“Let’s start with Proposition 1,” I said. “It’s about building a train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
Harrison, my 22-year-old son, and I were having lunch and reviewing the sample ballot sent to registered voters in California.
“Do you think I should go with the “big wave” burger?” he asked. Colorful plastic toucans looked down on us from their ceiling perches. Scenes of surfers catching big waves looped on silent television sets as we conisdered our food choices. Then we turned to the issues facing our country and our state.
“I know who I’m voting for, for President,” he said. And with that, he made a big “X” in the box for his choice. Just as he began to randomly mark an “X” next to his choices for Congress and State Assembly, I said, “Do you want to know who’s running?”
“No, not really,” he said.
“It’s important. You need to pick people who share your interests. What’s important to you?”
Puzzled by this brief explanantion of representative government, he said, “My job is importnat, and the union.”
Harrison is a courtesy clerk at our neighborhood grocery store. “These candidates support unions,” I said. He marked his choices and we returned to the ballot initiatives.
“So, what do you think about a train running up the coast?” I asked.
“I think we have enough trains, like the Gold Line,” he said. The Gold Line is our local communter train, and a favorite form of transportation for Harrison. As a disabled adult, he recieves a low-cost transit pass, which is his ticket to personal independence.
“The train is different than the Gold Line. It’s more like the trains we rode in Germany. Remember the ICE, the super fast train you enjoyed?” With this, I knew I was crossing a line I’d drawn four years ago, when I mulled over whether I should help register Harrison to vote. With his IQ of 69, he couldn’t read. I’d have to fill him in on every aspect of the ballot. Could I really be impartial? I realized that every family influences the political ideas of children. But there was more to consider. Harrison, as a disabled American, needs the protection of government to guarantee his rights. He needs to participate in the political process. And so I helped him register. At the same time, I made a promise. I wouldn’t influence his vote. But here, with the train project I liked, I knew my own preference was showing.
“No, I don’t want to vote for the train,” he said. “We have enough ways to get to San Francisco. What’s next?”
Our lunches came, our bowls of tortilla soup, my salad and his hamburger. I read the ballot initiatives carefully, trying to find essential ideas Harrison could understand. I struggled when I came to Proposition 8, which deals with gay marriage.
“Sometimes adult men make families with other men, and the same with adult women. Proposition 8 is about whether gay partners have the same rights that your father and I have.”
Harrison’s face tensed. He squinted his right eye. “I don’t know about that. I’ll have to think about it.” And he did. Weeks later he explained to a family friend why he was voting “no” on Proposition 8. “I don’t care what people do. That’s their business. But they should have the same rights as me.”
We finished our lunch, paid, the bill, and discussed how we’d spend the rest of our Saturday together. But before we left the table, Harrison asked me, “Do you think Obama will win?”
“I hope so.”
And with that, I felt the satisfaction of having raised a son who shares my enthusiasm for participating a political process that imagines a future filled with hope and social justice. I no longer question whether Harrison is smart enough to vote. I know he is. And I know I’m better voter becaue of him. Votes matter in America. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.