Thursday, April 1, 2010

A liberal from a Republican family

I KNOW THAT this may shock some of you, but I grew up in a Republican family. Father, uncles and certainly a rich aunt who would have qualified as a Tea Partier today. And odds-and-ends other relatives. To be fair, I was never sure about my mother. If I asked her how she had voted, she would say she wasn't sure and hand me a list to pick up some groceries for dinner.

My father was a different story. He never got over FDR closing the banks. He also blamed Democrats for trying to cut Medicare and praised Reagan for looking after his needs. After he developed a hernia he walked around in pain for more than a year until he became eligible for coverage.

"Why don't you get that hernia taken care of?" I asked him from time to time as he grimaced. "I can wait. That's what Medicare is for," he said.

He also told everybody that the media had covered up Sen. Edward Kennedy's Chappaquiddick, mess, which made him unhappy about newspapers even though I was a reporter at the time.

"How did you find out about it, Dad?" I asked.

"It was in the Miami Herald," he said, with no apology for contradicting himself..

Most members of my family were Republicans, I think, because it put these early arrivals from Lebanon (and one from Haiti) and those born on American soil shortly thereafter on a higher social plane that they didn't think they could reach on their own. Class conscious, they liked the polish and pizzazz of the Republicans in town . No matter that two uncles were physicians and that Dad and his brother owned a Pontiac agency. Oh - and an aunt and two uncles who were in the restaurant business. None of them went without. I ended a long line of self-employed in the family when I went to work for a newspaper in Indiana that I had no interest in owning. Nor, for that matter, owning my father's business in the Western Pennsylvania coal-mining town where the family lived before they moved tribally to Miami and bought homes next door to each other. It was how Republicans were meant to live.

My choice of careers left nobody happy. My father thought the least I could have done was to become a lawyer and wear a necktie once in awhile. Sort of a middle ground compromise between his profitable business and mine. As for my loving mother, her only complaint about my work was that it was "too deep" for her and she didn't really understand a lot of it. We still remained on good terms.

Actually, I don't remember any of them talking well into the night about politics. But their profile about a lot of other things, their likes and dislikes which I won't mention here, was a dead giveaway. Most of the talk was about this relative or that one who didn't happen to be there for the gathered tribunal.

As for me, I can't account for my drift into the land of the hated Democrats. Maybe I was just ornery and rebellious enough as a youth to be different. Or maybe it was those hours each day when soot-blackened coal miners - many the fathers of my high school friends - staggered past my front door on their way home from their dark prisons in the mine shafts. Many worked too hard and died too young, thanks to the oppressive ways of the mine owners.

Or maybe it was because I didn't have a hernia and didn't have to wait around in pain for Medicare, risking the possibility that those damned Democrats would find a way to get rid of it.

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