My Dad vocally hates Facebook. He jokingly calls it “faceplant” in the way of willfully oblivious dad jokes. But he nonetheless pops on to it every few days, marking his entry with the “sharing” of a photo of me or my siblings. I don’t know if he understands the etiquette of Facebook. How it’s arguably a bit weird or even rude to share someone’s photos to your network of friends when you’re not even in these snapshots. Personally, I have pretty stringent privacy settings. I don’t know about his. I don’t know most of his “friends,” as I haven’t lived in his home or even his state for nearly two decades. So for me, it’s uncomfortable to jarring when I get a notification that he’s shared some photo of mine, stripped of its context and caption, with strangers to me.
I don’t think he means anything by it beyond, “This is my daughter! Look at that smile, big and crooked just like mine!” I think it’s the vicarious thrill of accomplishment and joy. I’m having this moment in some regard because of him. Hooray.
This was at most a minor annoyance. I mean, if I was fine sharing the image on the internet at all, I know it can be shared beyond my network of carefully culled “friends” with a screengrab keystroke. There’s no real privacy on Facebook. But things took a turn last November.
My Dad voted for Trump. I knew he was going to, but like many a light-hearted liberal skipping to my polling place on that sunny Tuesday, I thought I had nothing to fear. I wasn’t happy about his vote, but when Trump won, that soured to deep sorrow and rage at my father. I felt betrayed. And as the holidays came at me, I clamored to understand his point-of-view. We’d sparred over politics before, but our argument styles are very different, our standards too. My Dad is a man who savors a soundbite, and watches Fox News. If it sounds good, it’s good enough. He’s not much for nuance. Meanwhile, I religiously pore over long reads of politics, and giddily share clips from Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. I loathe the arguments of “slippery slope” and his fear-driven narratives warning about trans people and refugees. We get nowhere but angry. Our “discussions” usually end in red-faced irritation, with my mother charging in to call the match. It’s a draw. Always a draw. For all my efforts, I could not get him to budge and understand my perspective. Often, he’d grab the last word with the infuriating sucker punch, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” As if my arguments are not rational, but the whims of foolish youth.
Still, I didn’t give up on trying to get my Dad to see Trump from my perspective. I texted him news articles, especially as outcry arose about Steve Bannon. He texted me back demanding I stop, telling me he would read none of them. I stopped texting. I stopped calling. It hurt too much to talk about anything else, when all I want is to scream. But whatever I try, silence is all I get in return. It is a cold war. Facebook was my last, passive-aggressive battleground.
Desperate to get my Dad’s attention, I posted one political article after another, my captions purposely provocative. I’m sure other friends hid me, because even if they are liberals who wish to be well-informed, we all need some respite. And I was offering none. I couldn’t stop. I was a woman obsessed. Every post was bait for him. Just for him. I’d check back every hour, hoping he’d read it, desperately wanting him to comment or like or even angry emoji! Sometimes, I’d even post a Fox News clip, with a screeching caption like “EVEN FOX NEWS THINKS TRUMP IS WRONG HERE.” Still nothing. Until something.
I don’t even remember now what it was. Not a news item. But essentially a subtweet about the president, about my disappointment, about my absolute weariness in being perpetually on alert, and angry, and resisting. And my Dad commented. On Facebook, he comments so rarely I began to wonder if he even knew how. But he wrote something like, “You really won’t give the guy a chance, will you?”
It was barely a comment. Maybe a joke. But I was incensed. I scribbled half a dozen rants that I deleted before linking a string of news articles about Trump’s behavior in just the last 48 hours. He didn’t comment again. Facebook friends responded to him, challenging him, not noticing our shared last name, or how we have the same nose, that same damn smile. They didn’t know they were yelling at my Dad. And I wasn’t sure I wanted them to know. And yet this isn’t why I unfriended him.
Days went by. He said nothing more. No likes or emojis. No sign he’d even checked his notification to find my flurry of news items. Then, I shared a photo of me. And he popped out of the internet ether to share it, with no comment as is his way. I stared at my computer monitor, positively seething. I realized that though we’d once been close, we’d been ignoring the growing gap in our politics for years. Treating it like a sparring game, when really it was pushing us further and further apart to where I don’t even know how to reach him. He’s become a stranger to me. A stranger who shares my photos as if he knows me. As if he knows the others smiling with me, the friends who’ve marched with me at protests and rallies, recorded in photos my Dad won’t share. He’ll only spread the ones of his smiling daughter, robbed of a context of who I am beyond.
I unfriended him. Because he isn’t trying to hurt me, but he is. I had to stop it. By clicking unfriend, an amazing thing happened. A weight lifted. A burden that I needed to put EVERY article that upset me on my timeline. I still share some, but because I want feedback from friends and family who might actually engage. I’ve released myself from the duty of turning this one stubborn man away from Trump. I’m no longer preaching to the dude with his fingers firmly planted in his ears, his head staunchly stuck in the sand. I’m no longer howling until I’m hoarse, my body racked with futile sobs. I’m free of it.
It’s been a few weeks, and I have instead been focusing the energy I used to channel into imaginary arguments with Dad (practicing for the time he would finally engage) into my work, into my friendships, into my activism. I have been happier, relieved of this unhealthy obsession with his conversion. I have felt hope, seeing the world beyond this one stubborn Trump voter, seeing the heartening waves of resistance, and the president*’s plummeting approval ratings.
Of course, I can’t escape my Dad entirely. I see him when I visit family. I get unsolicited updates when I talk to my Mom. I see his smile in my mirror. But sometimes, you need a respite.
As for my Dad, I don’t know if he’s noticed that he’s been unfriended. He hasn’t texted, hasn’t called. And he’s not very good at Facebook.