Daddy died a MAGA. His last words were apologies for how his Trumpism hurt our family | Opinion (2024)

Daddy died in August of 2017. It was a terrible and painful death and he was only 61 years old. His last words to me were absolutely unfathomable and embarrassing: He begged for forgiveness for his behavior and his Facebook posts since 2015. The MAGA mentality he had displayed since Donald Trump came down that escalator. The point of contention in our formerly close relationship — the reason we had barely spoken in two years.

He was dying and he talked about Betsy DeVos.

Years before his death, Daddy had sent me several messages through Facebook about “ripping the teeth” out of education departments across the country and I was shocked. I am sick writing those words. I write them because I know I am not alone. I know many of us lost parents and siblings and grandparents and friends to Trumpism. It’s a sad state of affairs and we may as well talk about it, because even though Trump has been out of office for three years, he’s never gone away. We still suffer the loss of our relationships.

Daddy. He was a Navy Seabee. A carpenter. A guitar player. A fast car collector. A good guy. A man who tried to raise two little girls on his own and did it to the best of his ability. A hippie in his pot-smoking, hard-rock youth and a MAGA in his death.

It made no sense. He was never hateful, until he was. He was always caring, until he wasn’t. He was proud of me — the first to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, much less an master’s in education, until he decided the Education Department was a part of a conspiracy. He was always the man who I could count on when I called, but he died a man I didn’t recognize.

What happened?

Well, a lot, and it didn’t start with Trump, but it was cemented and drug to the forefront with his candidacy and election. Daddy was immediately a Trump fan. I thought it odd at first, but I soon grew more upset the more I learned of Trump. I have never watched a ton of TV and only knew of him as being a rich guy in New York with the occasional scandal and bankruptcy.

My dad was the father of two girls. He flinched a little when the “Grab ‘em by the p***y” recording was released, but made excuses. Daddy had a disabled brother who died of muscular dystrophy and he winced when the clip of Trump mocking a disabled reporter was spread widely, but he didn’t stop supporting Trump. I never knew my dad to be a hypocrite, so I was genuinely surprised to see him support a disgusting misogynist — an unapologetic and prejudiced ableist.

Rants about dead people voting, ‘deep state’

My dad and I grew apart quickly — like, lightning speed. Every time I talked to him, he ranted about dead people voting or some “deep state” scheme. My dad was sick with a chronic illness, but I could barely talk to him without getting off the phone feeling sick myself. He became a raging misogynist before my eyes saying awful things about Hillary Clinton, but they were never based in reality. I mean, there are reasons to dislike Clinton, or anyone else for that matter, but he was talking Pizzagate nonsense and trying to figure out code from her emails.

I started avoiding him and skipped visits even though I knew his health wasn’t the best — that’s on me and I still regret it. I just couldn’t stand to see his brain rotting in front of me, and his new political opinions on everything from abortion to immigration enraged me. We used to talk about his dogs, his travel and his work. He was now ranting about locking folks up and welfare abuse and pedophiles. I couldn’t deal with it, so I didn’t.

He grew sicker and sicker, but that just meant more time in front of the TV or online. He grew even more angry and more conspiratorial.

The actual process of his death was a slow and perverse train that involved a misdiagnosis, drugs that poisoned him and a slew of terribly painful treatments that ultimately led him to a local research hospital that could do nothing more for him.

I saw him several times during this period. He still wasn’t himself, but he was tired of talking about hate and resentments.

In his final days, he asked me what I would do if I were in his position — unbearable pain and doctors who said there was nothing left to treat him with. I said, “I don’t know, but I know you are in pain and there are a lot of reasons to stay, but I understand if you want to go.” He decided to let go.

As he lay dying, he asked me to read to him. He wanted to listen to “Moby Dick” — a book he meant to read, but never did. I read it to him.

He apologized between chapters for a lot of things that were out of his control when he was a young father and I was a child. I forgave him everything and apologized for not being there like a should have been. And then came the torrent of tears over what had happened to us during the Trump years.

This is where I’ll say that I was just disgusted at his political apologies. I begged him to stop. The internet and Facebook are ridiculous things to talk about when you have only hours left.

Stop, Daddy. It doesn’t matter. But, he knew it did matter.

Your legacy is defined by love or hate

I was asleep in the hospital lounge when a nurse came to tell me she thought he was going. I watched as they helped him along with morphine — his physical pain was unbearable. He passed away within the hour and I was left shaken, confused, in mourning, incredibly sad and absolutely infuriated.

I try to think of him now before the Trump days, but I can’t say that I remember him completely without those conspiratorial rants and bizarre rabbit hole conversations.

And this is why I think it so important to warn others. Your memory is all you leave. That’s it. You are what you say and the way you make others feel. Nothing else matters.

I don’t know why I wrote this other than as a warning: Your legacy will be impacted by the love or the hate you surround yourself with. I have to go way back before the Trump era to remember my dad properly. I know he knew this at the end, and feverishly tried to take it back before he left. I gave him grace then and I do now, but it doesn’t erase what he said and did and how it impacted our relationship.

And that’s the thing: Daddy wasn’t a outlier. His story is common. I wish it weren’t, but such is the world we live in now. My hope is that the folks reading this can find grace for their loved one or just peace. Politics shouldn’t have destroyed my relationship with my dad before he died, but they did.

My last memories of him leave a metallic taste in my mouth — bitter bile in my throat. I loved him deeply and it was reciprocated, but his skewed world view at the end of his life tragically confused his legacy and his loved ones, and that is the saddest thing I can say.

Jessica Piper is the executive director of the continuing committee Blue Missouri, a former Democratic nominee for Missouri House District 1, a former teacher and a rural mom. This commentary originally appeared on her Substack, The View from Rural Missouri by Jess Piper.

Daddy died a MAGA. His last words were apologies for how his Trumpism hurt our family | Opinion (2024)

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