If You're Not Voting Republican, Leave the Dinner Table

Vote!My dad told me to leave the dinner table when I announced my plan to vote Democrat. I was about to turn 18 and declare my party on the voter registration application. His face turned reddish-purple explaining that he bought this table and this house with his hard earned money, which the Democrats tried to take away with their over-taxing and overzealous spending. My mother smoothed things over; she is a mediator type who usually voted with the Dems but avoided political discussions. I had a loving relationship with my dad, but politics were sensitive territory.

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So when Ava, my 14-year-old step-daughter, announced that she didn't really care who won in the race for president, I felt it was my responsibility to calm Trey, her dad, down.

"Dad, I feel like if I voted Republican you'd like disown me or something. I mean it should be my own decision, not just what you believe," Ava said, defiantly.

Trey responded saying of course he'd always love her no matter what, but really, what was she thinking? As a black woman and a supporter of gay rights and reproductive rights for women, she'd be crazy to vote Republican, damn it. I explained that Ava needed space to form her own opinions about these issues, and that we needed to support her regardless of the outcome.

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Growing up, my dad was like a coach. He pushed us to do better in sports and in school and to plan for the future. The more intellectually competitive I became, the more heated our debates about the issues. I formed some of my views in direct opposition to his.

I understand that Ava is resisting the pressure to agree with her dad about politics. And I applaud her courage to say and think something different than her parents. But mid-way through the dinner table argument, Ava admitted she didn't care about the election because it wouldn't really affect her life anyway.

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"Ava, it's completely fine to develop different political views from your dad," I chimed in. "But the idea that who runs the government in the country where you live doesn't affect you, that is nuts."

If I could dissect the minds of many 14-year-old American girls, I fear they'd be full of iPhones and cute skirts and boys from gym class. But I think it's important that we encourage our kids to make room for the big picture too.

Trey wanted Ava to watch the presidential candidates debate as a way of engaging her in the political process. But I thought since she was already turned off by the rat race, watching the candidates argue and her dad root and swear at the screen like he was watching a football game might not be the best idea. Instead we talked about Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old, who was shot in the head because she spoke out about girls' right to an education.

Ava, she's your age. Right now she's fighting for her life in Britain. She is fighting for every girl's right to an education and to speak freely and to vote. Ava didn't say much, except that we were trying to brainwash her and that she wasn't interested in politics. But later, I'm pretty sure I saw a story about Malala Yousufzai on her computer screen, and for now, that's good enough for me.

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