Every Parent Should be a Conservative and a Liberal


My father calls himself a conservative. In 1964 he voted for Barry Goldwater, and these days his car sports a big blue bumper sticker: CAIN.  He is a born-again Christian who believes in the Bible and doesn’t believe in evolution. He’s a teetotaler.

But I have to say, at nearly 93 my father is also a huge liberal. I have been visiting him here in Knoxville for a few days, and we have talked about everything under the sun—politics, religion, sports, gardening, music. About all we do is play Gin Rummy, drink coffee and talk by the big window in the kitchen. Dad cares about the issues of the day, and he has strong convictions, but the thing he cares most about is his family. And when it comes to family, Dad is a big liberal.

Dad has seven children, 23 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren. The love of his life died a dozen years ago after 55 years of marriage, so he is the lone parent. And this family of his is all over the map, geographically and philosophically. His seven children range broadly across that conservative-liberal spectrum, but his 23 grandchildren are off the charts. Among our number now are those of whom Dad would not have approved in, say, 1964. Unitarians, atheists, kids living together without being married, kids getting divorced, pacifists, socialists, U.N. lovers.

And here is the jaw-dropping fact: Dad loves every last one of those children, grand- and great-grandchildren, no matter what, period. And they all respond not merely with love but flat-out adoration.

How is this possible? I’ll tell you. As Jerry Anderson got older he got wiser. He did not waver from his own beliefs and convictions, but he understood very clearly that old truth: you can be right or you can be in relationship. Dad chose relationship. Every time.

Every parent should be a conservative. Conservatives conserve. They hold onto the great principles of hard work, personal responsibility, love of God and country. They hold for law and order in the face of do-as-you-please. They maintain that actions have consequences and that no one does you any favor who excuses you from those consequences. They hold for family and clan loyalty. They remind a wishy-washy world that if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. Every parent should give these values to their children.

But every parent should be a liberal. In a pinch, liberals put people over principle. They value community over individualism. They’re wary of unjust social structures, knowing that the world is not fair and not everybody has an equal chance. They love God and family and country, but they know God is bigger than any religion, and that we all belong to the great big human family. Liberals prefer mercy over justice. Every parent should give these values to their children.

Most parents begin conservative because what children need most is a sense of belonging inside a tight circle of love and security—with clear boundaries and rules. You’ve got to be a conservative. But as children grow up, leave home, find themselves, figure out what they believe and what they’re called to do, if your only parental response is conservative you will lose your kids. Now you must cut the ties, remove the boundaries, suspend the rules. And since every child and grandchild will play the Prodigal (if she is ever fully to live!), you must make room for a person you no longer shape or control. Now it is all about mercy, love and forgiveness.

This is what my father has managed to do. He will not be happy to be called a liberal, but when it comes to being the paterfamilias at 93, overseeing his clan of sixty-seven souls, he is a star to his children and a rock star to his grand- and great-grandchildren because he is a man who has learned to be both conservative and liberal.

19 Responses to Every Parent Should be a Conservative and a Liberal
  1. Dan Windham
    February 10, 2012 | 2:29 pm

    Great article. Since my daughter, Jennifer and I have been at war politically for 20+ years, this can be the basis of better understanding. I relate totally with your father as my conservative and fundamentalist roots are deep. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!

  2. Maggy
    February 10, 2012 | 2:41 pm

    This is your best post yet, Dad. The line, “He did not waver from his own beliefs and convictions, but he understood very clearly that old truth: you can be right or you can be in relationship. Dad chose relationship. Every time.” That brought a tear to my eye. I wish we coul all prioritize relationships, but that’s because I’m a bleeding heart liberal. Thanks for this. I’m going to save it to re-read the day that I become a mother.

    • Aggie
      January 16, 2013 | 9:56 pm

      I’m so glad you shared this Maggy.

      You can be right or you could be in relationship. Words to live by. I’m sticking with this one.

  3. Shea Hickok
    February 10, 2012 | 3:10 pm

    I have tears in my eyes! Wow… I couldn’t have said it better. Beautiful:)


  4. Clio
    February 10, 2012 | 5:50 pm

    Wow. That’s incredible.

  5. pam
    February 10, 2012 | 6:10 pm

    You’re spot-on. This applies to all relationships, doesn’t it? Stick to your principles and love your friends. If we could all practice this, we wouldn’t be so polarized.

  6. Jonathan
    February 11, 2012 | 1:28 am

    Thanks Uncle David (and Grandpa). Wise words and ways from wise men.

  7. Steven
    February 11, 2012 | 11:15 am

    Man, what an incredible article. Every time I get one of your posts sent to my inbox, I always leave feeling refreshed and just … happier. Thank you for that, David.


  8. Kay Rasmussen
    February 11, 2012 | 1:00 pm

    I loved this! I have 3 “Conservative” children and 1 very “liberal” son. I don’t understand where he came from at times, but I love him! Since my life previous to the last 12 years would require a “liberal” parent, I am blessed to have the best of both worlds:) My liberal son actually asked me one time when I was ranting on him about job, responsibility, etc. “Do you want to be my Mom? Or have a relationship? I also picked the have a relationship. I’m glad that I did!
    Bless your Dad! What a great and blessed man he must be!

  9. leslie
    February 11, 2012 | 1:10 pm

    lovely; the man and your description. Wish my 96 year old dad could meet yours; their paths cross in multiple places. Your writing about liberal / conservative had a generous attitude rarely seen. Best.

  10. Naudain Sellers
    February 11, 2012 | 5:35 pm

    I think maybe you are describing unconditional love which is so important for our children and grandchildren.

  11. clark s johnson
    February 11, 2012 | 5:54 pm

    David the posts above say it all! What marvelous Sire you have and he has done to produce you too! Blessings clark

  12. Ginny Lovas
    February 11, 2012 | 7:41 pm

    Wow – Now I understand more of whom I am. Ginny

  13. Michael
    February 12, 2012 | 1:50 pm

    Wonderful David. That’s the man we know and love.

  14. Irma
    February 12, 2012 | 8:58 pm

    David, I like your father’s wisdom. I like his convictions even better!

  15. Lucy
    February 16, 2012 | 9:00 am

    What an awesome post. With all of those differences in my own, albeit much smaller family, we often have lively discussions, but always respect each other’s beliefs. I love the way you’ve encapsulated the need to be flexible with those you love. Very inspiring and nice perspective.

  16. Jeanne burch
    February 18, 2012 | 9:46 pm

    I really needed this tonight, Davd. Well said-. Thank you!

  17. Margaret Anderson
    February 19, 2012 | 2:31 pm

    What a wonderful role model.Bless him. Thanks,Mugsie

  18. Christopher M Davis
    September 27, 2016 | 11:32 pm

    Its a great truth that relationships are the most trying thing in your life if you are living as God would have you live. Unbridled , liberalism tends to defy logic (Jesus dying on the cross – the Just for the unjust). Conservatism on the otherhand , like bearing your cross daily and the burden of making the choice God would approve of – this is the life choice to live right- but it doesnt give us the right to pass judgement ( even though we must use our own discretion to make wise decisions) So, how should we live? Stay ” right” in Gods eyes by walking according to his word ” Judge not…. Vengeance is Mine sayeth the Lord… Ask in Jesus name , not the name of any other… . Like Paul the Apostle began in one of his writings “Grace and peace to you..in Jesus. Its not just what we know…. Its the Grace you must pass on that God wants to see

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