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Just In Time For The Election, It's Time For Some Family Political Therapy

Jenn and Peter Stanley, on their visit with StoryCorps in Boston.
Jenn and Peter Stanley, on their visit with StoryCorps in Boston.

Jenn Stanley tries not to bring up politics when she returns home to visit her father. She really, really tries.

"But you always watch the 5 o'clock news, and the minute any politician steps on — it doesn't matter who it is — I just cringe."

That's because Jenn, a 29-year-old writer and a liberal, doesn't exactly see eye to eye with her father, Peter — who works in construction and is conservative. Whereas Jenn would prefer to pretend simply that it isn't happening, to let the news play on and wait silently for the subjects on screen to reach safer shores, Peter prefers to speak up.

"So maybe the answer is we don't watch the news while you're there," Peter laughs.

Like so many families this year, their arguments about politics have taken a toll on their relationship. So, they brought their frictions with them to a visit with StoryCorps in Boston. They knew the conversation would be difficult, but they both hoped for a chance to better understand each other this Election season — because communication had begun to break down.

"I feel like we've gotten to this point where we're together and we are fighting about politics," Jenn says.

Peter answers: "And those would be the times when I hear you say, 'I can't even talk to you, Dad.' If you're going to get so angry and and flip out about it then, you know what, I'd rather you didn't talk to me."

"But see, this is what drives me crazy, though! You start these conversations."

That's precisely it, her father says — he starts the conversations ... but not for the reason his daughter thinks.

"I ask questions," he says. "What do you think about this and what do you think about that? It's me trying to glean information from somebody who is significantly more educated than I am, and whose opinions I trust."

"I'm really surprised to hear you say that. I had no no idea that you were genuinely interested in what I had to say," Jenn says, prompting her dad's laughter. "I thought that you wanted to tell me how I was wrong and also make a joke about how I was silly."

That was never the intention, Peter explains. He respects her, he says, and while he doesn't agree with her most of the time, "that's OK." And after all, they do have plenty in common. In fact, when she was growing up, she did just about everything to be like him — including softball, which she hated, just because he loves baseball.

"I did really hate it," she laughs. "I mean, I just really worshipped you, Dad. I just thought that everything that you thought and said was right. And you were just my best friend. But I think as I got older, I realized that you were really wrong about a lot of things."

Peter and Jenn Stanley on Labor Day weekend, in 1994.
/ Courtesy of Peter Stanley
Courtesy of Peter Stanley
Peter and Jenn Stanley on Labor Day weekend, in 1994.

She's probably right about that, Peter admits. "I never professed to be right about everything," he says. "The important thing in our relationship is that you have your own beliefs and that I respect you for your beliefs. You were raised to be a sensitive, caring person and that's exactly who you are."

But Jenn is afraid of what's become of their relationship. And their fights over politics have only exacerbated those fears.

"I will say, I think you used to like me, and I don't necessarily know that you like me anymore."

"I like you a lot. It doesn't make me feel good that you say that. I don't agree with everything you say and do — but do I like you? Yeah, you bet I do. And I'm extremely proud of you," he tells her.

When his time comes, he says, he wants her to look back on him as a man whom she may not have agreed with — but whom she respected as a good man. "And if you can say that, then, I'll be happy."

"I don't think you're right all the time, but I think you're the best man," Jenn tells him. "And you're the best dad."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Alletta Cooper.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, and hear Jenn and Peter's story in full at StoryCorps.org.

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