Monday, November 28, 2016

Pain and Love

The epilogue to a difficult election

I used to claim that I am a resident of the nation’s high five (Michigan), but lately I feel like my state let the country down. Despite the disappointment, the painful election results have led me to fall in love with my wife and our nation all over again.  

Let me explain: We wept as the results came in on election night and retreated to our own ways of coping. I sulked and my wife Beata went on a shopping spree. She warned me Thursday morning that she had indulged in some “binge shopping” to deal with her frustration, which was not like her. A couple days later, I got home from my job as a high school social studies teacher to find boxes of books for our young children (8 and 4) about multiculturalism, world religions and kindness. One book was titled, “If I were President” with a young girl featured on the cover. This was the shopping binge?

I affectionately refer to this great group of people as my
"Persian Family." They demonstrate the best of our diverse 
nation. We need to commit to actively fighting against division 
so we can change a culture that  accepts hate as an 
inconsequential cost of American politics. 
Over the course of the next week, more books arrived and the conversations at our dinner table turned to messages of hope and helping others. A child alone on the playground? Invite him to play in your game. A clash of ideas in school? Listen and try to understand, without fighting to be right. If someone is struggling, offer to help.     

My wife decided in her despair that if the world needed to be made better, we should start with our own family and branch out. While I remained in a fog, Beata took action. With grace, she inspired me to step up in my classroom and to hang on to hope that with a renewed purpose, we could overcome the terrible setback of a Trump victory.  

These books and our conversations at home took a profound turn when our son asked us, “Why did people make a bully the president?” and “Can he (Trump) start now so the four years will get done faster?” When our son asked, “Will Trump’s wall keep us from meeting our cousins who live in Iran?” it hit me just how closely he had been paying attention to the hateful tone of Trump’s campaign.

You see, Beata is the daughter of Iranian immigrants. Her parents worked in the fast food industry in the 1970’s and 80’s as they climbed on to the first rung of opportunity in the United States. They alternated shifts so they could advance their education and raise their family.

To me, a white male from rural Michigan, my wife’s parents epitomize the American Dream I never had to think about while growing up. With hard work, incredible sacrifice and an unwavering commitment to each other they made a life that we are grateful for every day. They raised Beata and her sister to be strong, loving and open-minded. Beata has a successful career and my children are blessed with a wonderful mother. My wife's parents have both achieved advanced degrees and professional success. More importantly, they have done so while sharing the beauty of their culture with their family, helping others and embracing people of all backgrounds. My Persian parents are remarkably loving and kind so naturally it hit a little closer to home when Trump promoted the idea of a “watch list” for Americans from Muslim nations. When Trump spoke with brazen contempt of immigrants and fueled hateful rhetoric toward the various groups he views as a threat, the sting was felt in our home.
A couple of the books Beata ordered so we could grow love
in our family. I renewed my energy after Election Day by 
looking in the mirror and putting action to my aspirations. Now,
more than ever, is the time to remain mindful and intentional.

This election has reminded me that the fight for good starts in our homes and our communities. My wife Beata moved to Southeast Michigan in 2004, a far cry from Portland, Ore. where she grew up. At that time she was a journalist in Flint and we were just beginning our life together. Beata was living a dream afforded by the First Amendment that her father never had the luxury of enjoying in Iran. Her father, once jailed for political expression in his homeland, has always been Beata’s biggest cheerleader. He has taught me first-hand about a father’s devotion to family.  

I have been a high school social studies teacher for sixteen years and I use my platform to help students learn American values like equality, the common good and diversity. My mother embraces diversity and she has shown me what it means to help others. Strong women make me a better man. My mom is a resilient woman and there’s no doubt that I was attracted to my wife because of the lessons from my mom.

Celebrating Election Day as a
family. We went to dinner and
talked about voting afterward.
Lessons passed on can live for a long time. I remind my high school students that when hate and division are employed as a political strategy to promote “otherness” that it is not enough to simply understand that it is wrong. It is our civic duty to push back against hate. Speak out. Be heard. Hillary Clinton, Khizr Khan and Michelle Obama modeled how to stand up to hate.

That discomfort felt in the pit of your gut when you confront bigotry or sexism is a sign that plenty of challenging work needs to be done. Beata helps me resist the temptation to be dismissive or to let up on the vision of America we have for our children. Privilege may afford some people a lack of understanding and this election has brought that to light on a grand scale. We need to acknowledge truths and have those difficult conversations. No matter our political leanings, empathy is the key to making the world a better place. Well, empathy and a strong commitment to helping others.  

My own family from rural Michigan has strong ties to the Democrat party and community activism. My grandfather served as a Marine and was wounded on Iwo Jima in WWII. He is my hero and he taught us about compassion and love for community. My grandfather, a patriot, fought to advance American progress so that we might live in a nation capable of appreciating the patriotism of my my Persian family, and the millions of others like them who make the United States special.    

My lifeline of support growing up. That's me - the youngest child to the right 
in my mom's lap. My family lives their values and do not preach about them.  
They help others, work hard and motivate me to strive to be a better person.
At the moment, I can’t help but feel bad about reassuring my Persian family in Oregon that Michigan would deliver and Hillary would be our president. After all, Hillary stands for so many of the values and ideas ideas we embrace as part of our national fabric. I was swept up in my excitement that Michigan would join with millions of voters representing different races, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations to shatter the glass ceiling and make her our president. I failed to realize that our brand of patriotism was not necessarily understood by others.

I was reminded by level-headed friends who voted for Trump that fear can be a strong force to overcome and love needs people willing to fight vigorously for the cause. Beata has compelled me to share the story of love, devotion and hard work that has been her family's experience in hopes others will embrace the diverse America we love so deeply.
In defeat, we have come together to celebrate the promise of uniting people. Our nation will benefit from some measure of optimism and kindness. Beata’s intentional acts to teach our children how to love inspires me to deliver on the promise of our country.

We are just getting started.

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