My father (78) has gone down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and white nationalism. He is a good man (no, really) and I love him, but he seems increasingly determined to “convert” me, maybe to ensure his legacy lives on after he’s gone. I’ve never unloaded on him over his frankly racist attitudes, but the other day I snapped. I’m mad, he’s hurt, and we’re not speaking. I am not going to change, nor is he. But this is not how I want us to be in the final years of his life.
Anonymous / Boston
Let’s start with that “legacy” thing. Sometimes, when people know or sense that a separation is imminent—a kid leaving for college, a friend moving to a new town, a co-worker resigning, or the ultimate separation that may be on your father’s mind—they start fights. Some do it so that the loss doesn’t hurt as much. Others, like your father, are trying to maximize their influence in the time they have left. This behavior confuses the heck out of folks who don’t have that particular bug in their software, so thank you for the opportunity for a P.S.A. on the topic as the school year begins!
Now let’s talk about you, you and your racist dad.
You need to set boundaries. You should have been doing that from the start, but oh man, “the start” is sometimes only clearly visible in the rearview mirror. Call him, or take his call, when you are good and ready. Apologize for not having spoken up sooner and letting things slide until you blew up—not for what you said. Most importantly, tell him that you both are aware of each other’s views on right, wrong, and reality, and henceforth all such topics are off-limits because you can either enjoy the time you have together, or not.
Then follow the rule yourself and enforce it with him. Shenanigans? Dad gets one warning before you end the call or leave the room. If you can’t leave, open an app and donate to a civil-rights organization with an ostentatious poke to the screen every time he crosses the line. Make sure you have plenty of other things to talk about or focus on, so he’s not tempted to stir the pot out of boredom, and bring your filial A-game when he stays on topics of mutual interest and benefit.
Your father will either get with the program, or he won’t; he has agency in this situation. If he continues to antagonize you—well, write back, because I’m reaching my word limit. If he is the good man you believe him to be, he’ll make the right choice. But understand that the burden of peacekeeping is not 100 percent on your shoulders. And that burden is never, ever, on the shoulders of any people of color your father may abuse in your presence. If he does so, make it immediately and loudly clear that what he said is unacceptable, apologize to the other person without excuses, and if possible remove him from the scene.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.