What if you had a tendency to talk about your sex life and left-leaning social opinions on TV, but your dad was a well-known Republican Senator, not to mention a war hero? Sounds like a recipe for father-daughter disaster. But not so, says Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain and star of the docu-talk show Raising McCain, forthcoming from our sister TV network pivot. “We talk every day or every other day,” she tells TakePart. “I text him a lot of pictures. He always wants to know what’s going on.” From his best career advice to their biggest political disagreement, Meghan opens up about how she views her dad, how they deal with their differences, and, most importantly, the best gift she ever gave him for Father’s Day.
TakePart: Your dad has been known as a maverick, and in the preview of Raising McCain, you say you want to be completely unapologetic. Are those two things are related? Did you get that mentality from your dad?
I think I got it from both my parents. But he was really rebellious when he was younger. My parents never put a lot of restriction on me in any way. Their only rules growing up were: Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Obviously there’s a little more to it, but those were the ground rules. I think my dad and I are a lot alike in our personalities.
We’re doing an episode on over-sexing in America, about whether the hookup culture has killed romance for millennials. He could skip that episode and I’ll be fine.
How did those ground rules play out differently in your household versus other households?
They just wanted me to be who I was and think my own thoughts. I was never proselytized to or had anything shoved down my throat about politics or religion. They really wanted me to make my own decisions about how I saw the world. They gave me unbelievable life experiences. “Be who you are and come up with who you want to be on your own.” I think that’s different than a lot of people’s families. Sometimes, for the other children who have grown up in politics, it was much more restrictive than the house I grew up in. I’m so grateful my parents are so supportive. I think both of them sort of like my rebellious streak, so they can both live vicariously through me. I think if I wanted to be anything within reason, anything legal, my parents would support me. Which I think is really amazing. I think that’s hard for a lot of parents, let alone people who are involved in politics.
What other qualities of your dad’s do you think rubbed off on you?
He’s very stubborn; so am I. Both of us are very strong-willed, very Type A. Both me and my dad like having control of the situation. Even my brother, who’s working on this show with me, he’s like, “Sometimes when you’re talking, you sound so much like him in the things you say.” This is very crass to say, but my dad and I don’t have patience for bullshit. Like the second someone is trying to bullshit me around, sort of maybe not tell the truth, I have a very good sense about that. I can tell when someone’s lying to me, or someone’s bullshitting me. I definitely get that from my dad.
Your dad is a war hero. How did that affect you growing up? Were you aware of it?
I was aware, but it wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis. I only really thought about it when it was brought up when we would be seeing the naval academy where he went to school or when one of his friends from the military came to visit or when he talked about it in a speech. I only saw the gritty details when I was 16 or 17, when an A&E movie came out about it and I watched it. That was the first time. As stupid as it sounds, it really hit me how much pain he was in and everything he went through, just from seeing a visual reenactment. But it wasn’t a presence every day.
Did he give you advice about growing up in the public eye?
Yeah, when he ran for president—both times—we had this talk as a family to go over everything. But, you know, I have to say I know people whose parent, even if they’re not super famous, just want them to be on a certain type of behavior when they’re in public. And my parents—within reason, I’m sure if there was some illegal activity going on, I would have had my ass handed to me—but they just let me be who I was.
Would your dad sit down and give you life lessons or was he more of a lead-by-example type person?
He’s lead-by-example. The times we’d talk about serious life things was when we used to go hiking a lot when I was growing up in Arizona. So we’d always have life conversations when we were hiking in Sedona. But my whole family is not super touchy-feely emotional.
A lot of women disagree with their dads on a variety of issues. You and your dad disagree about the gay marriage issue. I was wondering how you and your dad deal with this difference in values.
He gave an interview at my book party, a year ago. He said, even if he doesn’t understand the issue, he respects the fact that I am from a different generation and that I speak for a different group of people than he does. I felt like that was the kindest, most open-minded thing he could have said about the issue. Even though he disagrees, he respects the fact that I represent something different than he does. I mean, he’s 74 years old. He was never angry with me or anything for speaking my mind or saying what I believed in. That would go totally against the grain of what I grew up with. My family doesn’t fight about politics that much. I fight about politics enough in my daily life. I don’t like to bring that home to my family. We don’t fight about it. We just disagree on our beliefs.
So there aren’t kitchen table debates?
There was once upon a time. But once I started working in media and politics, I really don’t want to have a fight when I come home to my parents. We’ll more just talk about our lives.
How did that one debate end?
My father’s very respectful; he’s not a yeller. I can’t actually remember the last time he was angry with me. But knock on wood! Now it’ll happen because I said it out loud.
Is there anything in the show you’ve filmed up to this point that you think he’d be really proud of or uncomfortable with?
We’re doing an episode on over-sexing in America, about whether the hookup culture has killed romance for millennials. He could skip that episode and I’ll be fine. We talk a lot about dating and sex on it, and I’m cool with him not seeing that episode. I don’t like to talk about sex or dating with my dad. I’ll talk about it with my mom, but not my dad.
I know your dad is going to be on your show. Do you have any ideas about what you’d want to do with him?
I’ve actually never interviewed by dad before, for anything before ever, which people probably think is surprising. I want to do something, and we haven’t completely come up with it yet, but something that no one has been able to ask him before, which is a tall order because he’s been in a million interviews. It might be something on coming out in America. It might just be his life. I saw Jenna Bush interview her grandfather on the Today Show, and I thought it was really well done. We got to see a more personal side of George H. W. Bush, so maybe something like that. We’ll see, but he’ll definitely be on the show. Both my parents and my brother are on the show. It’s a family affair.
You're going to be presenting your mom with an award from the LGBTQ organization, The Trevor Project. She said her kids really influenced her opinion on the gay marriage. What did you say to her that was so powerful?
I did the No H8 campaign. I started to be a lot more vocal, and writing about gay marriage from the perspective of the Republican Party. She was always for it, but there’s always a hesitation that you don’t want to look like you’re having a family battle publicly. It came down to adoption, actually. Because there are a lot of places that won’t let gay couples adopt. And my little sister is actually adopted, so my mom is really, really big on adoption. That was the game-changing issue for her. She wants gay couples to be able to adopt everywhere. You know, she’s awesome and she came to it on her own, but I think I had a little bit of influence.
On Twitter you said, regarding your dad’s trip to Syria, that he’s “one of the last remaining bad-asses around.”
People were giving me so much shit because I tweeted I found out he was in Syria on Twitter. I just thought it was funny, and all these people were like, “Don’t make it about you,” and I’m like, “I’m not. I’m just trying to tell you a detail about my life.” I just mean he’s 74 years old, sneaking into Syria. I find that cool.
What can you tell us about his baddassery at home?
My dad is just like an old-school ballsy sailor, in the best way possible. He’s like this old John Wayne character. If someone’s trying to bullshit him, he will cut them off immediately and not have anything of it. He gets up at six in the morning and goes hiking all day in Sedona and then comes back and barbeques all these ribs and all this steak and then wants to watch old western movies. He’s just very old-school. Like an old cowboy, or an old, well, military dude. There aren’t a lot of guys out there like that anymore. It’s kind of an era gone by.
How often do you talk to him? Do you text?
I talk to him every day, every other day. I text him a lot of pictures. He always wants to know what’s going on. He’s really into his iPhone. He really likes that game Bejeweled. There’s also some app or game where you can land planes. He really likes that one, too.
I assume he’s been very supportive of your media career. Does he give you advice?
He does give me advice, especially when I was working at MSNBC, he would give me a lot of advice. Cable news makes you do things in short sound bites, and just working at a liberal network was complicated being a Republican. He gave me advice all the time. He would watch my hits. He would make his staff record them and he would give me feedback, which is so sweet and so awesome. He’d help me a lot with interviews and just navigating things. I’ve made mistakes and he’s always been very forgiving about it. And he’s so supportive of this show just because I’m so excited about it and I’m having a good time. Just so, so, so supportive. He really likes everything he’s read about Participant and pivot. My mom went to some dinner where she met Jeff Skoll and she bragged to my dad about it. I’m excited for him to come and see it, because it’s one thing to say you have a television show, but it’s another thing to wake up every morning and have 50 people waiting for you to tape a show. I think when he sees it, he’ll get a really good idea. I think he’ll be real supportive.
Is there any advice that he’s given that has been really helpful or touching to you?
I used to get really wrapped up if something controversial would happen, and there would be a lot of commentary. He always reminded me that it’s just a 24-hour cycle. What’s one day’s news is the next day’s trash lining. He’s really big on whenever you’re having a bad day, just make sure you talk to your family and friends, and surround yourself with positivity. Oh, and don’t read the negative comments. Ever since I’ve taken that advice, it’s helped a lot. He doesn’t read negative articles about himself or negative Twitter comments, so I’ve stopped doing that. It makes your life a better place.
Do you have a favorite memory with your dad?
When I was in second grade there was a father-daughter picnic that they had at our school. For the Father’s Day present, it was tie-dyed shirts. They had this moment at the picnic where everyone was giving the tie-dye shirts to their dads and the dads were all holding them up. But my dad took off his shirt and put on the tie-dyed shirt. After that, all the other dads starting doing that, too. Back then I was so happy and excited, because he was the first dad to put on the tie-dyed shirt we made.
What’s the best Fathers Day gift you’ve gotten for your dad?
My whole family got him one of these huge, four-burner, best barbeques you can get that chefs use, for outside our cabin. That was the year before last and he’s still obsessed with that.
Don’t miss Meghan McCain’s new upcoming series Raising McCain only on pivot. Click here to see if pivot is available in your area or request it now!