I'm speaking to my father on the phone.
"This country is not the same," he says.
I feel worried. I've been away for most of four years, after all.
"Since Obama got in it's all gone to hell," he says.
"Obama was President when I left," I say, meaning to point out to him that I have some personal experience.
"Oh, but all these programs hadn't gone into effect."
He proceeds to give me a litany of all the things that have "gone wrong" in America since I've been away.
More people on welfare than ever before in the history of the country. People living like kings on their welfare checks. There's no reason for anyone to work anymore. Half his friends are threatening to quit their jobs and live on welfare, he says.
"Dad, you know I used to help people get benefits in my job before I came here. It's not that easy. Do you know what the poverty guidelines are like? $20,000 for a family of four. (Actually $23K this year.)"
"Oh, but there are all these extras," he tells me. "Housing allowance, foodstamps."
"They don't give people money for housing, Dad. They give it to landlords. There's a waiting list for public housing. And it's usually in bad areas where no one would want to live."
"Foodstamps. You can use them for anything, including marijuana, they've decided."
I look up at the ceiling, thinking he must be wrong. Last I knew you couldn't use foodstamps even to buy cigarettes. I don't say anything, though. I can tell it's useless. (I've since looked it up on Snopes. No, you cannot buy marijuana with 'foodstamps.' )
My father has worked since he was 12 years old. I understand his frustration. I see in his judgements about other people, the crux of the trouble in my country. Bill O'Reilly is the preacher to the working conservatives. His every word taken as God's truth in the absence of any god to give real truth.
"They've canceled your mother's and my insurance. After December 31st, we won't have any insurance."
"Oh, I've looked into the insurance available now. You guys should be able to get a good deal." I rattle off some prices to him from my own research.
"That sounds pretty reasonable," he says. "We have an appointment to meet with our insurance agent.
I have a momentary mood upswing. "Oh, I hope she can offer you Affordale Care Act insurance. It will be a really great deal."
"I don't want any affordable care act. I don't support that. I want no part of it."
My mood drops again.
For me this is the moment when I realize that my father is old. He is not going to live many more years. He is never going to change his opinion. He is never going to want the same things I want in the world.
He believes that foreigners have overrun America. That people come in and get any job they want. That they live openly, above ground, so to speak. Going to their high paying jobs without fear of being deported. That people on welfare are living large on money earned by hard working Americans. He hates these people that he's never met. He hates the government he sees as making them possible.
The truth is that they aren't possible. They don't exist. Living on welfare means living at the lowest level, taking your pleasures in the form of cheap, fast food and cable TV. Being an undocumented worker means working at a low wage job. living in a small apartment with several other working individuals, without privacy. Working for a company that's willing to hire undocumented people, unable to complain about bad working conditions or harrassment or abuse for fear of deportation. So, it will be a restaurant, or some sort of manual labor. There's no health insurance and no upward mobility.
I've worked with these people to get benefits. Because without benefits, they go into crisis. They become homeless. Their children are taken from them and put into foster care. They end up in emergency rooms. They turn to crime in desperation. There is a slippery slope that most of us never see. Once you're on it, it's a battle not to slide further down. Getting back up onto level ground is almost impossible.
I wish I could get my father to see the truth. But what concerns me more is that he is just one of a whole huge demographic of Americans who believe what he believes. They could easily find out that it's not true if they care to look into the facts. But facts are hard to come by. It's easier to believe rumors, propaganda, and flat out lies.
I give him as much truth as I think he can stand. There is one moment where he hesitates, listening to me.
At the end of our conversation, on a completely different topic he says, "Don't give up. Never give up. Keep reaching. Keep trying."
I smile to myself. This is where I got my attitude. the one that pulls me through the toughest times.
My father doesn't recognize the irony of what he's telling me. The one true thing he has said in the past hour is one that I will use to try and change his mind for all the time we have left together on this planet.