Making Choices

Dear Ava, Elise, and Enzo,

On this historic day as we prepare to elect our first female President of the United States, I wanted to express to you the importance of making choices. For quite a while now, your Mom and I have been talking to you about choices: when you do something wrong we tell you “that was a bad choice”, and we you do something good, we praise you for making a good choice. It’s very important to us that you understand, from a young age, that life is about making choices, and that’s never going to change. As you get older, you’re going to be able to look at your situation in life and trace it back to a series of choices you’ve made.

Choices matter, and they come in many forms. You’re going to have to make choices about who you associate yourself with, what you do for a living, politics, religion, drugs and alcohol, hobbies, your appearance, etc. Some choices are more important than others, but I promise you they will never stop presenting themselves. Sometimes the choices you make will make other people angry, which is why it is vitally important that you always stand up for yourself and stand by your convictions. It’s also very important that you not judge or look down on others for the choices they make. Throughout your life you’re going to come into contact with people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds, and their beliefs and choices will be just as diverse. Assuming those beliefs don’t condone violence or hatred towards others, it is extremely important that you always show respect. You won’t always agree, and you certainly don’t have to, but everyone deserves your respect until they prove otherwise.

It’s important that you take pride in your choices; that you embrace them and feel a sense of responsibility for them. When things go well for you, don’t be afraid to give yourself credit for making a good choice, and please don’t ever attribute anything to luck. As I like to say, there is no such thing as luck; luck is for losers. Anywhere you find yourself seemingly lucky regarding anything of importance, I’d be willing to argue that what you think of as luck was really just the manifestation of hard work. And just for clarification, there is a big difference to me between the concept of being fortunate, and the concept of being lucky. I am an extremely fortunate person, but I’m not lucky at all, because luck isn’t real. For example, I look back on the career change I made about 6 years ago and feel very proud of that choice. It wasn’t easy, and there were times throughout that process where I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I knew this was the only way to better my situation and give my family the proper care they deserved, so I stuck with it. That was a good choice. On the flip side, I have made plenty of bad choices in my lifetime and had to live with those consequences.

So today we find ourselves as Americans faced with some very important choices, particularly in terms of who we elect for our next president. This has been an extremely tumultuous election cycle for our country, certainly the most of my lifetime to date. The two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are very polarizing figures, and people on both sides are up in arms about the other candidate. There is a lot of hatred and animosity being strewn about right now, and it’s dividing our country more than I can believe. Your mother and I have put in a lot of time and effort to research the issues that matter most to us, and align ourselves with a candidate who supports those issues. It’s important to me to keep it about the issues because it’s too easy to feed off of the low hanging fruit constantly being served up to us by the mainstream media. The juicy stuff is all about personal attacks, scandals, trustworthiness, lies, and previous transgressions, but we feel those aren’t the topics that should influence our decision. It takes a little more work to climb further up that tree to find the issues that matter most to you, and we were willing to do that.

I want to explain to you why we’re voting for Hillary Clinton, why we could never support a man like Donald Trump, and most of all, which issues matter most to us. Having lost my dad at the age of 14, I was never able to have this type of conversation with him, so to this day I have no idea which issues mattered most to him. I know he voted democratic, but I don’t know specifically why, so I would give anything to be able to look back at something like this to get a true account of his political sensibilities. This will never be an issue for you because even if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, you will always be able to look back on these posts and understand who we are as people, and what matters most to us. This is extremely important to me.

I don’t like focusing on negative stuff, but I need you to understand why I could never support Donald Trump for president. I’ll get that part out of the way first. Donald Trump is a business man with no political experience who promises to shake things up and turn Washington upside down his first day in office. He thinks he knows more than everyone about everything, and he plays to people’s fears. He says he knows more about ISIS (the world’s most formidable terrorist organization) than our military generals. He has no respect for women and has been caught on tape many times saying awful and degrading things about women, then has the nerve to say he never actually said them. He is xenophobic, meaning he has an intense dislike and fear of people from other cultures. He is a religious bigot and believes in separating people based on their religious ideology. He is a ‘rabel rouser’, meaning he speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people for his own political gain. He wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. He refers to climate change as a “Chinese hoax.” Some of his biggest supporters include:

  • The Ku Klux Klan
  • The Alt Right
  • North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin

He claims his business experience makes him a strong presidential candidate, yet his corporations have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy four times. During the 1970’s, while working with his father managing a number of residential apartment buildings in New York, charges were brought against him multiple times for racial discrimination. If you weren’t white, he didn’t want you living in his buildings. His business school, Trump University, has taken advantage of many students, and he now faces considerable legal challenges in the near future because of it. He refuses to release his taxes to the public because he is under audit, even though the IRS has said publicly on many occasions that he is completely free to do so. So you understand, this is the first time a presidential candidate from a major party has hidden his taxes from the public. Most of us realize that he is obviously trying to hide something from the American people, most likely his deep ties and debts to Russia. He hasn’t paid federal income taxes in approximately 20 years. To sum it up, he’s a bad guy. Even many of his supporters acknowledge that, but because he has played to their fears, they are still willing to vote for him. Obviously your mother and I are not.

Then there is Hillary Clinton, the democratic candidate. Let me start by saying she is not perfect. In fact, earlier on in this election cycle your mom and I supported another man named Bernie Sanders who was running against her for the democratic nomination. It was during this time that we started researching issues and and figuring out what matters most to us, but more on that in a bit. Some people distrust Mrs. Clinton because of an email scandal she had while serving as Secretary of State. She did something foolish and setup a private email server in the basement of her house, then used a personal email account for work purposes. When people caught onto this, she panicked and had all of her emails deleted because some of the content in some of these emails later on may have been deemed classified. This was a poor choice and it caused many Americans to distrust her. Unfortunately the whole thing has been blown out of proportion. I say this because she has been investigated by the FBI multiple times now, and each time has been cleared of any illegal activity. In my opinion, if the FBI doesn’t believe she broke any laws, then the American public has no grounds to hold her activities against her. Yes she made a mistake, and has publicly admitted so on multiple occasions, but the Trump campaign is keeping it in the spotlight, mostly because there aren’t many other negative things for them to focus on.

Then there are her accomplishments. She has fought for children and families for 40 years. Rather than take a job at a prestigious law firm after graduating from law school, she took a job at the Children’s Defense Fund, working with teenagers incarcerated in adult prisons in South Carolina and families with disabled children in Massachusetts. She helped to provide millions of children, as well as first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attack, with health care. She stood in front of a United Nations conference and told the world “women’s rights are human rights”, which at the time was a surprisingly controversial statement to make, particularly on a stage of that magnitude. She continues to stand up for LGBT rights in America, and abroad. She has expanded health care and family leave for military families. She negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. She preaches a message of unity and togetherness. And finally, she supports the political issues that matter most to us.

So what are those issues that I keep referring to? Well, let me begin by saying that my convictions today aren’t what they were in years passed. Honestly, I didn’t have many convictions in the past because I never took the time to research them with any depth. I will admit that as recently as a couple years ago I was starting to see myself becoming more conservative. I was growing older with a family to support, and in all honesty, I finally started making real money. Growing up, I had everything I could have ever wanted in life, but as I came to find out as I got older, we didn’t actually have any money. Like many American families, we simply got by. I knew my parents voted democratic, but again I didn’t know why. So when I started experiencing all these changes that I just mentioned, I felt it was somehow my responsibility to become a Republican, as silly as that may sound. If that’s what the wealthy people do, and I’m putting myself on course to someday become wealthy, then I assumed that’s where I belonged. Why should I pay a higher percentage in taxes now than I used to when I was just getting by?

This remained my mindset for the better part of a year, but then something happened. The current presidential election cycle (which ends today) got started, and I started paying more attention than ever before. Early on I had no idea who I wanted to support, so I decided to give every candidate a fair chance. One day I’d be researching John Kasich, then the next day it would be Carly Fiorina. I found myself taking online polls to better understand not only which candidates appealed to me, but more importantly, which issues were nearest and dearest to my heart. Once I discovered the campaign of Bernie Sanders I felt like I had tapped into something that mattered to me. Some of the main issues he preached, which I will cover in a second, made a lot of sense to me and I quickly declared him as ‘my candidate.’ In the end, this wasn’t Bernie’s time, and Hillary ended up winning the Democratic presidential nomination. At first I didn’t know how I felt about this, so I started researching Hillary a lot more, and I was pleased to find that she also supported basically all of the same issues that the Sanders campaign brought my attention to. Certainly there were some differences, but in the end I felt that of all our presidential choices (including those not coming from major parties), Hillary was most inline with the issues that mattered most to me.

I’ll start with climate change. There is deep divide in this country on many issues, and climate change is no exception. For the past decade or so we’ve been seeing drastic changes to our planet, including irregular weather patterns, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, thinning of the atmosphere, and an overall rise in global temperatures. As someone who has never formally accepted religion into their life, to a certain degree our planet is my religion. I say this because I care deeply about our future generations. The nameless and faceless matter to me, and I want to ensure that they have a healthy planet to live on. Luckily 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, and that the burning of fossil fuels is the main cause. Basically the mass industrialization that we have created over the past couple hundred years is having very adverse effects on our planet, and if we keep up at the pace we’re going, we will drive ourselves into extinction. Most of the Republican party argues against this and says there is nothing wrong, but of course they have their incentives. Mega corporations and political stakeholders have funded them into taking this position because they are more concerned about their bank accounts than about our planet. Donald Trump refers to climate change as a “Chinese hoax” and supports initiatives and practices that will cause great damage to our environment. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, takes an opposite approach and supports stricter legislation and regulation that will reduce our national carbon footprint, reduce pollution, and invest in clean renewable sources of energy.

However it doesn’t end there for me with climate change. Your mom and I are also committed to doing everything we can to have a positive impact and reduce our own carbon footprints. We stay away from certain products at the grocery store, we don’t waste energy, we compost, we recycle, I take the bus to work as much as possible, and we plan to retrofit our next home with Elon Musk’s solar roof. There are certainly more things we can do, and we plan to continue to better ourselves in this respect. The issue is simply too important to us.

Next, I want common sense reform to our nation’s gun laws. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to have this conversation with people on the other side because all they hear is “You want to take my guns away? Hell no!” This is certainly not true. As I’ve said before, I have absolutely no problem with anyone owning a handgun, a hunting rifle, or a shotgun. Whether you want it for sport, or your own protection, I’m not against you in any way, assuming you purchased the gun legally, you went through a background check, and you’re trained to use it. I think California got it right by instituting a mandatory 30 day cooling off period when someone goes to buy a gun, and I would like to see that made into a national law. I want to end loophole laws allowing people to purchase guns without a background check when buying them at tradeshows, or from private sellers. Finally, I don’t think any civilian should be allowed to own a machine gun, assault rifle, high magazine clip, or any other military grade weapon. To quote Ronald Reagan, who was a Republican president for most of the 1980’s and is generally considered the patriarch of the modern conservative movement, “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”

Whenever you get into the conversation of gun control, people like to start throwing the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution at you, which gives citizens the right to bear arms. I respect the Second Amendment, but love to point out that it wasn’t written for individuals, it was written for militias, at a time when every able-bodied man in this country (of any age) was required to enlist for service in a militia. Should you fail to do so, you would be imprisoned. Additionally, you were required to supply yourself with your own guns and ammunition. Also, the types of weapons that were available at that time were quite primitive compared to today. Does that sound like the world we live in today? I didn’t think so. Considering how much our world has changed since these laws were written, wouldn’t it make sense to revise them so they have more applicability to modern society?

Next you have women’s rights, including the right to have an abortion. Losing my dad at a relatively young age meant that through my most formative teenage years, I was under the care of a single mother. This experience forever shaped my respect for women, and it has never dithered. Now, as the father of two incredible little girls, my feelings towards equality for women are stronger than ever. It disgusts me that a woman doing the same job as me most likely gets paid 15-20% less that I do. For the life of me I cannot understand this, and honestly it angers me that in this presidential election, you have a woman who is likely the most qualified candidate of all time, fighting tooth and nail for the job against a man with literally no experience. I wouldn’t hire someone for a job as an assistant manager at a Cinnabon without any experience, yet I’m supposed to consider electing a man with no experience to the highest office in the world? It just doesn’t compute with me.

Regarding abortion, your mom and I are completely pro-choice. We have an implicit trust in the women of this country to make the right decisions about their body and their reproductive life. We don’t feel the government has any right to dictate to any woman what she can and cannot do with their own body. The other side will paint disgusting pictures related to this topic that play on your fear and your emotions, but they are not realistic, and ultimately I cannot condone any form of leadership that dictates such personal matters and decisions.

Now we’ve got minimum wage. The fact is that currently in many states throughout our country, you can work a full-time job (40 hours per week) at minimum wage, and still be in poverty. I feel there is something fundamentally wrong with this. I don’t care what type of job you’re doing either. If you’re working full-time then you’re contributing to the system, and you shouldn’t have to live in poverty. Consequently I support raising the minimum wage to a livable wage on a national level, and I’m most certainly willing to put my money where my mouth is in the form of increased taxes. As the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships.

Another very important topic to me is education. Obviously I want all three of you to go to college someday and obtain a higher education like your mom and I did, but I don’t want you to graduate with an enormous debt that takes you decades to pay off. Something is inherently wrong with our upper level education system, but luckily there are already major universities like Stanford and Harvard that are instituting programs to make college more affordable for everyone. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all education should be free, because I think you would value it much less if it were, but the cost structure needs to change. Plus, not everyone needs to go to a fancy school to get their education, and I’m a prime example of that. My bachelor’s degree came from Colorado Technical University Online. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s all about what you make of it and what you put into it. The simple fact is that if you want to further your education, and you’re willing to put in all the hard work, there should always be affordable options. Unfortunately I’ll be paying off my education for many more years to come.

Next up for me is LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) rights. Although I don’t personally associate myself with any of these groups, I feel it is awful that people who do can legally be treated differently in certain situations, than those who do not. The fact is that our world is continuing to change in many ways, and I want to be part of a society that celebrates people for their diversity, rather than shame or exclude them. I see this change as a form of progress. I want people to be able to marry whoever they choose, and identify themselves in a way that best suits them.

Another big one for me is reform to our drug laws. It’s hard to believe, but our country is full of prisons that are private, for-profit institutions. In other words, the more people they lock up, the more money they make. And what is the most common crime people are locked up for? Well, it’s drugs of course. For my entire lifetime, the country has fought the ‘War on Drugs’ and it’s a losing battle. We need to take the stigma away from drug addiction and accept the fact that it is a disease, but unlike many other diseases, this disease can be cured. We need to learn from the numerous countries around the world that have already dealt with this problem in a better way than ourselves. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying drugs are all good, or that they should all be legal – I fundamentally believe that most drugs are bad and certainly if any of you ever find yourself using drugs and I get wind of it, you can rest assured your mom and I will be getting involved right away. That said, the way we criminalize such activities makes no sense. There is also a racial component to our drug laws that is completely unfair to anyone without white skin. The whole thing disgusts me and I will always support candidates who promise to work towards reforming these draconian laws.

The final one is health care. Unfortunately the United States is the only major country in the world that does not guarantee health care to all of it’s citizens. This isn’t something that negatively affects our family because I am fortunate enough to have excellent private insurance through Microsoft, but it is a major problem for millions of Americans. In fact, it used to be a problem for us too. Neither your mom or I had health insurance for the first few years of our marriage because we didn’t have jobs that provided it, and we couldn’t afford the cost of private insurance. In the end, nothing bad ever happened to us, but it certainly could have. We actually had to get on an insurance plan provided by the state of California when we found out we were pregnant with Ava. I realize that the current situation with the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ‘Obamacare’) has it’s flaws, but I will always be in support of candidates who work towards guaranteeing health care to every American, regardless of their age or financial status.

I’m sure I could dig up a few more issues if I had to, but I think you can see where I’m coming from. Let me be the first one to tell you that because I’m writing this letter in a publicly accessible place, there will certainly be people who read this and wholeheartedly disagree with me, but I can’t worry about that. It may even go further than that; I may receive nasty comments like your mother did recently when she did nothing more than post of photo of herself on Facebook wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt. She didn’t even say anything, and yet two family members (one from my side and one from hers) made negative comments towards her.

Obviously if anyone ever has something negative or hurtful to say to my wife (or any of you), rest assured that they will also be hearing from me, as they did. In the case of my cousin, the conversation that transpired turned out to be a very positive one that I felt was healthy in the end. We were quick to tell each other that we loved one another and there will be absolutely no issue moving forward. In the other case, we both expressed our frustration with the comment that was made, and made it clear (in a polite way) that we were offended. Your mom even went so far as to ask for an apology, which she still has not received and probably never will.

It’s unfortunate that things can turn out this way, and I’ve always been under the impression that family comes before politics and religion, but not everyone sees it that way. In the end, I want each of you to realize that it’s not really important what everyone thinks of you. In my younger years I was much too concerned with what everyone thought of me. I wanted to please everyone, but you know got the worst out of that? It was me of course. Because I was wasting too much energy worrying about what others thought of me, I ended up not putting enough energy into figuring out my own thoughts. Plus, in the end people can sense when you’re trying to play both sides of the fence and will ultimately lose respect for you. I’m not saying that today I don’t care about what anyone thinks of me, but I am saying that the opinions I truly care about come from a very select group of people, and they all know who they are. Obviously this includes the three of you.

Let me also be the first one to admit that for each point I just made, there is an intelligent counterpoint to be made against it. I have no problem with that, in fact I embrace it. As I’ve said many times, I will always be a proponent of diversity in thought, even when it most assuredly eventually comes from each one of you. It’s never going to be ‘my way or the highway’ with me, and I promise to always do my best to see things from your perspective. All I ask is that you do the same with me. Above all, I would encourage you to always respect and embrace the differences of opinion you will eventually encounter with those around you. Unless you plan on becoming a politician (which any of you certainly could do if you wanted), I would recommend not worrying about trying to change people’s minds or opinions, particularly on polarizing topics like the ones I just mentioned. Focus on yourself. Focus on being the best you that you can be. Focus on tolerance and respect for others. Focus on love and unity rather than separation. Focus on making positive change rather than ineffective complaints. Focus on the people and things that you love and respect the most.

I’m not preaching to you just to hear myself talk. Someday you can expect to hear all this stuff from me in person, but I feel that this is too important of a time in our lives for me to put this off for another time. Again, I never got to have these talks with my dad because he was gone before I would have been old enough to appreciate it or truly understand. It’s natural as a parent to want better for your children than what you had, and what I want most for each of you is to always feel that you have a deep understanding of who your mom and I truly are. Again, I could die tomorrow, but the lessons and stories that I want you to hear will always be there for each of you to fall back on. That’s why I take the time to write to you, and why I throw caution to the wind when I think about the fact that anyone can get such deep insight to my thoughts and feelings, knowing that they may potentially try to use them against me someday. Although I may not be lucky, there is no one in this world who is more fortunate than me. After all, here is the privilege I get to wake up to each morning.

You’ll never know how much I love you

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