Will You Shut Up, Man?
December 9, 2020 10:41 PM   Subscribe

Seeking strategies and support to get my father to honor my frequently repeated request to stop bringing his libertarianism into our conversations.

I love my father very much, and he engages in a pattern of behavior that makes our relationship very difficult. At the end of the Bush administration, he became an enthusiastic libertarian and he would like me, his anarchocommunist son, to be stoked about that and possibly join him. I love my father more than I hate right wing ideology, but I do hate right ideology. Hate, with an H. The things I have to say about libertarianism are not things I wish to say to my father. As such, I have asked him many, many (many, many, many) times to stop trying to engage me on these subjects. When we talk, I make strenuous effort to stay as far away from any political topics as possible. But, he habitually tries to bring every conversation we have back around to his goddamn reactionary right wing beliefs and if I can't keep us off the subject, the result is always a massive argument that leaves me angry for days, for weeks.

I do not know how much more time, or how many more conversations he and I have left. I don't want any more of them to be arguments. I don't want to be angry with him. I don't even care if he gives up his fantastical beliefs anymore, I just don't want to hear about them ever again. I'm furious with right wing media for what they've done to him, and I just can't talk about it with him anymore. If I won't engage with him directly, he'll start making little jabs, little pokes, little comments, and "just asking questions" in a blatantly disingenuous way. His argumentation style is to switch between saying outrageous nonsense, and telling folks he has outraged to stop getting so emotional. He moves the goalposts, repeats shit he heard from Sean Hannity, and is generally unbearable to be around when he thinks right wing thinking hasn't received a fair hearing, and he only thinks it has had a fair hearing if it gets to be the last word.

The net result is that I am reluctant to speak with him at all, because I have to re-re-re-re-re-iterate my request that he stop trying to have this conversation with me. I consider right wing ideology a blight on planet Earth and a direct threat to everything that lives. That's never changing. There is no possibility I will ever be open to libertarianism in any way whatsoever from now until the heat death of the universe. He knows this, but two days ago, he did it again anyway. I've been pissed ever since, cranky, practicing all the things I wished I had said to him but know would do no good. It brings up not only the anger at the latest incident, but all the resentment at how often this happens, and how long it's been going on. I'm so tired of feeling this way, and it goes back to when he was still a Republican. I'm 41 now and we've been doing this since I was in high school. This whole time, I've been begging him to stop shoving our relationship into an arena where it can only be damaged, but he keeps doing it.

Once, after one of our many stupid, unproductive arguments, when I had once again (fucking AGAIN) renewed my request that we not have any more political discussions, he said "it's like I can't help myself," and was lucid about it for almost a full day. Well, I need him to be able to help himself, because I'm not going to stop talking to him because he's my father, and I love him, and I can't fight with him anymore. Have you ever been in this position? Have you ever had to convince someone that no, really, if we're going to have a relationship then we're never talking about politics ever again. Was it someone that you loved? How did you do it? I can't do this anymore.
posted by EatTheWeak to Human Relations (38 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Response by poster: (Realizing that I never indicated that we do live separately, so lately these incidents are mostly happening over the phone or on video chats)
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:48 PM on December 9, 2020 [2 favorites]


The short answer is that you can't. You can set a boundary, but if he won't honor it, your only choice is to have there be consequences (by walking away/hanging up) or put up with it.

It sounds like you don't want to enforce those consequences, that you worry he is getting old and you don't know how many more conversations you have.

But you're not having conversations. You're having power struggles.
posted by emjaybee at 10:54 PM on December 9, 2020 [29 favorites]


Although my political beliefs are on the left, my conversational style is probably more like your father's, as is that of some of my relatives. My younger cousin, when he became a teenager a couple of decades ago, got fed up with us, developed a very short temper, and adopted the habit of reacting with extreme, rapidly escalating hostility to any sort of political talk.

At first. But, he's quite a bright guy, and does actually have an interest in politics. So over the years, some of us gently probed and learned how to approach topics more respectfully, and he loosened up a bit and got more patient in response to less of a “scorched earth” rhetorical treatment of his own ideas, and with some of us over the years the relationships equalized to the point that we can have pretty good, if occasionally testy, political conversations. And, we probably are better behaved in interactions between the rest of us as well. Don't know if the same thing would work in your case though, particularly with the one-on-one dynamic and long, established history.
posted by XMLicious at 11:02 PM on December 9, 2020


As they say, you can't control his behavior. You can only control yours. You tell him that if he brings up these topics, you are hanging up, because you love him, but you can't endure that conversation. And then, the next time he does it, you say, "Dad, I love you, but I'm not having this conversation, and so I'm hanging up now." And then you do it right away--don't let him backpedal, and don't pick up if he calls back. And then, every time you speak again, you keep doing it. Either he actually values speaking with you, in which case he will choose to give up these topics to continue doing so, or, well, he doesn't, which is unfortunately his choice as an autonomous adult. I know considering the latter could be a possibility must be painful, but the fact is that he knows how you feel about these topics and he deliberately and consistently returns to them to hurt you and exercise power over you. That is not loving behavior. As long as you think he is still in control of his faculties, that is something you have every right to protect yourself from. I don't think they're memories you will look back on fondly, either, so their loss is perhaps not so great.
posted by praemunire at 11:03 PM on December 9, 2020 [49 favorites]


Caveat: I am totally projecting and thinking about my own father. He is not a libertarian or conservative versus my pinko self, but he also feels compelled to pursue very irritating repetitive lines of conversation/lecture and the behavior sounds similar.

Anyway, the insight I offer is this. I realized that part of the reason that my father makes me see red is that he's very, very self-absorbed. He thinks he's making this big effort to converse with me, but really he's just making everything I say all about him and the things he wants to say, no matter how irrelevant to my life, and that's hurtful. But he is also frustrated that our conversations go south. He really looked up to his own father and probably wishes I would seek his approval more on principle. I am not really like that. I need a more substantial basis of mutual respect as a person, because we're both adults.

I don't know if your father is the kind of person who is able to distinguish the concept of conversational behavior versus content, but if he is, maybe you can find a way to get across that he's making you feel shitty about the relationship you want to have with him, and your political disagreement is somewhat of a a red herring.
posted by desuetude at 12:01 AM on December 10, 2020 [10 favorites]


Two options came to mind here, one more confrontational than the other.

The more confrontational awkward approach is "ding training" - literally saying "ding" every time your father does this. Description in the old comment I just linked. I don't necessarily recommend it, but there a slim chance it could work as a way of making sure he notices what's going on.

The more passive approach is to just always get a highly coincidental phone call or "oh, someone is at the door" when it happens. You say a lot of this now is on Zoom or by phone, so this gives you the opportunity to break the call, take a few minutes, then return to it when you want and say "oh hey, weren't we talking about that new TV show?", changing the subject. With luck, he might even pick up on it.
posted by knapah at 1:19 AM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]


he habitually tries to bring every conversation we have back around to his goddamn reactionary right wing beliefs and if I can't keep us off the subject, the result is always a massive argument that leaves me angry for days, for weeks.

It takes one to be an asshole, but two to argue about it.

You are a grown adult. You can take the actions you need to in order to behave that way.

* Sorry dad, but you know we can't talk about this, I'll call you later < click >
* Aww man, can we talk about Christmas instead? Otherwise I'm gonna have to go.
* Hard pass on this conversation, dad. Do you want me to call back later? (Repeat as needed.)

You have the power to not engage.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:35 AM on December 10, 2020 [55 favorites]


You're going to have to go "Broken Record" and come up with a standard, rote phrase to be repeated every time he does this.
My favorite is "We're not having this conversation."
What happens after that is up to him, I believe.
If he takes a hard turn toward other subjects, you stay on the line.
If he starts huffing and puffing, then you say "I'll call you later." and hang up.

Now begins the difficult part: LET IT GO.
Sure, easier said than done, but you have got to break the feedback loop where you replay it in your brain pan for days afterward.
Do anything possible to distract yourself, maybe go for a walk and listen to some podcasts, or do push ups or jumping jacks, or watch something, but right now you are hardwired to ruminate and replay, and you have got to break down that neural pathway.

That's the way that brings you peace.
Disengage, then go about your day.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 1:43 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]


Yeah, like with a toddler, the best tactic might be to distract and change subjects. "How about that sports team?"
posted by johngoren at 2:29 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


You reiterate that you don’t want to talk politics with him and then if he doesn’t immediately change the subject you hang up on him. Repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When you do talk to him, bring about three topics ready for you to discuss that aren’t politics - for some people it’s the only thing they can think to say during idle moments so you might be able to cut things off by being fast about other topics. But mostly, remove yourself. He has to experience consequences!

I know you’re worried about not having much time left with him, but look. If every time you spoke to your father, he repeatedly slapped you, would you persist? He is slapping you. It might not be a super hard slap but he is hurting you. He has to not do that for you to be around him. If he can’t do that? Cherish what you have had with him in the past and keep trying as long as you can, but remove yourself from harm when he perpetrates it on you.
posted by Mizu at 2:30 AM on December 10, 2020 [13 favorites]


p.s. Thinking about some questions like this I've seen from yourself and others during this Trump era, I would also say, even though I also hate right-wing ideas, I would not underestimate how much even an MSNBC-loving parent might also drive you crazy with this dynamic. I'll just say I have agreed politically with some people who are very dear to me and yet still experienced the dynamic of their insisting on hobbyhorse subjects that drive me nuts.
posted by johngoren at 2:41 AM on December 10, 2020 [8 favorites]


Best answer: Assuming he's a true free-market libertarian and not merely a right-wing reactionary...

1. Socratic: "Dad, Libertarians are all about not coercing each other, right (look it up)? And you know I realy hate discussing your politics with you. So when you make me listen to you, aren't you in fact coercing me? Is that very Libertarian of you? Nope. So let's really talk -- How do you reconcile forcing me to listen to you talk about your political philosophy, with your anti-coercive political philosophy?"

2. Malicious compliance: "Dad, I'll always want to talk with you as much as you want about family, the holidays and such, for free. But if you really want me to adopt a free market attitude, I want you to know that due to high supply and low demand, from now on I can only listen to you regarding politics and economics if you make it worth my while. So from now on, my rate is $10/min, 10 min. minimum, cash in advance. I promise to be silent and nod approvingly to everything you say. Surely as a free-market libertarian kind of guy, you can see I'm meeting you halfway."

I used one of these on such a person a while back. We shared a laugh and he toned down his rhetoric after that.

And for Randites, there's always this famous comic.
posted by zaixfeep at 3:12 AM on December 10, 2020 [28 favorites]


I agree with the others above.

The stick is, "you're doing it again, dad. I'm hanging up on you." (And don't bother replying to "no, I'm not! It was just a joke sheesh, can't you take a joke!" Just tell him you're hanging up and DO IT.

But also, since you seem to want to connect with your dad: what is the carrot? What does your dad crave from you that makes him poke you and poke you and poke you, hoping you'll give it to him? And is there any area where you can give him that? Like, give him mad respect for his culinary skills or his insights on people or whatnot?

But also: is there a there, there? Is there a loving and decent dad underneath the assholishness, or is he just getting off on driving you up the wall?
posted by Omnomnom at 3:15 AM on December 10, 2020 [5 favorites]


"the result is always a massive argument that leaves me angry for days, for weeks" - you gotta stop arguing with him. Are you hoping you'll convince him? This has been going on for a decade. For whatever reason, you do not have a lot of influence here.

Probably your #1 ideal outcome would be that your dad spontaneously realizes the error of his ways and comes around to agreeing with you. #2 would be that he at least shuts up about it without any further action from you. Neither of those will happen.

These are some of your actual options when your dad, inevitably, keeps bringing up his liberatarianism:
- Tune out your dad's wrong opinions and do not engage.
- Tell your dad you don't want to talk about it, leave/go for a walk/hang up if he persists.
- Just talk with your dad a lot less.

None of those are great! But hopefully they won't make you feel angry for weeks once you're used to them.
posted by mskyle at 3:17 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


Came here to say pretty much exactly what praemunire said above. Also yes for ding training. You could combine the two approaches: explain to him that the consequence of his doing the thing you've repeatedly asked him not to do will be to make you say "ding", and that if you find yourself having to say "ding" three times in five minutes then you will be hanging up and blocking his calls for twice as long as you did last time.
posted by flabdablet at 4:15 AM on December 10, 2020


It's hard but don't worry so much that there are only so many conversations left. This is true, but by following any of the 'hang up when he starts harping on' strategies, what you're actually doing is making sure you have so many acceptable conversations left, instead of so many shitty conversations left. You can keep chatting to him at the same frequency you have now, and he can choose how long that conversation is pleasant for. What you get is pleasant conversations with your dad, just probably shorter ones than you have now. He loses an opportunity to wind up and irritate his child, but I really don't think anyone worth speaking with would be sympathetic to that loss.
posted by plonkee at 4:16 AM on December 10, 2020 [6 favorites]


Have you thought about showing him this question?
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 4:49 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


You have to decide if you want to discuss your ideologies with him. I suspect he doesn't listen to or respect your views.
You can use strategies to manage conversations. Develop a phrase 1st time Dad, we've talked about this. You don't listen to my views. I am not willing to listen to your political views. Use that same phrase to end political discussions. It's boring and repetitive and makes it clear that the subject is dead, deceased, the subject has died, etc. Always, always, have a list of alternate subjects. When he starts on politics, change the subject. Just jump right in with Did you see that wild golf shot that guy made? He persists with rancid politics. Srsly, it was awesome, I'm sending you the link. He persists with rancid politics. I am not willing to listen to your political views. Talk to you later, bye. click. Send him the link, call him later.

My Mom was difficult and often mean, also had bipolar. I used to leave the room, the house, the state, and I'd just get off the phone. She learned, over time, that I did not accept abuse. We ended up having an adequate relationship, sometimes good, but no abuse, because I showed her I wouldn't accept it. I'd say Mom, that was unkind, I'm going now. I once headed off the fight she was trying to start with me and a couple siblings by randomly asking her about drapes in her new place. My siblings looked at me as if I'd lost my mind, but we talked about drapes and avoided a tirade of complaints, accusations and bitchiness.

Also, do what you can to reduce his tv time, which is probably Fox 'news'. Get him a netflix sub, watch movies together, develop things to talk about, help him develop different interests. Maybe send him non-political books you can discuss. Time with you, having fun, is a reward.

The strategies have names in psychology - distraction, substitution, extinguishing. Reward good behavior Dad, it was really fun watching *The Right Stuff* with you. Let's watch another movie next week. and ignore or displace bad behavior. It's the long game, for sure.
posted by theora55 at 5:12 AM on December 10, 2020 [6 favorites]


praemunire and others have it right. Before my dad died, I started setting boundaries around his demands and also some of the topics we discussed. He was in his 80s and it took them a while, but he genuinely changed because I was consistent and saying no to his racism and to (in this case) his verbal abuse. Our relationship became much better as a result. And I was worried the whole time that he might die immediately but remember, there are three parties involved: you, your dad, and your relationship. You are not actually doing your dad any favors by putting up with bullshit that poisons your relationship because of weeks of anger after an argument.

Of course, you can also decide that you don’t give a shit and that you are not obligated to get angry when your dad says bullshit because it doesn’t actually matter. His beliefs don’t have to be the same as yours; you can choose to let him natter over the phone while you scroll through MetaFilter and mostly ignore him. I did that with my dad for years but ultimately I did not find it satisfying. I wanted to give him my full attention, and I was unable to do that when he was spewing white racist patriarchal nonsense.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:20 AM on December 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


“You are making me deeply unhappy when you do this. I’m upset for days. I love you to bits, but I am not going to live my life being upset about how our conversations go. It’s not a joke or a fun time for me. I hate it. Really, really hate it. So. If you care about me, talk about anything else but this. Or I’ll hang up every time. I mean it. Just stop.”
Then hang up when he does it. The follow through is very important.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:22 AM on December 10, 2020 [11 favorites]


PS: if you decide to go the route of telling him to stop talking about this stuff or you will hang up, do not fall into the trap of attempting to justify why what he is saying is enraging. That is not up for discussion. You are his son, you find the topic deeply distressing, you are asking him as a loving father to cut it out, and if he fails to cut it out you are going to hang up because you are no longer willing to be an audience to that deeply distressing stuff.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:23 AM on December 10, 2020 [6 favorites]


Jay Cutler-style aggressive apathy may help here.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:52 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


As a left-winger with an MSNBC father, I can aver to johngoren that yes, it is just as obnoxious and overbearing when one's views substantially align with one's parent's. It's the basic disrespect of controlling the conversation without leaving one's interlocutor any space in it, you know? I was wondering if desuetude is my sibling, honestly, because yes, self-absorption is a thing. (My dad's a white cis het guy in his 70s who was in academia his whole career. Somehow he came to believe self-absorption was his birthright.)

OP, the nuclear option is intentional silence. You don't call, you don't email, you just don't interact for a time. It's never worked with MSNBC Dad, but it did work on my mother. She was never as bad as he is -- it's truly difficult to be that bad! -- but she also did not think her adult children worth listening to.
posted by humbug at 6:13 AM on December 10, 2020 [9 favorites]


Best answer: First, on behalf of debating types, please have a little pity on your dad. For some personalities, that "just-can't-help-myself" impulse to argue is driven by genuine anxiety and cognitive dissonance around unexplained logical incoherence. You might think of the feeling you have when a picture is hung crooked, or when a song cuts off just before the final resolution, or when your boss's slide has its arithmetic wrong in the meeting, or in that "THERE ARE FIVE LIGHTS" scene in Star Trek: a confusing break in the logic of the world, producing this niggling itch to figure out what's up with that, to resolve it or at least make sense of why it exists.

More feeling-oriented personalities will perceive this as deliberate rudeness or as personal power struggle, but in the moment, to the hapless arguer, it really does feel like it's not personal, it's just trying to figure out the underlying logical disconnect by which these two educated people, who love each other, could possibly reach different conclusions on this issue. (Would it help to think of this as in continuity with some behavior on the autism spectrum? IME a lot of libertarian types share this personality.)

Of course, that doesn't give anybody the right to drag unwilling relatives into repeated debates against their will! But assuming your dad's not just an asshole, if the arguing is anxiety-driven, understand that you may have better luck quelling it by feeding it soothing logical coherence, which will create the feeling of having "straightened the picture" and allow the person to move on to friendlier topics.

Possible conversational spaces where you could find this calming hug-and-move-on moment:
-Is there a bigger picture where it makes sense that your dad has reached his political conclusions (2+3=6), while you have reached yours (2+3=4)? I like this graphic for highlighting how life experiences shape our beliefs in all directions. Your dad had different political positions at various points; maybe the next time he brings up some irritating issue, you could ask him how he felt about that when he was your age, ask him how he thinks his parents would have felt back in the day, and what key moments he remembers as having changed his mind. Then pivot the conversation to making sense of how your different life experiences have conditioned your respective politics.

-Don't the two of you share any common ideological ground at all? The phrasing of your question suggests that you're very much looking at this through a US-Twitter political lens where you are "left"/"MSNBC" and dad is "right"/"Fox" and never the twain shall meet. But realize that in the real world of actual political philosophy, outside whatever mass-entertainment consumerist Thunderdome hellsport US politics has become under current market pressures, anarchists and libertarians have a lot of values in common! In particular, I would think you should have a lot of common enemies (bureaucrats, rent-seekers, monopolists, the professional-managerial class, the corporate-captured totalitarian State). "Yeah, but all those huge corporations, don't you think they're in the control of the same elites who run the government? And do you really think there's any space where working-class folks can actually call the shots in today's system? Ugh, I just can't with politics these days, I was reading this book on [unrelated subject]..." seems like a nice safe exit where anarchist and libertarian could feel they'd reached a moment of satisfying consensus.

-You may also find you could agree satisfyingly and move on if you respond to political points by pulling way backwards out of the (again, super-Disneyfied and thoroughly conflict-optimized) pre-set frameworks of contemporary US "issues", to discuss these concepts in more neutral-feeling historical or international contexts. Heck, would your dad be willing to read a bio of Bakunin or William Morris, or Gerrard Winstanley, then discuss-- perhaps in trade for you reading a bio of, say, Adam Smith or John Locke? You might find that you're both a lot more sympathetic than you think, and it'd be, again, a helpful neutral-feeling exit toward which you could bend any emerging political disagreements in subsequent conversations.

I'll just add that if you can use one of these strategies to promptly exit the conflict while staying in the space of ideas, it is generally going to feel less aggressive and frustrating to a debating type than it would be to just forcibly end the exchange by invoking the trump card of interpersonal manners and feelings (through ding training or similar). Regardless of how fairly your dad argues when he's worked up, simply refusing to talk about any ideas at all has the feel of complete, bewildering abandonment: "Hey, can you check my math on this slide, looks like our end results are different?" "Stop talking about it, you are hurting my feelings!"
posted by yersinia at 6:23 AM on December 10, 2020 [6 favorites]


Since it's causing so much anger on both sides, it seems likely that you are simply not the person he can talk about this stuff with. It might be nice and useful if you were, but that's moot if you really aren't. The way it is now, it's damaging your relationship. That's not worth it.

I would play it like this:
As soon as he starts talking about his political views, I'd stop responding. Just let a silence exist and grow. Then he might ask 'are you still there? Why aren't you saying anything?'
And then I'd explain, but only once: 'I've told you that I do not want to discuss politics with you. It never goes well and I hate how that feels. I hate being angry at you; I love you. So I will no longer do it. I'll be happy to talk about anything else.'

Every time he tries it again, I'd just fall silent until he starts talking about literally anything else. No need to say 'ding' or hang up. Just let the silence sit there. It's uncomfortable and that's why it might work.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:35 AM on December 10, 2020 [3 favorites]


I'll reiterate what other people have said. The only thing you can do is set a boundary, and then not engage. Or, as my therapist put it, when he starts throwing garbage at you, you don't need to catch it or throw it back at him. Just let it fall, and walk away.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:37 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


Can you possibly find something else he/you are passionate (and positive) about, to have more engaged conversations on? Maybe turn him onto a true crime podcast, or get him a home weather station, or Project Runway, or something?

I realize you've probably tried this, but it's my only idea -- he's passionate about politics (it's important, complex, and available to him), so naturally he wants to talk about it; something else important, complex, and available to you both might be a natural thing to discuss.

Maybe a family tree? Stories of ancestors? Maybe he could work with a genealogist to make things more detailed and compelling.
posted by amtho at 6:42 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm going to throw out a bunch of random suggestions like spaghetti at the wall, and see if anything sticks. Caveat: I'm Canadian, so don't have lived experience with US-specific right-wing ideologies, though am vaguely aware of them.

What do you love about your dad? Can you talk to him about the things you love about him? It seems like he continually railroads the conversation to what he wants to talk about, can you take more control of the conversation? Can you ask him about his childhood, his parents, his travels, experiences, whatever? What do you want to talk to him about?

Stronger boundaries: before you have your phone/video chats with him, can you email/text him and say something like, "Ok dad. I love you. I don't want the rest of your days spent arguing about politics. I want to talk about x, y, z and only x, y, z with you. If you start talking about [right-wing a, b, c] I will leave the call immediately." And actually do so when it happens.

This Captain Awkward letter was posted today, don't know if anything in her advice will help.

he said "it's like I can't help myself,"
So it sounds like this is a habit for him that he just can't break. Could there be cognitive issues at play here? When my mom goes on her rants, I take my phone off speaker (we don't do video calls) and just make "mm hm" sounds every so often so I don't actually have to listen. Now, I find my mom annoying and am happy to not speak to her (although I do worry about her and want to know that she's ok), unlike you, who loves your dad and wants to speak to him, just not about politics.

Therapy, to help you deal with your anger. Being upset for days and weeks afterwards is a lot. Maybe you can learn some coping skills, get some insight on how to break this pattern. You love your dad, you want to talk to him, but you can't talk to him.

You use some pretty strong language: reactionary, fantastical, outrageous nonsense. So I'm wondering if this post would help. I find it hilarious, but YMMV of course. I hope you at least find it good for some comic relief as you're going through this.
posted by foxjacket at 7:48 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


You need to defend your boundaries not just define them.

Conversation starts to drift to these topics. "Well OK bye then." in a cheery not aggressive manner, but in a well you know I don't want to hear this so I'm assuming you want me to go type manner and hang up if they don't change the subject. Remind yourself they're the one ending the conversation by not respecting your boundaries. It gets easier after the first time & starts to come with a sense of relief the more times you do it.

Expect an escalation event or two, just keep to your script & don't confront, just remove yourself from the conversation and just be yourself next time you call.

Used a similar method that involved me & my husband actually up & leaving every time my FIL was casually racist, it took a couple of years to really hit home (but we only see them every month or 2) and now he even catches himself doing it & changes the subject.
posted by wwax at 8:03 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]


In my extended family, there's a family that has a similar issue, though with intractable people on both sides. They do what's essentially ding training, but they make a joke out of it. The second someone says something political, the immediate response is a statement that's tangential, but completely subject changing - always the same exact one. In their family it's "Elon Musk seems like a really smart guy," which they like because it's just interesting enough to derail the conversation, it's wide open to interpretation (gotta love that "seems"), and it's just off-kilter enough that it's still funny every time you say it.

It's basically a nice way to say "I'm changing the subject," while still saying "I respect that you want to have an intelligent conversation with me." It's a third way out.
posted by Mchelly at 8:13 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


This isn't so much about politics, as it is about boundaries. You could swap politics for any other topic - religion, sports teams, car brands, favorite canned soup - and it is the same problem dynamic. In this case it is magnified by you both having very strong feelings about the topic, but essentially it's unmatched beliefs. My personal approach to this type of situation is a clearly defined agreement to disagree - something along the lines of "We've both said our piece, neither of us will change their mind, so we BOTH agree never to talk about this again.". If he can't commit to or abide by that type of agreement, your choices are deal with his bullshit or not engage in any conversation.

I think there's a place in relationships for healthy debate and discourse - this is clearly not healthy and you need to stop for your own sanity. nth-ing what everyone else has said - establish your boundary very clearly, and mentally ready yourself for your response if (or when) he crosses that boundary. Conditioning works - having his son abruptly end conversations because he brought up the forbidden topics should hopefully change his behavior. If not, you may have to accept that he'd rather argue about this than talk to his son, and that's a failure on his part, not yours.

On a personal note, I applaud you for giving him so many opportunities already - my father is a far right foxnews type in the sense that Obama is still a Kenyan Muslim to him, the democrats are all child molesters, and big oil will still save the planet. As someone who is more center than you (fiscal right, socially left), even I get bothered by his neocon right-wing bullshit and have had to end conversations because it got so out of control. How you have tolerated it this long as someone even further away from that set of beliefs, I have no idea. It's clear you love your father and want to have a good relationship - don't let him abuse your love for him and hold you hostage to these stupid conversations.

Good luck - I hope you can find some peace in this situation.
posted by _DB_ at 8:27 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]


WWax has some great advice. I find some variation on "it's tough/complicated and I don't feel like talking about it now."

Also some conservative people enjoy talking about actual history (not social media driven news) in a less rude manner.

I have smoothly changed a convo on Candace Owens' latest tweet to some related historical issue. The person got to talk about the general subject without dragging it down to its depths.
posted by Freecola at 8:39 AM on December 10, 2020


My inlaws do this constantly. My favorite thing is just leaving the room, while they are mid-sentence. If they want to rant, rant at a wall. No, it has not changed their actions one bit, which is impossible, because I don't see them enough for 'ding' training or any soft responses to work.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:00 AM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]


Folks have given you lots of good ways to disengage from this stuff (I think hanging up will be hard but it's the way to go--I think he's too good at pushing your buttons for you to be able to smoothly start changing the subject every time he does this; and I also think he likes pushing your buttons because he may he likes the adrenaline or something from these spats). I also think it would be great for you all to cultivate some topics of conversation that are more neutral (you might have to dig deep because so much can be made political). It's also really important to make sure you're not introducing topics where he might feel baited (I don't think you're baiting him, but keep away from things that are extra sensitive subjects for him).

I'm going to suggest you start with an email to him something like...

"Hey, Dad, I love you a lot. As you know, our political conversations are really stressful for me. I want us to be able to talk and connect but not discuss political issues. I need that to end, so we can have a relationship. Starting with our next conversation, anytime you raise a political point or comment, I'm not going to argue; I'm just going to end the call or video chat. This will be hard for both of us. I think in the longer run, it will be healthier for both of us and allow us to have an on-going relationship where we focus more on [examples]."

It's important in this email that you not talk about his or your political beliefs at all. Avoid avoid avoid.

And then you have to do it. Don't argue. Just hang up. This is a last ditch effort.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:13 PM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]


My dad and I had very similar (progressive) political beliefs, but as he got older it got really hard for me to hear him talking about politics--he got this tone in his voice that was so unpleasant, and he just seemed so angry and mean.
I adored my dad but he did have times where he got angry and yelled when we were kids, and I think it brought back some of those feelings for me.
I don't really have any better advice than anyone else in this thread (my dad was fairly easy to redirect), but I think trying to separate out your feelings about his actual political beliefs from your feelings about your relationship and your experience of the time you spend together, might be helpful.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:31 PM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]


I feel for you. I am so sorry you are facing such frustrating behaviour from someone you love! None of us wants that, especially right now when things are even more stressful than normal.

I have faced this same situation with my brother. I love my brother and he has many good qualities, but he can be frustrating to talk to because 1) he has a low threshold for stress, 2) when stressed, his go-to behaviour is to provoke an argument, and 3) we have some topics we do not agree on at all.

Because of COVID, I haven't seen him in person since March. (We live in different cities about 1000 km apart, so I would usually only see him in person about 4 times a year.) However, we talk on the phone regularly. Over the summer, his stress was at a boiling point, he was constantly picking political arguments with me, things came to a head and I told him if he continued to talk about Topic X, I would hang up. He kept going and I got into a shouting match with him--and then hung up. I don't regret the hanging up part; I regret the loud argument part. It changed nothing except it made both of us feel bad. He did apologize a few days later, and I apologized for yelling at him but reiterated that I didn't ever want to talk about Topic X with him again.

Ever since then, if he has brought up Topic X, I have tried to change the subject. If he persists, I tell him I have to go (not yelling, just a cheerful matter-of-fact "Oh, I have to go now!" and then saying goodbye nicely and hanging up). It has worked.

The other thing I have tried to do most recently is apply my "brother translator." I mentioned this in another AskMe: essentially my brother was kind of guilt-tripping me and my partner about us not coming to visit the extended family over Christmas (this was actually before the province issued its official no-travel, no-gatherings order).
Brother: Don't you miss us? Don't you want to see us? Are you that worried about COVID? The kids are always asking when they'll see Auntie and Uncle. Mom and Dad miss you too! Don't you think it's worth the sacrifice to come see us?

[What I hear: Come on, COVID isn't that serious, if you care about us at all you'll risk everyone's health to visit.

When I apply my Brother Translator: I miss you and I'm worried I'm not going to be able to see you again.]

How I actually respond: We really miss you as well! We are looking forward to when it's safe to visit and see you and the kids and Mom and Dad and give you all big hugs. It will be so nice when we can finally do that.
I mean, whether my translation is right or not, it helps put me in a more charitable frame of mind when I reply. And the weird thing is...it really works. He was quite cheered up by my response even though I still was refusing to cave in and say we would come for Christmas, and he dropped the topic altogether after that. I think it's because his irritating guilt trips are how he seeks reassurance that I do care and I do miss him, and we will see each other again. Is it annoying? Yes! But are we having better conversations now? Also yes!

So that is a long way of saying that I suggest a two-fold approach:
1) Follow through and end your conversations if your dad insists on continuing to talk about the things you've told him to stop talking about.
2) See if there's a "dad translator" you can employ, where you can think of a less annoying meaning behind what he's saying. Regardless of whether that's his intent, if you can reframe it that way for yourself, it will help YOU be less annoyed before you end the conversation (because you should still definitely hang up if he persists in going down the conversational roads you told him not to go down).

Good luck, you sound like a good son who cares about his dad! But it's OK (really important, actually) to preserve your own mental health. In the end the conversational time you have left with him will be of a much better quality if you set and maintain those boundaries.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2020 [8 favorites]


I used to be someone who enjoyed this kind of debate and now I don't anymore, but I still have some people in my life who do. My approach basically comes from operant conditioning, ie, how I trained my dog, but it works OK for these kinds of situations, and may be something to try if you're not ready to just hang up on him (though you're within your rights to do the latter).

When the person starts going in on the topic that drives me crazy, or is trying to get me to debate, I just don't give them anything. I don't argue, but I don't agree either. As soon as I see an opening, I change the subject. Some people who like this kind of conversation are looking for the rush it gives them, and if you make it boring, they'll lose interest.

And then when we're talking about something else, I make sure I give them my complete attention - no checking my phone or whatever.

This feels a bit manipulative so I don't really like to do it with loved ones, but it can be very effective and depending on how your relationship works, it may be a good thing to try.
posted by lunasol at 4:46 PM on December 10, 2020


A couple of phrases suggested that you don't just violently disagree with him but also disrespect and condescend to him: "I'm furious with right wing media for what they've done to him ... he thinks right wing thinking hasn't received a fair hearing." Is it possible that he - correctly or incorrectly - has that impression?

Before transitioning to hanging up when he starts in, it might help to state that you understand that his beliefs are ones that he's come to honestly and thoughtfully (even if that's an exaggeration), and that you respect his right to hold them, even though you will never agree. Therefore, you will never try to convince him to change his mind, and you ask him to pay you the same respect.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:42 PM on December 10, 2020


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