Monday, October 31, 2016

3 Simple Reasons Why Voting is Important

I Voted Sticker

I wrote this in 2008. I still believe every word of it. Voting is important. It is our obligation. It is our privilege. It is what makes us American.

Why I Vote ( Written November 2008)

I voted early yesterday. I stood in line for forty-five minutes with a few hundred other people and cast my ballot for the 2008 election. It wasn't very hard. I didn't have to take too much time out of my day. A little planning, one skipped class and it was done. For others in line it seemed considerably harder. The lady in front of me was about my age and had two children with her. One child, a blond haired, wide-eyed 5-year-old ball of energy insisted on saying hello to everyone in line. The other was a teething baby in a carrier. The gentlemen behind me in line had to be at least 85. On his arm was a young lady who I eventually found out was his granddaughter. After cordial greetings we returned to our waiting. I silently admired their tenacity to come and stand in line to do what many people these days regard as an act in futility, especially in Utah.

For those of you who read my blog that don't live in Utah, we are that state that is highlighted red on pundits maps the second the polls close. Utah always goes Republican. We are a Republican stronghold. And that is OK. The problem is, being in such a Republican state discourages people from voting. It discourages everyone. Democrats and Independents say "what's the use?" And Republicans have become complacent living in a state that last voted for a Democratic Presidential Candidate in 1964. So I just wanted to take a few minutes and explain why, even living in Utah, I feel it is incredibly important to vote.

Let me just start with a reality check, because as we approach Tuesday everything coming from both sides of the ticket ends up getting drenched in hyperbole. I know that I am not saving the country by voting for my candidate. Neither major party candidate is evil. Neither one's election will mean the end of the U.S. 

There is no nefarious plot by either party to undermine the constitution or send our country spiraling into oblivion. Some things may get better under one or worse under another, but I believe it is safe to say that both candidates want what is best for the country. They just disagree on what is best. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the fear of "the other" that our motivation for voting doesn't come from our belief in one candidate, but from our fear of their opponent. All of the blog posts I have read for the last two weeks have been about how evil or wrong "the other" candidate is. Let me tell you what I know. I know that if my candidate loses, America will go on. I'll get to that later though. Let's get to the reasons I vote.

1. Local Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and State Referendums.

My vote for President may be a grain of sand on the beach, but my local votes can be rocks in a bucket. Whether I am voting for or against Zoo funding, the Governor, School Board appointments, Vouchers, the Definition of Marriage, or any other variety of ballot initiatives - my local elections are the ones that have the most significant impact on my daily life. The state level is where the decisions are made on how to fund public education. The state level is where laws are made and created regarding who and when you can marry. We even get to elect whether or not to keep our judges! Many of these elections are won or lost by a few hundred votes, and I have the opportunity to voice my opinion. In these elections my vote could possibly be the deciding vote. That's exciting to me. That is the opportunity to make real and immediate change. How often do we get that chance?

2. Education

Voting makes me curious. I go online. I research different candidates and issues. I learn about both sides of arguments. I make educated decisions about my positions. I listen to other people's reasoning. I don't turn the radio station because I hear something I disagree with. In preparing for an election I become a more rounded person in the world by studying the world.

Elections bring important issues out into the light of day. Even if we're not voting on something in particular everything becomes fair debate around election time.

Before this year I didn't know anything about labor issues in Ohio. In 2004 I had no idea why Palestine and Israel didn't get along. Until about a month ago I didn't really have a clue what a Socialist was. I researched these things, and although I am no were near an expert on any one of these topics, I have thought about them. Just thinking about things is important sometimes, and elections make us think. On a side note, after reading about Socialism I can definitively tell you that Barack Obama is not a Socialist, but that is a completely separate blog.

3. Obligation and a Peaceful Transition of Power

I feel like voting is my responsibility. I've often times heard the saying "If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain." While that sounds witty, and at times I'm sure people wish it were true, the fact is that we all the right to complain whether we vote or not. Voting is not a requirement, but it is a responsibility. It's an obligation. It's part of a bigger picture. 

Sure, everyone has the right to not vote. That is a great thing, and it's important. Still, Voting in any election is not just about supporting the candidates or amendments or referendums in that specific election, it is about supporting the idea as a whole. It is about believing that the will of the people is a driving and important factor in the success of our country. And it is about supporting a peaceful and consistent transition of power. 

Both major party candidates have spoken at times during this election about setting an example for the rest of the world. We don't always achieve this, and often some of the things we do as a country are out of any one citizen's control. Yet one major thing we have done right every four to eight years since the civil war is facilitate a peaceful transition of power. I don't think most people realize what an amazing accomplishment that is. We check ourselves. We give people power. We take it away. We limit authority. We cycle public servants because we know that absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

That is why I know that we'll be fine after this election, because we are the deciders, and 232 years ago we decided that a consistent influx of new ideas was necessary to sustain a growing experiment in democracy. I absolutely believe in this. I absolutely believe in the idea that voting for any candidate, any side of any issue is supremely important. Because when I vote I know that I am not just voting for a candidate or a zoo or a judge, but I am also voting for the future. So maybe I'm not saving the country by voting for my selected candidate, but I am saving the country just by voting, and so are you. Take that for hyperbole.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Still Believe

Last night I went to a political debate at the middle school near my house. There, my friend Zach Robinson sat with his Republican opponent Robert Spendlove at table in front of about 40 people. The two of them talked about what mattered to them, and how they thought they could help the constituents of Sandy, Utah. They differed in ideology, but they were steadfast for their love of us. It was exactly what I needed this week.

Presidential elections are my Super Bowl. I look forward to them in the same way my kids look forward to Christmas. I believe they are a sacred time in our country where our obligations as citizens of our country cross paths with our obligations to each other. The peaceful transition of power in this our country is, in my opinion, among our finest achievements.

My daughter thinks that President Obama is the boss of America. That’s probably my fault. In a random, from the back seat conversation when I was distracted by trying not to drift into lanes of oncoming traffic I probably answered her first political question with an oversimplified answer. A few months ago when I told her that President Obama would no longer be our president, she asked if he was getting fired. I explained that no, he wasn’t getting fired. Presidents don’t stay presidents forever and every so often we get to choose a new one.

That blew her mind.

“We get to choose?”

“Yep! We do. That is called democracy.”

“I choose Pinkey Pie”

Pinkey Pie is a cartoon pony, and ineligible to be president. Not wanting to get into this, I explained that she could pick Pinky Pie when she was 18. She was fine with that.

Since then she has been wonderfully curious about democracy and civics. We’ve talked about the different branches of our government. We’ve talked about the different ways people can serve. We’ve talked about how a lot of the time people disagree on what the best choice is for our country, and the reason why we vote is to give everyone a voice in choosing.

“Just like we got to choose what to do in gym yesterday, huh dad?”

“That’s right.”

Things were going great. Then they weren’t. I told her she could watch the debate last week, not knowing that the first question would end up being whether or not one of our candidates meant it when he said he sexually assaulted women.

Superbowl canceled.

How do I explain that to her? Politics aren’t perfect, and the subject matter can be tricky, but I was planning on having trouble explaining tax policy, not consent and rape.

Don’t get me wrong. Those are really important topics and not ones we will shy away from in due time at our house. I just hate that it may have to be explained in the context of someone who may be “The Boss of America.”

So instead I played her the live-stream of Zach Robinson and Richard Spendlove talking about air-quality on the Wasatch Front. I let her listen to Zach talk about the years he spent as a fireman and how they taught him that everyone’s life matters, even those he doesn’t agree with. She heard these two men be kind to each-other and gracious. She heard what is right with America. She also got bored quickly, and wanted to play on the iPad… but that is more of a six-year-old thing than a problem with politics.

Like I said. The debate was exactly what I needed. I needed to believe.
This presidential election has felt like a punch in the chest. It has gotten worse and worse, and I have started to end every day burying my head in my pillow and just wishing it was over. Until last night…

Until last night, what I’d forgotten is that there are only two presidential candidates compared to the thousands of other candidates and volunteers out there working hard every single day to gather signatures, knock on doors, and talk about issues that matter to real people.

There are propositions and amendments to be voted on. There are Federal and State Senators and Representatives. There are bond measures, and taxes. There are issues that will affect each and every single one of us on a personal level. Last night I saw two people who had different ideas about those things, but a shared love for the people of our country.

The greatest kindness you can do for a person is know them, and last night I saw two candidates who genuinely wanted to know their constituents. They both stayed after the event and had long, sometimes difficult discussions with everyone who wanted to talk to them. It was exactly what a civil servant should be. Civil.

As long as we still have people like that, good people of any party willing to commit their time and talents to the public good, I have to believe our country will be ok.

I still believe, and I hope you do too. Our kids are watching.

P.S. I endorse Zach Robinson for Utah State Representative, District 49. Robert Spendlove seems like a nice guy too though.

How to Be a Dad

The first part is easy, unless it's not. Which honestly, sets the tone for the rest of it. Fear comes next. Then excitement. Then fear.

Rinse. Repeat.

Next you start asking yourself questions you never thought you'd ask. Am I enough for them? Can I be enough? What can I do to be enough? Was that enough? Will this be enough? Those questions never stop either, but don't worry. They pair nicely with the fear from the first paragraph. Next thing you know, they're older. There're two of them. One toddler, one in grade school. 

You're older too.

You look at yourself in the mirror and it is still just you. You're still just a kid. You're still worried about what people think of you. You're still worried about kid things. But also money and food and making sure your kid's don't have eyes that are full of worry like the ones you're looking at in the mirror. 

You close your eyes and hope when you open them again you will see a dad looking back, not a kid with graying hair. When you open them you're still there. 

"Dad! I need to go potty!" There is a tiny hand pounding on the door. 

Splash some water on your face. Go make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly. One kid likes triangles, the other one wants rectangles. One wants milk. One wants water, no ice please. Next, gold fish crackers and a string cheese. Pick two plates that are the same color. This will result in less fighting over who has the blue plate. Sit with them and ask them about their week. 

"Annie wasn't being nice. She was tattling on everyone and she told me she wasn't my best friend."


After lunch, wrestle. You are a dinosaur now too. Attack, softly. When you flip him upside down place your hand below the back of his head so it doesn't smack against the hardwood. He doesn't know you're doing this. He thinks you're wrestling hard. He fights against you, pushes you over. Yells RAAAAAWRRRR! 

Your daughter joins too. She is a pirate with a paper tube sword. She jumps into the tangle of laughs and screams, lands a blow across the side of your face and pauses in fear to see if she hurt you. 

She didn't. You smile and tackle her. Remember the hand behind the head. Remember to be fierce AND soft. Remember to be a dad. 

You are a T-Rex. He is a Steggysaurus. She is a pirate. 

You are a dad. 

After wrestling, he is coloring at the table. She is quiet and sitting by the window. 

"Hey honey. Are you OK?"

She's not. You can see the tears in there. 

"Annie said she wasn't my best friend."

Find words. Dads need words. You need to explain to her that Annie may have not have meant that. Explain that Annie is a kid, like her, and sometimes says things that she doesn't mean. Some kids are just mean. Some kids, like some adults just suck. Quick, find words to fix the tears that are starting to come out. Find words to make her better. Find words that will be enough. Will these be enough?

"Come here."

And you hug her. And you don't have words. You don't have anything but a grown up chest to pull her into, and hand to hold the back of her head while she makes little first-grade sobs that will leave a tiny teared face mark on your shirt. 

That is what have, that and your questions. Is it enough? Are you enough?

Later, after a dinner with chicken nuggets and same-colored plates and milk and water without ice, it is time for bed. Your wife takes the boy and you take the girl. She needs to brush her teeth. You need to show her. Front, back, top and bottom. 

"Dad! I have a loose tooth?"

"Oh yeah?" Wiggle it. It's not loose.

"Maybe. Let's give it some time. Hop in bed," you say.

"Can we play the story game?"

The "story game" is something you made up. She starts a story and then tags you in. You keep the story going for a bit and then tag her in, and so on and so forth until the story comes to its conclusion -  usually with a party or a wedding or everyone getting eaten by a dinosaur.

"You start this time, daddy."

"Once upon a time there was a boy... OK, you're turn."

"No, keep going," she says.

"OK. Once upon a time there was a boy who was sad."

"Why was he sad?"

"Oh, just because sometimes people are sad."

"OK, keep going."

"So the boy decided to go on adventure to find his happy. He went to the desert and climbed mountains. He put ropes on and went into caves. He drove his car all over and lived in exciting places. He slept under a different sky every night."

"Was it enough? Was he happy?" She already knows the answer.

"Not yet, but soon. One day he met someone. A kind and friendly girl who looked at the world like it was exciting and new. OK you're turn."

"And then they got married. I know this story. You're turn." 

"You're right. And then they got married."

"And then they made a baby, and that baby was me."

"We made you out of love."

"I know dad. You told me."

"I know. It's my favorite story. It's how a became a dad." you say. 

"I'm glad you're my daddy."

"Me too, kiddo."

"And then they all got eaten by a dragon. The end."

She giggles. You tickle her. She giggles more.



You go upstairs where kid two is asleep. You kiss him on the forehead, and go to look for the kind and friendly girl who tied you to the world and kept you from flying away. She's downstairs reading. 

"He go down OK?" You ask. 

"Yep. Did she?"

"Yep. Let's go to bed. I'm tired."

"Me too."

Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Splash some water in your face. It's still you in the mirror. 

This is how to be a dad: 

Wake up. Do your best. Find the words when you can. Hug when you can't. Be a soft dinosaur. Tell stories. Be a team. Be enough. 

Rinse. Repeat.