My kids learn about politics in the context of history at school – from the branches of government, to the struggles for suffrage through history, to the meaning of a caucus or primary. It should be no surprise that the fallout from these lessons is often a topic at our dinner table.
A few days ago my son solicited my view of the upcoming presidential election. His shock at my answer was sobering. This Good-Bad Dad can quickly assess my kids’ view of my opinions based on their initial reaction – and this time I knew I was wrong.
It all started innocently with a simple question:
“Dad,” asks my oldest, Yosef, as he picks at this peas, “Who are you voting for?”
Right then, I decided this question provided the opportune time to walk the family through my disdain for politics. The centerpiece of my message was my belief that my vote will not “Make America Great Again” and that I was not ready to be part of any “Political Revolution.”
(Commence a mounting look of shock on Yosef’s face when the answer was not a familiar name.)
In fact, I told them that I am starting to become disenfranchised with the entire political system and its players. I am appalled at the money required to win while funding for social programs is shrinking. I did not want to contribute to this broken system in any way.
(Now visualize Yosef’s shock turning into confusion as I continued.)
I let my kids know that I would not support a candidate or party and warned them that those that do should beware. Paraphrasing my words – “If I’m waiting for a group of mostly old, mostly white, mostly privileged, mostly rich candidates to change the course of my future, I have lost already!”
The standing ovation for my monologue never came – in fact, the rest of the dinner was quiet. No one dared to talk about how they learned about the legislative branch today.
I felt ashamed at aiming such pointed words at my innocent five children. My wife’s stone-walled look of disagreement confirmed my GBD consternation that the outburst was unwarranted.
This interaction has made me re-evaluate the way I plan to address political views in regard to my kids.
The obvious answer to political neutrality might be to avoid discussing the subject altogether. Good-Bad Dads might find this the way to best keep the peace at home. This would play right into my non-confrontational wheel-house.
In my family, avoidance would only work for my non-school-agers. My older kids – like most of us – cannot avoid the coverage of the races and need our help in sorting it out. I’ve concluded that I have to find a way to talk about politics without clouding my kids’ ability to independently make their own judgment.
Answering Yosef’s question as I did was not fair – akin to replying to a baseball question by first talking about the steroid scandal or whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.
Talking about politics does not mean that I can’t talk about my biases – it means that I should claim them as mine and not as fact.
I do wholeheartedly believe in the principle behind my dinner time rant that night. At my core, I disagree with the idea that your vote – not your daily actions – creates change that impacts your life. This is the lesson I tried (albeit ineffectively) to teach my kids that night.
My intended message was lost by my over-passionate, contentious delivery. Ironically, I was no better than the nomination-seekers that I now put-down.
I should have told them that voting is a right that should be respected. That the democracy we enjoy has come at a cost of too many lives – voting is one form of validating that sacrifice.
I’d tell them that voting is not about the person running but about the platform they push. This idea requires getting through the mud each is throwing and to mute our own preconceived notions of who looks “presidential.”
I will teach my kids these lessons next time. In doing so, though, I will not leave them blind to the fact it is their own responsibility to be change-agents. They are the creators of their own futures.
I’ll teach them that just as watching Sammy Sosa as a young man did not make me a home-run hitter, voting to “Make America Great Again” will never alone make it so.