Trump Dads: A Confession


Mine wears short shorts while he jogs, with a baseball cap over his baldness, and no shirt.

His comes home from work and changes into a full gray sweatsuit, then sits at the head of the kitchen table to relax by eating a block of cheddar cheese.

His watches CNN. Mine listens to NPR. NPR and also Fox News. When he runs on the levee he looks, from a distance, like a small and soft-bellied, naked old man. His shorts smudge a shadow below his waist.

When I walk into their house for the first time in twelve or fifteen years, his tells me I look the same. He is wearing his sweatsuit. He is at the head of his table, one eye on the TV. His six granddaughters play clamorous games of make-believe around his knees. They come from three sons. They call him GeeGee. He knifes through his cheese.

Mine comes downstairs after shaving his mustache for the first time in twenty-seven years. “Notice anything different?” he jokes, but we don’t. “Something new on my face?” We look: scar from childhood, red allergy eyes, tired cheeks. Nope, we tell him. He stirs jam into his oatmeal and blinks.

My dad, his dad. Trump dads. Dads who never changed a diaper. Dads who changed too many. Who were there to drag toilet paper over tushies when we leaned forward and yelled WIPE! Who showed up on time to get us from gymnastics. Who held our hands, then made the streets scary by commanding we look both ways. Who, when our Clinton moms were out of town, knew how to stir a packet of powder into butter and milk, producing macaroni and cheese.


These are the men who—are these the men who made us? These men who persuaded us to hold our breath underwater when we were afraid. Who stood close for courage the first time we roller-skated without touching the wall. Who padded through the night-lit haze of our bedrooms to tell us goodnight. Who stood beside us at ocean’s edge, jumping waves.

Are they the man who made us, these men now the source of our dismay? These faces so familiar they refuse to go strange. But when the friend I have not seen in twelve or fifteen years rings my parents’ doorbell, it’s the first thing he sees: “You shaved!”

“Finally, somebody notices!” says mine. “Nobody knows how I suffer in this house full of girls.”

And we look at him and wonder: When did his mustache become so white it was practically clear? How can its ghost, that pale shadow, be so like the real thing? When did his upper lip lose its color? When does a mustache fade into a face?

Post-Soviet trauma, said my sister. Stockholm syndrome, said me. But this was Monday. His vote was still harmless, quaint. I spoke to the friend who, until this winter, I had not seen in twelve or fifteen years. “I understand about my dad,” I told him. “But yours?”

And he said labor law. Obamacare, taxes, trade.

Oh, Trump dads! It’s still Monday. We’re smiling, shaking our heads. We fantasize a coffee table book with drawings by Maira Kalman, drawings to defang the endangered Trump dad, that peculiar species in short shorts and gray sweats, clutching his block of cheddar cheese.

And our Clinton moms go to sleep beside them, as they have for so, so many years. And our Clinton moms, who were forbidden to wear pants to public school, who in the winters had instead to double up on stockings, stylish windowpanes over itchy-practical wool—our Clinton moms, who in their teens grew their hair long and left their pits unshaved—who read Our Bodies, Ourselves and squatted naked over mirrors to see—who bought The Joy of Sex before getting married and ate so much cottage cheese—who were asked, “What are you planning to do about that?” when they showed up pregnant to job interviews, by men with JDs—who took us to the zoo, and to the children’s museum, and to the place where they lay in the dark wearing tiny yellow goggles and had their mustaches and eyebrow thickets lasered away—our Clinton moms, who later told us, trembling because their own mothers had never dared, that they would buy us birth control and answer our questions on sex—our Clinton moms, those women who made us, whose eyebrows hardly grow in at all these days—they wake up and vote, and the scent of their votes is a batch of cookies still baking, sweetening the air. The “I Voted” selfies they send are zoomed in too close, but today we don’t care. Text me, Clinton Mom. Today, text me all day. Text: I USED A PEN SCOTCH-TAPED TO A PLASTIC DIVIDER. Text: I GET SO ANNOYED WHENEVER A WHITE MAN WALKS IN. Text: CLINTON WAY AHEAD IN OUR COUNTY.




Then they go to bed.

They go to bed, these parents of ours, mixed marriages all of them, immigrants and natives, liberals and conservatives, squares and queers. They go to bed, these parents of our country, lying down side by side as they have for so, so many years. And in the morning they awake. And our Clinton moms sit across from the Trump dads who encouraged us to jump in the pool before we could swim, who promised to catch us but sometimes let go, who urged us, “Come on. Be brave.” There is coffee, and oatmeal, or tea, and our Clinton moms will text, EYES LEAKING, and we’ll text back, I KNOW. And then? We’ll let go of the wall at the roller-skating rink. Then we’ll jump into the pool. And we’ll sit across from the Trump dads who made us and we’ll look. No, look. Look at his face.



Photographs provided courtesy of author. Image of Hillary Clinton © Lee Balterman, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty.

Helen Betya Rubinstein's essays have recently appeared in The Kenyon Review, Okey-Panky, STORY, The Millions, Tin House's Open Bar, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She lives in Mount Vernon, Iowa. More from this author →