never stop,” she says helplessly.

What happens when you do talk? “He talks over me, preaches to me. He says what he wants no matter what. He doesn’t notice me or how I feel, and he won’t stop talking even when I plead with him. He reads a lot and has lots of facts stored in his mind. I can’t win. I give up. He aggressively wins the conversation, but he doesn’t win my heart.” 

What would you want to happen in your conversations? “I want him to listen. I want him to know the truth. To get to know more about community living, to know that there are better systems in the world.” Why? What will happen if he learns that truth, I ask? She slows down to take a deep breath and reflects, “I want him to be more like me, so I can feel closer to him. I would be less alone in the world.” 

Maya has struggled with feelings of inadequacy all her life. She never felt okay. She never felt good enough for her parents, and every interaction with them takes her back to these old, painful experiences. One sentence from her father could trigger these feelings and cause her to stay in bed for hours to process her emotions until she felt safe again to return to the outside world. “The harder I tried to be okay,  to be good, to please, to be loved, the worse I felt about myself. I don’t want that anymore; I’m better off alone. I want to build my own family made up of like-minded people where I can be myself, speak my truth, and feel loved for who I am.” 

I wanted to hear Maya’s father’s side of the story, and I asked permission to speak with him. He agreed right away and called me a few hours later. As she had described him, he is very talkative and can easily come across as aggressive. It was very important for him to share his whole life philosophy and opinions with me. He spoke on why politics are so important and why Maya has to know all that. That was July 2020, just a few months into the beginning of the pandemic and BLM.

So he starts: “I vote for the liberals because they understand the economy. I don’t like Trump and his dirty mouth, but he is doing a lot of good things for the US. The problem is there’s no equality in the media. You can’t be right-wing in this country; the left doesn’t let you talk. It has gotten to a very bad place now. You are not allowed to be liberal. It’s anarchy (BLM). They want to defund the police now! They are violating human rights, breaking into shops, causing huge (financial) damage. There is a huge turn in our society.” He talks with anger, but I hear the pain that lurks beneath it.

He goes on, “I know I’m right because I watch Fox News, and they bring people from the right wing and from the left wing to debate. They hold a wide perspective, they do a good job investigating for their shows. I watched CNN, CBS, ABC, and MSNBC news sometimes, but they are all twisted, and they spread fake news. All they do is try to make Trump lose his position, talk about his dirty mouth and his private life, but they say nothing else. They don’t bring any other news. The media is biased.”

What happens when you talk with Maya about that and share what you’ve learned on the news? “She isn’t interested in talking and isn’t willing to listen. I can’t convince her. She is not objective, she doesn’t listen to facts, she listens to Alexandra Cortez and Ilhan Omar. They are stupid millennials who don’t know anything about how the world functions.” Now he sums up his philosophy in very clear and short sentences: “For income, you have to work. To live, you need money. This is a basic life principle that she doesn’t get. If the economy falls, we will all fall and suffer greatly.”

What about the climate? I know Maya is concerned about that; do you agree on that? “I agree that there’s a climate problem that we need to do something about. Everyone knows that, but you can’t do it from 0 to 100 in a day. Change takes time. The green movement opinions are not based on facts. If we stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, we will be in a deep shit.”

What do you want to change in your conversations with her, I ask him? “I want her to listen to facts; I want her to read serious news. But she will never do that. She shuts me up and says, ‘Dad, let’s not talk politics.’” Why do you want her to listen to your facts? “I think it will be good for her—it will widen her perspective.”

Then he adds, “I worked hard all my life so I can send her to university, so she can succeed in life, but the leftist professors there changed her opinions and told her their un-facts-based views, and now she doesn’t listen to me anymore.” We ended the conversation.

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I felt this man’s deep pain, helplessness, and anger. If he knew how to express his feelings, he would say: I gave her everything I could, I did my best, and she chose the professors over me. I’m angry, left out of my family, neglected, alone. I was the father, the head of the family, I had a meaning, I was important. My money was needed. Now she doesn’t need me anymore. 

From his perspective, he is doing everything to be objective, to see the big picture and to watch balanced news and deliver his daughter the important information about the world. She is the one who can’t listen, doesn’t read, doesn’t know, and is closed-minded. He fails to listen to her deep needs. She doesn’t care about politics or Trump; she is in a deep spiritual process of being independent, finding meaning, being okay with the way she is, and she wants him to respect her for her life choices. She wants him to see her and her growth, her path, her struggle, to see how independent and wise she has grown.

When I look closely, I see that they are not really arguing—they are talking about different things. He is saying we can’t live without money, and she agrees with that. She is saying the way we live today is not optimal, and we need to live in a more community-wise way, but he doesn’t respond to that. He reacts to what she says because it translates in his mind as opposing everything he is. If money is unimportant, everything he is and does is unimportant. It’s a deep and unconscious connection between money and self-worth that many of us are trapped in.

Since Maya’s university days, the power dynamic has changed between them. She doesn’t need his money anymore, but he needs her attention. However, she still needs him—she needs his validation that she is okay. 

Her father is unaware that he wants her to listen to him so badly because it is his only way to regain his lost respect. They both long to be listened to, to be heard. To be heard is to be loved. To be heard means to have a safe place in the world. To be validated. When you are heard you feel close, connected.

I call Maya and tell her, You are speaking different languages. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings, but the anger and impatience you hear in his voice is coming from a deep, lonely place of losing you because you reject what he is desperately trying to say. And it’s important for him to share his knowledge because this is his way to be important in your life. I explained to her that she reacts to everything he says because she hears that she is not good enough and not because of what he said.

A few days later, she called me and delightedly shared, “I was able to express my feelings to him for the first time in history! I told him, When you ask me what’s new, I feel stressed. I have nothing new to say that will make you happy. I’m lying down in my bed for the last few hours, and that’s something you can’t appreciate. I feel I’m disappointing you and that I’m not good enough for you. This is why I’ve been avoiding talking with you.”

Her father said, “I didn’t mean that, I really wanted to ask how you are feeling. I never meant to make you feel guilty or to cause you discomfort. I love you.”

They are still very different, consume different news, interested in different lifestyles, and a good world is a different concept for each of them. And yet, something new is happening here, an exciting possibility to embrace their differences as part of a whole, to connect on a deeper level, beyond their political views. To be heard and be validated, to be needed and whole.

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* A “full belly” is an Hebrew expression saying we hold lots of unprocessed emotions, hurt, unsaid things and trauma in our bellies.


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