Geopolitical Conversations with my Father. By Dish Stanley

Geopolitical Conversations with my Father. By Dish Stanley

. 5 min read

I joked recently with a friend who had learned Minecraft in order to hang out with his teenage son that when your parents reach a certain age you revert to a similar strategy. The best way to stay close is to dive into whatever it is they do. Geopolitics has become the common language I share with my Father, a language I need now more than ever.

I spent the long week end at my parents’ home. As stalwart CRUSH Readers may recall, that’s where I was on February 24, 2022, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine. I wrote then about how The Crush Letter is meant to be fun, an escape, and though I didn’t want to get into politics here sometimes things happen in the world that we can’t escape. I wrote that I was born on a U.S. military base in Japan, grew up on military bases, that my Father, after retiring from his military career, taught geopolitics at a small local college. I wrote that in 1991 I had rushed from a law school class at Georgetown to Dulles Airport to see my brother, an Army Green Beret, when he’d called to say his unit would be stopping there briefly on its way to the Gulf War. My only brother and my parents‘ only son, the only one in our extended family able to carry on my Father’s family‘s unique surname. (He came back alive.) I wrote that no war will ever feel ‘removed’ for my family.

I was at my parents again last Saturday morning, as the news of Hamas’ invasion of Israel was announced. I grabbed my coffee and settled onto the couch in my Father‘s study with my dog intertwined between my legs. My Father started flipping channels between CNN, Fox News, the BBC, i24, etc., as he does, to get every live update from every angle. My Father, an engineer by training, approaches all problems by walking through rational steps that include acquiring all available data, attempting to recognize and strip it of subjectivity and bias, and put the pieces together into an operable whole. He is driven by analytics to ends, not the other way around.

I joked recently with a friend who had learned Minecraft in order to hang out with his teenage son that when your parents reach a certain age you revert to a similar strategy. The best way to stay close is to dive into whatever it is they do. Geopolitics is the common language I speak with my Father, a language I learned from him. So it’s weird that I happened to be there, hundreds of miles from where I live, last Saturday after having also been there when war broke out in Ukraine. As the story in Israel unfolded, it became clear that we would be settling in for the weekend, my Father, my dog and me.

As I had last time, I asked my Father to give me a primer. Can we discuss, I said, the history of Israel, the Palestinians, Iran, Saudi Arabia, who is allied with whom, China’s stake in negotiating peace. “What, really, is a ‘theocratic republic?’” I asked. Because he just turned 86 and who knows how long we‘ll have to share this common language, I ask now. He downloaded all the relevant notes from his geopolitics classes and we read through them together.

As it happens, the previous week I had gone to a lecture given by a former U.S. Ambassador, career foreign service in the Middle East, who after 9/11 had served on Bush‘s Anti-terrorist Task Force. The topic was (of all things) “What Does the Opening of Diplomatic Relations Between Saudi Arabia and Iran Mean for Security and Stability in the Middle East.” Note-taking was not permitted, but I took notes anyway, for my Father. I read them to him. The conclusion: “It is not believed that there is a current high threat from terrorist groups in the Middle East. My {i.e., the Ambassador’s} personal view is that Iran already has nuclear capabilities, and is engaging in the motions of negotiation as a charade. But that is not the prevailing view. The momentum and structures in the Middle East are moving toward stability.”


Later, I said, “Remind me about the details of the Yom Kippur War, Dad.”

“Oh,” he said. “This one will be very different. The Yom Kippur War is likely not relevant as precedent.”

“Why not?”

“Because the Yom Kippur War was an invasion by the Egyptian and Syrian armies. Armies don’t target civilian casualties; they operate in accordance with a code. Hamas is an extreme terrorist group, one of the most extreme. It doesn’t abide by military, or that matter, moral codes. Combine that with the fact that they do not, categorically, recognize their enemy as human and my guess is that what we‘re going to see are systematic, horrifying, targeted large scale civilian atrocities. Evil. The hope is that we have the clarity to recognize it for what it is.”

The reality was as bad as he feared.

I moved my flight back and lingered in my Dad’s study a day longer than originally planned. Usually I cook or garden with my Mother when I‘m home, but my dog and I rarely left my Father’s study over three days. I made his favorite soup and did trips back and forth between the kitchen and his study. A safe, cocooned spot in a dangerous, unruly world. I couldn’t bear to leave to return to my apartment, to digest the horrific news alone. Besides, at 86 who knows how long I’ll have him to help me make sense of the world. Bring it into some semblance of order. Trying to make sense feels like our only defense. The security of his informed answers, his strict codes of conduct, his moral clarity, made the unbearable weight of evil somehow bearable. The strength of somebody, something to lean against.

I know that this is not what you come here for, Crush Readers. But sometimes we can’t escape the world.

I hope you are all okay, and getting through it in your own ways.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on culture for those over 45. And everything love & connection - friendship, romance, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?

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