Roger Marolt: A whys man once said…
An old-timer told me my father is rolling in his grave over my political opinions, mostly about the 45th best president of the United States. It was insulting … to my father. Whether or not my father would agree with what I write or not, I am pretty sure he would probably read it twice, smirk, and say something like, “nicely done.”
The old-timer likely said what he did because my father was a lifelong Aspenite who embraced the Republican Party and conservative politics. While he was in the minority locally, he was popular enough to serve as a Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen city councilman. He served with icons of local politics including Joe Edwards, Michael Kinsley, Dwight Shellman, Mick Ireland, Rachael Richards and John Bennett.
He was a lone wolf roaming the political woods of Aspen, rarely running with the majority, perpetually outside the pack, constantly hungry for acknowledgment, but almost always respectful. He growled loudly and bared his teeth often, and still St. Mary’s was packed to capacity for his funeral.
So, maybe some who were around back then assume that me taking political positions too liberal for my dad is somehow being a disrespectful son. Those folks did not know my father very well.
My father’s greatest achievement, which he told us often, was putting his four children though college. He took more pride in this than being Aspen’s first Olympian or anything he accomplished over a successful career in the ski industry afterward. It certainly outshone anything he did in politics. He made sure we believed this. He claimed it as his greatest investment. Because he was so proud, he was constantly looking for signs proving he wasn’t wrong.
My father saw my political leanings tip before he died. We discussed politics often, but never attached political party anchors to policies that would only serve to keep ideas tethered to party talking points. He wanted to know what I thought and get step-by-step descriptions of the intellectual path I took to get there.
He was disappointed when he sensed I was telling him what he wanted to hear. Not only was it lazy on my part, it bored him. That I might be doing this to shorten a conversation because I had something better to do or felt too tired to get into it, was the worst. This made him grumpy.
I remember a look he would get when I went off script and gave him a viewpoint from “left field,” some crazy idea I picked up at college. Even if he didn’t agree, he would get a satisfied grin, which I cherish now. He didn’t want me to repeat back to him what he had taught me; he wanted something new. When I gave him this, he knew education was working. It was adding to the base of knowledge acquired growing up with him. I was exploring. He was getting his money’s worth.
As we approach the holidays and dinners with family and friends, the common advice we get to keep the peace is to avoid talking religion, politics and sex. I think we can whittle the taboo list down to one.
Talking about religion lets others know who we are at the core while politics reveals what we believe the world needs to be better, for ourselves, others and both. What we must keep in sound mind when discussing these things is to forget the whats and focus on the whys. The whats are just words and numbers and made-up “they say”s thrown into the air that are easily twisted and turned and tied into knots of circular arguments that tighten as we dig in and eventually can’t even undo with last resort exclamation points of pounding fists on the table or, worse, hanging angry invisible curtains of recyclable silence between relationships.
I think we can talk about the whys. It’s arguing with the safety on. Discussing them gets to the good in people. Ask why, and you get answers like, “because I want to provide for my family.” Because we need clean air and water. Because I want social justice. The whats are tags that divide — you’re a socialist. Well, you’re an old fogey. The whys beg us to unite. They put us in a good state of heart and mind to begin discussing the hows. Once we accept that we all basically want the same good things, deep discussion sounds more fruitful than calling each other idiots. My father knew this.
As a boy, Roger Marolt thought his father was the smartest man in the world. As a teenager, he thought he was the dumbest. When he had children of his own, he realized his dad was human. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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For those of you who follow my monthly missives, and occasionally read between the lines, you may have noticed a trend toward a bit of cognitive dissonance and some internal conflict on my part.