I got the idea to create this image when my 5-year-old daughter Alice Bee decided that she really wanted to be Hillary Clinton for Halloween this year. My wife Jen and I decided to support her decision by dressing as Secret Service agents as we escorted her through the neighborhood. I even shaved for the role.
I wasn’t initially planning to post this image publicly. Despite the fact that I have managed to maintain a modest career by creating and posting fake family photos to social media, this image, like 99% of my actual family photography, was intended to be personal and private — a fun way for our family to memorialize an important moment in our daughter’s life.
Alice Bee’s fascination with Hillary Clinton began many months ago, when she and the rest of her pre-K class learned that no woman had ever been elected to our nation’s highest office. I would later learn that her entire class (girls and boys) were completely flummoxed by this concept — it had never occurred to any of them that this was even a possibility. Alice came home from school that day with a laser-like focus:
“Daddy, Daddy! Who are you going to vote for for President?”
It was about two weeks to go until the primary, and I was momentarily caught off guard. Up until that point, neither Jen nor I had even mentioned the election to Alice, but here she was excitedly awaiting my response about a race for which I was still undecided.
“Ummm, who do you think I should vote for?”
“Hillary! Hillary Clinton! Please? Please?”
“Hillary, huh? Why do you want me to vote for Hillary?”
“Because she’ll be the first Girl President! You have to vote for her!”
“OK, we’ll see,” I replied, giving my standard dad response.
I was immediately envious of my young daughter’s uncomplicated view of the election. She obviously hadn’t been paying any attention at all to social media. She apparently didn’t know or care about Hillary’s Iraq War vote. Or her speeches to Wall Street. Or her use of a private email server. Or any of the other 30 years’ worth of critique from both the right and the left.
Five-year-olds (well, at least the 5-year-olds I know) are constantly complaining about things not being fair. In most cases, this is not actually the case — it’s just a standard complaint used to try to have cake as the main course for dinner or to not have to wear underwear to school. I’ve often wondered how my kid will respond when she eventually learns about how unfair some things can actually be in the real world. Will she respond with jaded cynicism, citing the inherent unfairness of the system as an excuse when she fails at something? Will she objectively recognize her own somewhat privileged background and neither take it for granted nor negatively judge others who come from different circumstances? Will she stand up for those who have less, for those against whom the system can often actually be rigged? Only time will tell who she will become, but for now, it’s a real pleasure to view the world through the eyes of someone who has been blessedly sheltered from the shitty way many Americans seem to be treating one another these days.
So in addition to the envy I felt about her enthusiastically simple view of the election, I was also incredibly proud of my daughter in that moment. She had just learned something ugly about American history, and her response was immediate and proactive. Instead of getting upset, she decided she wanted do something about it, to fix what she saw as a wrong. It’s been months since she learned about this, and her enthusiasm has not waned for one second. She has asked each of her grandparents who they are voting for and demanded their allegiance for the first “Girl President.” At a work dinner with some of Jen’s Pentagon colleagues, Alice cornered one of the guests in the kitchen and struck up a conversation about the election. Even when I told her that she was very likely speaking to a tough crowd, she would not be deterred. I am in constant awe of her tenacity.
I consider myself a political independent, but I currently live in a state where pretty much anything worth voting on gets decided by the Democratic primary. So, several weeks later on the day of this year’s primary, Alice Bee spotted my “I Voted” sticker and immediately demanded that I reveal how I’d voted.
Looking down at her, I cocked an eyebrow and replied, “Who do you think I voted for?”
“Hillary?” she excitedly asked. “Did you vote for her?”
I gave her a small nod, and she flung her arms around me in a fierce hug. “Thank you, Daddy! Thank you! I just know she’s going to win!”
That was the exact moment when I realized that not only was I was actually proud of my vote, but also that Alice Bee’s oversimplified view of the election was the right way for me to think positively about this election. Alice’s unwavering enthusiasm and cheerleading has been the one bright spot for me in what has otherwise been an exhausting, mentally draining, and dispiriting time.
So I created this image last week and was planning to keep it just for our family’s amusement. And then I showed it to a few friends. And then a few more. And a few more after that. And across the board the image and the story behind it made my friends smile, or laugh, or express appreciation for such a simple, inspiring view of the election. If my social media stream is any indication, everyone is exhausted by the constant flood of negative articles, vitriolic memes, and unsubstantiated fake news items that litter our feeds on an hourly basis. I know it may seem a bit Pollyannaish on my part, but if our family’s fun can make even a small handful of people smile or see something positive about this entire gross election season or to feel good about their decision to vote, then maybe we should publicly share this.
The problem was (and still is) that I’m afraid. This is a time when everything has become hyper-politicized, and there are unfortunately way too many examples of mean-spirited trolls hatefully attacking anything they see as counter to their own worldview, including multiple very real examples of attacks and even death threats against children who express an opinion or whose parents do or say something that the trolls don’t agree with. It’s a scary time, and even though I’d like to think that I’m personally strong enough to ignore such hatred, it’s really hard for me to stomach the thought of some asshole creating horrific imagery about my family or making a death threat because I’m proud that my idealistic 5-year-old chose to dress up as her hero for Halloween.
So, I decided to ask Alice Bee what she thought. I explained that if we posted this image, a lot of people would see it. I told her that it would probably make some people very happy, but there would likely also be a number of mean people who would write or say nasty things about me, her mom, or even Alice Bee herself.
“Why would they do that?” she asked. “That’s just mean.”
“I know it is, but unfortunately, that’s what’s happening right now. People are being really, really mean to one another when they don’t agree on things.”
She was quiet for a minute, and then I asked her again if we should share it, even though some people would probably say mean things about us.
“Who cares?” was her response. “I want people to see it.”
I love that kid. She inspires me and gives me hope. This election, I’m definitely with her.