Four years ago, I sat in a hospital room with my grandfather and watched as the first black President was sworn into office. He was never a politician himself; but my grandfather was deeply involved with local politics all his life. He was a sworn Democrat, would only on rare occasions admit to voting for a Republican. Locally, his support could be enough to decide whether or not someone was elected to office. Nationally, I don’t know how much of an impact he made; but I know a lot of people who listened to him when it came to decide how to vote.
He didn’t say much; but we watched the speeches together, watched the inauguration together, and discussed what we thought of the changes that were taking place. It is a memory I will never forget—both the discussion itself, and the concern. Would President Obama make it through the inauguration? There were a lot of extremists who were very unhappy that he was taking office. Both of us were surprised when there wasn’t so much as a ripple of disruption during the ceremony.
My grandfather was not a biased man. He saw all people—men, women, regardless of race or income or social standing—as being equal to one another. If he had been there, he would have been delighted to shake the President’s hand and congratulate him on taking office. He just knew how people felt about anything new. In his quiet voice, he offered insight, and wisdom gained through years of keeping his finger on the pulse of the political scene.
He died just a few days later.
I wish I could go back in time and give my kids that experience. They don’t understand politics. They’re still working out what it is, exactly, that the judicial branch does, and why the executive branch is important, and how the legislative branch functions. They understand that there is a House and a Senate, and that they’re important, but they have no idea why.
And I’m not good at explaining it to them. Whatever it was that gave my grandfather the ability to understand politics, I didn’t get all of that. I wish that it was possible to send them back to sit with him, just once, and watch one inauguration—because what is said isn’t important. Four years later, even knowing that was a memory I would never be able to reclaim, I have forgotten what my grandfather said.
I haven’t forgotten being there with him.
Give your kids those memories. You’ll be at home with them when the inauguration occurs. Sit down with them in front of the television and watch it. They might not understand why it’s important. Younger kids certainly won’t be able to sit through all of it. Give them a piece of it anyway. Let them see that it is important. Give them a lesson or two in basic politics—who the President is, and why he’s important—and then watch with them.
The lesson might not stick—but the experience will.