Dear Belladonna Rogers,
Unlike last week’s advice-seeker, I have but one sibling. He’s 58, two years my junior. He hosts Thanksgiving dinner every year because our mother lives in a nursing home near him. He’s liberal and belligerently so.
If I want to see our mother at Thanksgiving — and I do — I have to drive 430 miles from Pasadena to Napa. During Thanksgiving dinner in 2009, my brother asked what I thought of Obama’s stimulus package. I knew we’d disagree bitterly, so I tried avoiding an answer. He persisted like a bulldog until I said I was against it. My wife and I gave specific, fact-based reasons we opposed it. He, his wife and grown children all piled onto my wife and me, trotting out all the liberal bromides against anyone who differs.
The following morning when we visited for breakfast, we were shocked to see he’d posted a new magnet, one that hadn’t been there the night before, front and center on his fridge door:
Both my wife and I took umbrage at such a hostile message intended as an obvious rebuke to our candid replies over dinner.
Thanksgiving 2010 he asked us about ObamaCare, and we calmly said we were against it, offering specific reasons for our opposition. The same pile-on recurred. Our mother has very high blood pressure, and she becomes visibly agitated when we argue. I don’t want to be any part of the cause of her fatal stroke, so I cleared the table, and was again confronted by the insulting fridge magnet. I was so offended I moved it to the far side of the fridge near the floor, and left not long afterward.
Our mother’s now 85, and in very fragile health, and I don’t want another pitched battle when my brother asks me which candidate I support. I can’t refuse to go because it means so much to our mother to be with both her sons.
What to do?
— Pissed in Pasadena
Your brother’s behavior is deplorable. I’d be pissed, too.
In considering your options, imagine a speedometer from 30 to 80 mph, representing six potential approaches at increasing levels of confrontation as you pursue your goal of a politics-free Thanksgiving.
Just in case, though, I suggest arriving at your brother’s house with a few of your own favorite fridge magnets to leave behind as thoughtful gifts if, despite your efforts, your brother is unable to attain maturity by November 24.
Such trinkets are available here for $5 each. They’d be amulets in your pocket –protecting you from evil and providing you with a measure of cheerful confidence as you enter his house. Think of them as good luck charms. Cue Elvis…
Now for your approaches: starting at a leisurely 30 mph, email your brother that you’d like to talk on the phone before Thanksgiving. Tell him you’re looking forward to it but want to air your political differences beforehand to avoid another debate at the table. “It isn’t healthy for Mother, and it’s not so great for me, either. Let’s discuss whatever questions you have now, so we can keep politics off the table on Thanksgiving.”
If he fails to agree, kick it up a notch: “We’ve had two consecutive Thanksgiving dinners ruined by our political differences. You’ve seen how it upsets Mom when we bicker. For her sake, let’s get it over with now.”50 mph: “I know you get off on goading me until I tell you what I think, but I’m not playing that game this year. I’m 60 years old, and I’m the one who has to drive 430 miles to be with you and Mom. It’s a pain to make so long a drive knowing the whole way that you’re determined to pick a fight with me.”
60 mph: “Life is short. Mom won’t live forever. Let’s agree to disagree, but not in her presence. I don’t like your politics any more than you like mine. But let’s give it a rest on Thanksgiving.”
70 mph: “These past two years you’ve picked fights with me at the table over politics. I’d rather visit Mom at the nursing home on my own and not see you at all if we can’t put our political differences aside for a two-hour meal.”
80 mph, and going for broke: “My wife and I drive almost 1,000 miles to be insulted by you and your family. Your boorish, intolerant behavior has been on full display the past two Thanksgivings. If you mention even one word about politics at the table, my wife and I will excuse ourselves politely, and won’t return. We’ll take Mom out to lunch the following day and enjoy some quiet time with her. I refuse to engage in your agenda again. You’ll have to find another conservative to bash. It won’t be as much fun as haranguing your older brother, but it will have to suffice. Maybe you’d drive that far for a pointless argument, but I won’t.”
I hope one — or, if absolutely necessary, all — of these approaches to your brother will result in a happier holiday for you, your wife, and your entire family.
— Belladonna Rogers
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