During elections, therapists are usually advised to avoid emotionally charged political discussions with their patients. When we can listen with an open heart, however, even to those who have radically different political views from our own, we sometimes benefit in unexpected ways.
A few weeks ago, I met with a former patient, Carmine, a 45 year- old small business owner. Carmine is an ardent Republican. Somewhere along the way he’d discovered that I was a Democrat (the Obama sticker on my car!) and he rarely failed to give me grief about this whenever possible.
Truth be told, I liked the guy. He could be intimidating, but also refreshingly direct, and he had a good heart. I’d helped him with his anger management problems with his teenage son, Brett. He and his wife Gloria credit me for having saved their marriage.
He started in on me immediately, “You’re probably voting for Hillary, right? Seriously, Doc, how you can vote for her? She lies. She’s a phony. You know the whole e-mail thing and Benghazi.”
I pushed back. “What’s this about, Carmine? Are you really here to argue with me about who I’m voting for?”
He softened, and told me his story. His 15-year-old daughter Grace had called him from the emergency room last weekend, disheveled and drunk. Her date, a high school senior, had been acting sexually inappropriate with her at a party. She got upset fighting him off, and she left with a girlfriend. On the way home, she got sick and had to go to the hospital. The doctors found traces of Rohypnol or “Roofies” (the date rape drug) in her blood. Otherwise, she was OK.
Carmine’s face was red, livid. “We called his parents and went over to talk with them. They made their son come down and apologize. He said he didn’t put anything in Grace’s drink. I didn’t like this kid. Grace said that she’ll never see him again, doesn’t want to.”
It’s was a good thing, I thought, that Carmine had worked out a lot of his anger issues–and about what might have happened if he hadn’t.
He continued, catching his breath. “ There’s more. Since then I’m watching the debates, and I can’t stand to watch Trump anymore. He’s my candidate. But thinking about Grace, and listening to his stories about women, I just don’t believe him. No matter how I think about it now, I just can’t vote for him. Not after Grace. And that kid.”
He was watching my face closely. “I decided I’m going to vote for Hillary,” he said. He wasn’t joking. I was silent, stunned really. “Why?” I asked.
“For Grace,” he said. “I want to do that for her. She’s a Hillary fan. So is her mother,” he said, shaking his head, with what looked like exasperation. “Hillary’s big on women’s rights, right? Look, even though I can’t stand her, I want Grace to know I’ve got her back. She shouldn’t have to take shit from any guy. She should be getting respect.” He was clear as a bell. I stayed silent, moved by what I was hearing.
He leaned forward. “Look, Doc, help me make sense out of this: I don’t like Hillary Clinton. I’m not a Democrat. My friends hate her. And now I’m planning to vote for her.” I understood now. I said, gently, “Carmine, you’re not a Democrat. You’re not voting for your friends. This isn’t about politics. This is about Grace. You said it earlier– you’re voting for your daughter. You want her to know you’ve got her back.” He nodded his head in agreement and breathed. “That’s it.” He was gradually relaxing, just getting the words out.
We sat in silence for a while.
Finally, he looked up and said, “OK, thanks. That’s what I needed to hear. I can take it from here.” He started to get up to leave. “Look, Carmine,” I added. “A lot of people have worked with Hillary Clinton and feel she’s done a good job. You might end up being glad you voted for her.” He looked at me skeptically, amused. “Thanks, Doc.” And he left.
I’ll be going to the polls on Tuesday to vote for Hillary Clinton. I will wait afterward, with my friends and family for the election results with high hopes and a lot of angst. But I know for certain that morning when I enter the voting booth that I will be thinking about Carmine and other men like him, pressing their buttons for their daughters and sons when they vote. Whatever the outcome, they will be my election-day heroes.