Democrat Daughter, Republican Parents: How Gifting An Original Song Resolved A Family’s Political Differences
Politics have always been a source of strife in many homes, but the most recent elections in November 2016 split family trees from roots to boughs in very serious divides. This painful process finally pushed one woman and her parents further apart than they’ve ever been, so she sought a solution that didn’t just explain why she thinks the way she does, but one that also told them that no matter the political party they support, they are all still family and that trumps anything else.
“I’m nervous to go home for Christmas, I know that much. I know the rule is going to be like, ‘Try not to talk about politics,’” said Steph, a Millennial Chicagoan who finds herself far removed from the conservative upbringing that had sculpted her view of the world growing up.
Steph was born in Lake Orion, Michigan and while her family moved in and out of seven different houses growing up, they remained in the same area of Oakland County, noted for its nearly 400 lakes and as being the 10th wealthiest county in the United States.
“Moving to Chicago from there was a lot different. I had zero minority students in kindergarten through eighth grade and zero in high school. I had 32 kids in my class, the same 32 kids every year, from K-8. In high school, there were 150 kids in my graduating class. Again, zero minorities.”
“I remember in first grade, the teacher asked us all who we would vote for, and I said I would vote for Bush because that’s who I knew my parents were voting for. When I got older, we were required to take a political science class where you learn about the different parties and everything. The first day you take a test to see if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, and I scored the highest for being a Republican and became our class VP on the Republican side.”
Steph learned archery; got her hunting license when she was of age; went to Catholic church on Sunday mornings, non-denominational mass at noon and youth group on Wednesdays; and every summer she volunteered as camp counselor for Bible School Week.
“If you look at the primary demographic of Trump supporters, my family fit right into that.”
Throughout her childhood, Steph and her father enjoyed a strong relationship and bonded over outdoor activities. She’d go out every Saturday with him to the blind, set up carrots and enjoy a day of hunting with her dad. Beginning when she was just 1-year-old, Steph’s father would bring her to their family cottage 9 hours north through the UP to Ontario, Canada. The family would spend every summer there, fishing, hunting, hiking, swimming in the lake, and playing games during the drive to and from the cabin.
“The other big thing for us was religion in our house, so I think going against that, and some of the other things that my family wanted me to uphold when I grew up and didn’t, was confusing and probably hurtful in some ways,” Steph said.
Around the time she left her small hometown for the big city, the country around Steph was changing. The housing bubble burst, which would go on to lead the United States into its 2009 recession with millions of jobs lost and homes foreclosed on. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continued to wage despite worldwide protest. And the use of the internet to disseminate various views, opinions and news begins to educate a new generation of young people and shape their perspectives of the world in a very different way than their parents had experienced.
“I have very different views now than I did when I lived there. The kids — myself and my cousins, all in our twenties — are very educated about what’s going on and began seeing things differently than the adults. When we would start to talk about it in a family setting, you could see all our parents looking around and being like, ‘Where is all this coming from?’” Steph said.
“My family is a very lively group of people. Our style of communication is, ‘Say what’s on your mind, be direct and move on.’ We don’t really harbor anything for too long or sit on anything, so I think things come out the wrong way sometimes. I didn’t realize how much we were hurting each other because we kind of all just kept saying what was on our mind. I think it was important for each of us to feel that we were being understood by one another. Instead, it felt more like we were trying to argue with one another.”
For Steph and her family, the summer leading up to the November 2016 election escalated a communication breakdown that had been brewing since she left home a decade ago.
“The election brought to life things that we don’t talk about as a family and our conversations have been horrific. My parents said that I have changed since I moved away ten years ago. My dad said, ‘I don’t even know who you are anymore.’ He texted me astounded that I was supporting many liberal programs that my family did not, and because our viewpoints were so different, he was beginning to believe I was against America.”
“I had to figure out a better way to communicate my feelings and beliefs with my dad, so I decided to write him a letter addressing each issue we had been debating for months. Instead of writing why I felt a certain way, I gave him an example of a life experience I had surrounding each issue. It wasn’t enough to just articulate my feelings, I had to find a way for him to walk in my shoes so that he would understand me, not just hear me. It took me like three hours to write. I explained why I’m part of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance. I shared the story of my gay neighbors and their emotional battle to form a partnership and family together. I explained why I do so much work for Chicago’s South Side community with the Chicago Leadership Alliance and how I co-chaired an event for the Remix Project last year, which aimed to provide underprivileged youth with the support they needed to launch a career and further their education through arts and music. I shared personal experiences that I as a woman endure everyday, including one instance at work where I was told by my boss not to report a sexual harassment issue because ‘future employers would see me as a troublemaker,’ which is destructive behavior that his presidential candidate of choice had become known for displaying himself. These were all things that he had no idea about.”
After that, things got a little heated for Steph and her family, as they did across the country in households everywhere. Her mother unfriended her on Facebook, viewing the contents of her posts that supported liberal views as hateful, Steph explained. Understandably, there were a lot of tears on either side of the partisan line in Steph’s family, as will happen when people love each other so much yet have fundamentally opposing perspectives on very important, very real matters.
“It was intense, not really productive, and at times not even thoughtful,” Steph conceded. “This election has definitely caused a divide, which is why I was so excited about this song. I felt like I needed a creative approach to communicate with my parents in order to have a meaningful conversation.”
In order to begin to repair the strained relationship between her parents and herself, Steph reached out to Songfinch to help translate her feelings into an original song that she could share with her mom and dad as a unique and meaningful gift.
“With this song, I wanted to tell them that even if we don’t agree, that we can find a way to talk to each other about stuff. Through this whole thing, all these different issues are all different parts of our personalities. When you’re talking about immigration, you’re talking about humanity. When you’re talking about pro-choice, you’re talking about religious views. Even though everything seems very surface and topical, all these different ways that we were perceiving how each other was viewing it or how we were viewing it ourselves were tied very deeply to our souls, to our hearts; so, I want it to say, ‘We didn’t agree on all these different things, but that’s not all of who we are. At my core, underneath all of that, you’re still the most important thing in my life.’”
Americana singer-songwriter Astra Kelly listened to Steph’s story and crafted an original song as tender and heartfelt as the sentiments Steph wanted to share with her parents. An honest expression of confusion, grief, but also hope, “Joy” became the bridge across the fissure that had split their family.
“When I first heard it, I thought I wanted it faster, harder, louder and more rock ‘n’ roll. I felt like it wasn’t me. But now after having this conversation with you and having thought about it over the last day, I feel like this is the right way to communicate this. It’s not how I usually do and that’s a good thing, because this is how they’ll receive it best!” Steph said.
The lyrics reflect her hopes for this song, too: “I’d like to be the first one to say / I will always try to find a way / To bring us close / Even when we don’t agree.” It reminds listeners that politics don’t always have to divide us by borders and beliefs, as Steph herself often experiences.
In addition to the several organizations and programs with which she’s affiliated, Steph was also an active member of the “secret” Facebook group Pantsuit Nation created in October 2016 to support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I’m obsessed with Pantsuit Nation,” said Steph. “It began as a ‘We Support Hillary’ group, but now it’s ‘We Support Everybody,’ and that’s why I love it. My Facebook feed is all really positive and supportive conversations now because of it. I can’t think of one other group that is this large that is coming together on the same issues of equality, civil rights and environmental rights, people and the earth, like this.”
“And they’re women, I mean, c’mon that’s some pretty powerful stuff right there.”
Just like with all the other topics that we’re not supposed to discuss in public — money, religion, sex — politics can either unite folks or tear them apart. For example, Pantsuit Nation brought Steph and millions of other women together in a really powerful way; yet, on the other hand, politics has created a really big divide between her and her father.
“It’s up to me to find the way to bridge those two together. If there’s anything I’ve learned through this is that I’m a very blunt person, I can be very intense, and with families it’s always harder to not be your truest self. I’ve learned I needed to find a way to be more gentle and communicate more compassionately in order to bring people in, like bringing my family into my life rather than pushing them away saying, ‘You don’t agree so you can’t be part of my life.’”
“In my letter, I told them that if this election brought about this conversation and things start to change because of it, then that’s a really positive thing. But if our conversation continues to stay the same, and we can’t see things through each other’s eyes, then I don’t really know how we can have a relationship.”
Steph said she hopes that this song helps change their conversation from one of hurt and anger into one of understanding and compassion. After the antagonistic rhetoric on both sides of the aisle during the months leading up to the election, perhaps everyone is hoping for a similar change to occur in our national conversation.