This last Tuesday was the first presidential election of your lifetime. It was the ninth of mine.
The first election I could remember was in first grade. We had a discussion as to why we were going to vote one way or another. I supported Vice President George H.W. Bush and I told the class that I liked him because he reminded me of my grandpa and my parents thought he was good. It seemed like good enough reasons to me.
There was this other kid named Ross and he told the class that he thought the Vice President was going to be a really bad and scary president. He was going to support Governor Michael Dukakis and he wanted everyone in class to support him too.
I didn’t like Ross much that day.
We went into our mock voting booths and we punched our cards for who we chose for president (as well as a few other fun voting things like our favorite candy and our favorite pet). Everyone got the opportunity to voice their opinion. After everyone had voted, our teacher counted the ballots.
The candidate who I thought was good, the one who reminded me of my grandpa, lost. I blamed Ross and he celebrated defeating the mean Vice President. Just a handful of my classmates had agreed with me. I thought I had done something wrong.
The next day, the real results came in. Vice President Bush had won! I couldn’t wait to tell Ross. The Vice President couldn’t be that bad if all these people voted for him. Plus, Ross was a jerk about winning.
“I can count all of the votes Bush got on one hand,” he had laughed at me.
But when I got to school, Ross was as worried as a six-year-old could be about something that had far reaching national and geopolitical consequences. He wasn’t sad or mad at me. He was scared. I don’t know what his parents had told him but it didn’t matter.
We didn’t gloat that day because we won. Instead, we colored and we played basketball together. We read books and learned new math problems to solve. We had lunch together and laughed at first grade boy humor. We played the drums way too loud in music class.
We told him that he’d be okay. We told him we’d all be okay.
Even though we didn’t really know how.
We had no control over the outcome, of course. We didn’t know what the Vice President’s policies really were. Even if we did, we couldn’t comprehend the impact they would have. We trusted adults who told us, regardless of the outcome, we’d figure out a way to make it to the next day.
Now, more than 10,000 of those days and seven elections later, the feeling of voting hasn’t actually changed much. It’s okay to feel uncertain in your choices and in your future. It’s okay to worry or to be scared. I sat down on election day and worried about you. I hoped you would get better opportunities than me and live in a world that’s better than the one I got.
I hope you still do.
I tell you all this because big things in your life will happen that will feel out of your control. It doesn’t even have to be as big as a national election. Some ordinary days, when money was tight for months or when decisions were made for us that we weren’t prepared for, your mom and I weren’t sure how we were going to get through it all.
The road ahead won’t always be an easy one. There will be days that feel insurmountable. With giant mountains that seem to be blocking your way. As a father, I hope to teach you to use that fire inside you to fight through it. One day at a time. One hour at a time, if that’s what it takes.
You will lose. You might not feel safe and you might worry. You might be mad or sad. Some days, it will feel very tough to escape that feeling.
But open up a coloring book or play a sport. Go to school or to work. Wake up the next morning and be with the people you love. Laugh and eat ice cream. Volunteer and put the motor inside of you to good work.
You’ll be okay. We’ll be okay. Even if we don’t know how.