Then what do you stand for?

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about values. What are they? Why do they matter? What are mine? Do values shift and change over time? Or are they intrinsic to who we are and how we move around this wild world?

And while I continue to explore answers to these questions, it feels like my values are put to the test often, these days.

Most recently with my dad.

Without going into the richness and complexity that is my dad, it may be helpful for me t o paint a picture.

My dad can light up a room with his exuberance; his joy and bigness. He teaches, models, exemplifies what it means to live every moment of this life. And if you pack your bags quickly enough, he just might bring you along — with all the generosity and kindness it takes to make you feel welcome. Loved.

And on a dime, my dad can alienate almost everyone around him, with stubborn defiance on all things social or political. Piercing. Vocal. Often cruel and offensive.

He calls himself an apologist.

I had to look up the definition.

Apologist: one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something

Sounds harmless enough. Well-meaning, even.

So why does my flee instinct kick into gear, when my dad shifts a conversation from fun to fierce? Engaged to enraged?

For one, he doesn’t ‘speak in defense of something’ — he speaks in vehement opposition to all things. All other views. Under the guise of fairness, for considering all sides of the argument.

We should consider all sides of abortion rights. All sides of the war in Ukraine. All sides of the ‘story’ around trans children’s rights in school and at home.

I’m sorry. What?

And it’s a ruse. The only side is his side. And it often doesn’t matter what the argument is at all. As long as he can sink his teeth in, and stand in his own power.

Apologist doesn’t work for me. It feels like an excuse. Like another defense. And hiding behind a designation like that also looks a lot like fear.

I choose contrarian.

Contrarian: someone such as a writer or politician who likes to disagree with other people and express opinions that are unpopular

Yes, that feels more true.

My dad and I had an exchange last week that at first, heightened my disbelief and anger. And that now, heightens my fascination.

Since that conversation, one question keeps coming up for me:

If a person is always in defense of all sides (apologist, or otherwise) — do they actually stand for anything?

In other words, if my dad is an “apologist”, arguing all sides all the time — it puts into question what he actually values, and how he chooses to defend those values. Where does he put a stake in the ground, for something other than being right?

Our exchange last week came out of nowhere. It lasted 10 minutes at the dinner table, but the imprint feels indelible.

With my dad in the driver’s seat, our conversation abruptly shifted toward the recent closure of abortion clinics in Texas, and then more broadly…questioning women’s rights to choose.

Shouldn’t we consider all sides of the issue? After all, there are other women who believe government should control women’s reproductive choices. Let’s play devil’s advocate here, Shannon.

It felt like an attack on my values. And he had crossed the line.

I thought I’d bumble my words in that moment, but I was crystal clear when I said, through gritted teeth:

“Dad, you are a white man living in the suburbs. What do you know about giving up rights and privilege?”

Aggressive? Maybe. But for me, he’d gone too far.

Does this mean my dad stands for pro-life policy? No.

So again, the question arises: If not, then what does he value and defend? I’d hate to think it just comes down to winning.

Here’s what I know: My dad is a wonderful man; kind, open-hearted, wildly generous and loyal. Funny, creative, wise. An extraordinary human I’m proud raised me.

But self awareness is not a key strength. And the need to be right, at the expense of those he loves? I’d say that is a character flaw.

Dad, I love you. You are the Papa to my kids. The father-in-law to my adoring husband. You are the friend/lover/caretaker to mom. And when you shine in these roles, the magic is palpable.

But when you choose power over inclusivity, fairness and curiosity — I have to wonder: What is it you truly stand for?

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Shannon Hughes

Shannon Hughes

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