I was chatting casually with my mom's husband today on the phone about politics... the Texas governor's race, congressional seats, etc. He's a lifelong Republican from Tulsa, blissfully married to a Chicago Democrat for eight sweet years. At first glance, the only things they have in common are Judaism and a love for dogs.
"I'm always honest with your mom," he said on the phone today. "And last night I had to ask her something. I asked her if it would be OK for me to give a little bit of money to the Tea Party."
That wasn't what I was expecting him to say and, apparently, I made a strange noise. He said my mom was understanding of his fiscally conservative, anti-establishment roots and told him he had every right to donate to any cause. She even said if the Tea Party is trying to topple the Republican establishment, how bad could they be?
My mom was born in the Highland Park neighborhood in Chicago. She studied and now teaches literature, reads The New Yorker and hides in the other room when her husband watches Fox News. My grandmother, who still lives in Chicago, paints abstract nudes, reads books in French, worships Jon Stewart and wouldn't watch five minutes of Fox News if you offered her a billion dollars. She could barely hold back when I got my first post-grad school job doing media relations for a Republican official in Texas. My late grandfather went to University of Chicago Law School and partnered with Abe Fortas before his Supreme Court days. My aunt had a brief romance with Martin Scorsese ("Marty") at NYU before becoming a psychologist. The personification of secular Jewish liberals.
My mom's husband grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Tulsa. He studied business management at the University of Oklahoma and served in the Army. He worked nights at Home Depot to save money to get his own small business off the ground. He reads the newspaper every single day, owns a gun, loves baseball and yes, watches Fox News. When I got my first few paychecks, he used to tease me. "Now do you understand why I'm a Republican?"
Next to my mom's computer sits a pair of Beanie Babies: one elephant and one donkey, both covered in stars and stripes for the 2008 election. Every time someone asks them how they do it, they say, "Every couple years, one of us goes to sleep happy and the other one goes to sleep mad."
Sounds like a normal marriage to me. Maybe even better.
It's hard to imagine a married couple with such starkly opposing views being so respectful of each other. Most Americans certainly aren't.
If someone as intelligent, hardworking and kind as this man feels a kinship to the Tea Party, to me it is simply proof that the angry white male with a Confederate Flag baseball cap holding a misspelled anti-Obama sign isn't their mascot. Sure, they exist, but it's far more complex than that. I don't even really understand it, but I am going to try. I might, shocking as it may be, learn something.
I wonder what it would be like if we all sat down with someone who sees the world completely differently and tried to find something in common. It was just John Lennon's birthday, after all.