I talk to my father twice a year.
Around Christmas, we call each other and leave messages until one of us picks up. And our birthdays are just eight days apart, so we repeat the process around then for the second call.
This December, it was hard to put my shoes on. Remember December? Were you OK? I was not OK. I could barely get dressed. So it was almost impossible to do anything emotionally taxing. I was taxed enough already. I was my own tea party.
I'm a liberal, half-Mexican, half-queer New Yorker who's spent her adult life in progressive feminist politics and was a senior communications staffer for the Hillary Clinton campaign. So on a number of levels, December was spent with the curtains drawn. My boyfriend, Chris, and I ordered disco waffle cheese fries. For breakfast. For a week straight. I was drunk more hours than I wasn't.
So the Christmastime phone call to Dad loomed. I never want to make it, necessarily, but it's benign. For about 45 minutes, my father tells me about the illnesses and achievements of a family I don't know. I tell him about work. We make polite noises, a weird "I love you" is said, we hang up.
I think he likes me.
This year, I stalled. January rolled around. The check I get every year for Christmas sat on the counter. I can't cash it until I thank him for it, that's the rule. I learned the rule when I broke it one year. He missed the next six phone calls. By the time we spoke again, I was divorced, living in a different city.
"Just call him tonight," Chris finally tells me. "You know you're just putting it off, and that's making it worse." He is right. "You have to call your father, I have to call my mother, we all have to call our parents even when they're awful."
So when Chris goes to work that night, I call my father.
He lives in Michigan. The red part. I don't know his politics. He knows mine, obviously, it's my job. He's proud of me, I think. I know he likes it when family members tell him they've seen me on TV. I know he doesn't watch MSNBC. I remember he didn't like George W. Bush; I can't remember why. I think he voted for Mitt Romney, but when I asked him who his wife was voting for in 2012, he said he didn't know, they'd never talked about it. This blew my fucking mind.
This year, I guess the subject was harder to avoid. He asked what I was doing for work. I told him I had a couple of interviews, one with David Brock. I started to explain who that was, that he funds progressive organizations, but my dad already knew about him.
Then he asked me if I knew George Soros.
"Like, not personally." I am wary.
"Huh, yeah. Well, what do you think of him?" He is wary.
"He's a very rich man who gives money to causes I care about. Dad, where are you getting your news?"
This is where I learn that my father gets his news from alt-right websites.
He's always been a night person.
I ask him carefully if he's ever read anything about me on these sites. He picks up cheerfully. "They write about you?" There is distinct pride in his voice. "I'll look it up!"
I tell him about what can happen when these sites write about you and you are a woman who says woman-things out loud in public, the nauseating wave of insults, the rape threats, the blinking gifs of violent porn that fill your feed — if someone is feeling feisty, they'll Photoshop your face onto the woman being violated. Your social-media feeds are unusable for days.