Saturday, September 01, 2012

Dad goes to the dogs

Who let them out this time?

Like a mischievous child with poor impulse control, my father just can't help it. When things are too quiet and too civil for too long, he has to poke someone in the ribs or otherwise pick a fight. Fortunately, he prefers a verbal brawl to a physical one, preferentially in the form of e-mail. Although he knows I don't welcome (and, in fact, disdain) his habit of forwarding crude right-wing messages, every so often he “forgets” and accidentally includes me among the forwardees. I am not amused.

In his most recent display of execrable taste, he sent out the following:
My Dogs

This morning I went to sign my dogs up for welfare.
At first the lady said,
"Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare."
So I explained to her that my dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddy's are.
They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care.
So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify.
My dogs get their first checks Friday.

Damn, this is a great country.
I managed to read the entire thing without bursting into good-natured laughter. Imagine that. I guess I can't take a light-hearted joke, can I? Dad knows that I will not keep silent in the face of such noxious trash and can be relied upon to use “Reply All” in response. Not wanting to disappoint him (even while understanding that I was feeding the troll), I fired this off:
Yes, it’s a great country, and perhaps in Obama’s second term it’ll become a still greater country in which overtly racist humor is even more disdained than it is today.
Despite years of combat, I am still unable to predict which bright and shiny thing in my ripostes will attract Dad's attention. Would he blow up at the thought of a second Obama term, a notion that haunts his nightmares? Would he take umbrage at the charge of racism? He chose the latter, and replied with wounded innocence:
Tsk tsk. Not the dogs, old man. You.

Antics like these unpleasantly remind me of early harbingers in the days when my father was not so overtly a right-wing nutter. Even back then he couldn't always keep it tamped down. I recall some forty-plus years ago when I was sitting at the kitchen table, painstakingly filling out a college application. In those days many schools required that you attach a wallet-size photo to the finished packet. Dad peeked over my shoulder as I carefully glued the photo in the indicated spot.

“What's that for?” he asked. “Do they want to make sure you're not a nigger?”

Several seconds went by as the rubber cement set and I silently rubbed off the excess from the margins of the photo.

“Hey,” said Dad. “I asked you a question. Didn't you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you,” I replied with a brittle voice. “I was ignoring you.” (In my brain's playback mechanism I can hear myself archly saying, “I was doing you the courtesy of ignoring you,” but I'm pretty certain that's the fictionalized version that came to me later via l'esprit de l'escalier. Maybe I'll save it for a book.)

My remark was following by more silence. Then Dad gave a short laugh and strolled off. And a few months later he did not balk at coughing up the outrageous tuition at the private school to which I was admitted. I owe the old so-and-so the world.

But he presumes. Damn, but he presumes.


Kathie said...

Does your Dad find "Dumb Portagee" jokes to be real thigh-slappers, too? Here's a starter for you to send him, if you dare:

Q. How many Portagees does it take to change a light bulb?
A. As many as possible, because one of them once heard that "Many hands make light work."

Kathie said...

Thursday on "Morning Edition," the wife of a Manassas, VA., vet at the American Legion national convention told the reporter her views on the Obamas, which might warm your father’s heart: "I just – I don’t like him. Can’t stand to look at him. I don’t like his wife. She’s far from the first lady. It’s about time we get a first lady in there that acts like a first lady and looks like a first lady." From "Romney Courts Vets At American Legion Convention":

Kathie said...

I've read that back in the 1920s-'40s, when your parents were growing up, a good deal of anti-Portuguese prejudice still existed in California, so it's likely they encountered instances at the hands of White Anglo-Saxons (Protestant or not). While some folks who are discriminated against respond by striving to make the world a less bigoted place for all, others are only able to raise their own self-esteem by manifesting prejudice against those they perceive as even lower than themselves in the racial pecking order. Your dad sounds as though he falls into the latter category. (This occurs among other Euro-American immigrant ethnicities as well, so is not especially unique to Portuguese ancestry).

Zeno said...

It's my impression that my forbears grew up in communities where the Portuguese presence was dominant, making it less likely that they would encounter a lot of prejudice. Certainly it was true of my father, who was surrounded in his youth by a concentration of Azorean dairy farmers. It's possible he endured slights from Anglo classmates in school (but also likely he and his brother would have bloodied their noses), though I have never heard any such story. In brief, I don't know what the hell Dad is compensating for.

As for "dumb Portagee" jokes, the ones I know are the ones we'd tell teach other. We can use the "P-word" if we want.

Kathie said...

Of course your father would've heard slights from Anglo classmates when he was growing up. Also from Anglo merchants in town, and from Anglos in positions of authority (perhaps including lowered expectations from Anglo teachers/principals). Anglo parents might not have been happy to have their precious spawn play with dirty Portagee kids after school; townie Anglos might have had restrictive covenants to prevent Portagees (as well as Asians, Mexicans and Blacks) from moving into their neighborhoods.

One lady who went to Cal in the 1930s reported that she got no bids during sorority rush, and later heard from a friend that she'd been blackballed because of her Portuguese ancestry. By contrast, her son, whom I knew at Cal a generation later, belonged to a cool jock frat, and told me he admired the social progress that was being made; I also suspect he felt he was avenging the insult to his mother.

Stella Anderson said...

You know, the terrible thing is that it's entirely possible the point of the photo was to screen out persons of colour.

Zeno said...

I take your point, Stella, but I'm quite confident your fears are misplaced in this instance. Caltech was eager for nontraditional students back in those days. My unusual background as a rural junior college student might even have helped me a little. And the student body had recently elected a biracial candidate as president of the student government.

Karen said...

Zeno, knowing how smart you really are (apart from being a smartass :-) ), I can't imagine you getting into CalTech because of your ethnic roots -- though, they may have been trolling for outstanding JC students.

Karen said...

Alas, though, I worry about your father. My uber-conservative relatives learned very quickly to not send such stuff to me after I replied, point-by-point, to their entire list. I worry about your dad; he doesn't seem to stay "taught". That may be a sign that something else is going on.

Kathie said...

Pop Zeno's shelf-life is fairly short -- while the times, they are a-changin' (Exhibit A: President Obama). What Zeno needs to do is make sure that his father's antediluvian views don't get handed down to the grands and great-grands.

Zeno said...

Caltech has more than thirty applicants for each slot. The admissions committee had plenty of other candidates to look at besides me. Since practically everyone who applies has wicked-good SAT scores ("What? Only the 99th percentile, not 99+?") and stellar GPAs, Caltech can afford to be hyper-choosy and search for novelties within the candidate pool. I may well have been the only Portagee farm boy whose essay described himself as a math-obsessed bilingual kid with his own set of Aleksandrov texts. And I had already acquired the Feynman physics texts, too. I do believe I stood out from the crowd in a couple of different ways.

Kathie said...

Zee, I wonder what your dad thinks of Bill Clinton's support for "Arithmetic" in tonight's nominating speech.

Zeno said...

I can guarantee two things, Kathie: (1) He didn't watch it. (2) He will soon be repeating reports from Limbaugh and Fox that it was terrible.

Kathie said...

That wasn't quite my point, Zeno. It was that Limbaugh and Fox will now be compelled to declare their opposition to Arithmetic -- and here your dad's eldest is an actual Math-dealer. Oh, the humiliation!

Anonymous said...

Com vinagre não se apanham moscas.

Zeno said...

Indeed -- if "moscas" are what you actually want to catch.

Everywoman said...

Oh, ouch! I wonder if it's a sign of creeping senility. My dad remained exceedingly glib in conversation but became increasingly forgetful and confirmed in old prejudices.

Tim said...

Wow. I have a remarkably similar history and email exchanges with my Dad, who, while being the most caring, genuine, charitable and genorous human being I know, takes great delight in teaching my six year old to refer to people as niggers.

Ed Darrell said...

My father was both a purveyor of racist humor, and insistent that he was not racist, especially since he had spent some time working with mixed race crews in a previous job, where he became the de facto training program for people of color in his company. The company operated retail operations in all areas of the country, and they needed African American managers for their operations in African American neighborhoods (not called ghettos at that time . . .). I could be proud of his before-the-birth affirmative action program, and embarrassed by him at the same time. To his credit, he demonstrated no overt bias toward African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Native Americans, nor anyone else, certainly not in my presence and I suspect to no one else outside the family. I once had a guy try to insult me by noting my father was the only one in town who seemed to cater to Mexicans and Native Americans.

But little things come back to haunt you. He tried to indicate his open-mindedness to us by saying he didn't care who we dated or married, "so long as she's a white girl," a phrase that was considered open-minded in some of the towns he lived in, with religious divides and other troubles. A toss-away line. Surely he didn't mean it. An increasingly wan attempt at humor.

One of my brothers headed off with the Air Force, took several tours of Southeast Asia, and seemed bound for terminal bachelorhood. He stunned us with news of his marriage, and informed us he was moving cross country, but not stopping by our home on the way. A couple of letters into the exchanges I noticed he hadn't even mentioned his new wife's name, though he'd obviously told my mother on the phone. It was a long time -- seems to me like a couple of years -- before we got to meet his wife, a very nice woman, who also happened to be Hawaiian.

Our father was taken with her, of course. Constantly singing her praises . . . and then noting how nice it was we finally got to meet her. What took so long? he wondered.

At some point we need to divorce ourselves from racism vocally, and perhaps physically, before we can really claim to be non-racist. I mean that, we need to do that as a nation, as well as individually.

How else can people know?

Ed Darrell said...

"I may well have been the only Portagee farm boy whose essay described himself as a math-obsessed bilingual kid with his own set of Aleksandrov texts. And I had already acquired the Feynman physics texts, too."

To which all my Caltech friends say, "Him, too?"

Hey, one way you can tell you're in trouble is when you tell a Feynman joke and no one gets it. His story should be required reading, just like Parson Weems's stories of Washington, and Sandburg's Lincoln.

Ed Darrell said...

Do you think Captcha gets all those address numbers off of Google Earth, or Google Maps, or something?

Dan said...

The funny thing is that many Portuguese, especially those of Azorean background, are descended from Moorish/African bloodlines. According to one study, approximately 12% of all Azoreans and 31% of southern Portuguese can trace their ancestors to North West Africa....