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John Engel: This election season, kitchen table politics

Anticipation of Election Day results loomed. Over dinner my wife, Lori, and I discussed the logistics of getting to the polls in the morning.

Inquisitive daughter Zoe interjected, “Who are you going to vote for? We both laughed. Lori said, Obama, and 3-year-old brother, Adam, retorted, “I’m gonna vote for Mama.”

“What happens if it’s a tie?” chimed Zoe.

“What are they teaching in kindergarten these days?” I wondered aloud.

I contemplated Bush v. Gore, the passé popular vote, the imperious Electoral College, a Republican House selecting Romney, a Democratic Senate choosing Biden, and then Adam dropped his spoon on the floor and nearly fell off his chair as he wiggled to reach it. I spared everyone the civics lecture and we turned attention to kitchen cleanup, baths and bedtime stories.

Disappointed by the lack of a viable eco-friendly candidate, we consoled ourselves by traveling to the polls without burning any fossil fuels. Lori walked and I pedaled with the kids in the trailer, first dropping Adam at pre-school, then to the community center.

Weaving our way through a gauntlet of folding tables and chairs, staffed by wide-eyed seniors, Zoe and I successfully procured a ballot and headed to an open booth.

While we affixed “I Voted” stickers to Zoe for three previous elections, starting when she was 6 weeks old, I spontaneously decided to end her role as passive observer.

Madly enthusiastic about pencils, pens, letters and words, I knew she would jump at the invitation.

With voters waiting in line behind us, I tucked Zoe’s mittens under my left arm, balanced the ballot in mid-air with my left hand, held the official pen, which was tightly tethered to the booth, in my right hand, and pointed with my chin to the correct line on the ballot as I coached Zoe in the fine art of vote casting.

She drew a beautiful line, perfectly completing the broken arrow. I lifted the ballot with fatherly pride, and was horrified to see we had voted for the wrong candidate.

I instantly rationalized our vote would not alter the outcome in a state where the result would be decisive, nor did I want to disempower my daughter in her first act of suffrage, nearly a century after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet, in the event our president failed to be re-elected, my stomach turned at the thought of giving our one and only vote to his political opponent.

I reassured Zoe that her penmanship was wonderful and was relieved when the election judge agreed to provide us with a fresh ballot. This time we both held the pen, first casting our vote for president, then for the first woman U.S. senator in our state’s history.

The following Sunday, with the smells of homemade oatmeal-raisin muffins baking in the oven and cinnamon-apple sauce bubbling on the stove top, we gathered round the kitchen table and watched the President’s acceptance speech on YouTube.

As the first family took the stage, we noted that Sasha and Malia are only a bit younger than some of the cousins, thinking our gesture would help the kids appreciate the event. Minutes later, Zoe asked: “When are the muffins going to be done.” And, echoing her disinterest, Adam glared at the computer screen:

“When is he going to stop talking?”

One of the memorable lines of the speech, for me, was Obama’s reminder that “Democracy in a country of 300 million people is noisy, messy and complicated.” Just like family life, I thought to myself. Then I smiled, recalling the adage: Politics starts at the kitchen table.

John Engel is an organizational development coach and consultant living in Florence. Engel can be reached through his website, www.fatherhood-journey.com.

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