A dad cedes political ground to a native son

September 11, 1999|By Rob Kasper

IT IS A SAD DAY for paternal power, when, instead of merely disagreeing with your political opinions, your kid is able to neutralize them by voting. You are no longer the political kingpin, even in your own lair.

That is the state of affairs I find myself in as our older son, 18, votes in his first election, Tuesday's mayoral primary in Baltimore. At this point I am not sure whether the kid is going to reinforce my choice for mayor, or negate it by voting for another candidate. What is clear is that the household dynamic has changed. No more will my political pronouncements go unchallenged.

I guess the diminished influence of dad is part of the cycle of life. Experts in family behavior keep saying that parents should think of themselves as "consultants," to their teen-age children, not bosses. Over the years I have seen my authority in domestic matters -- from Saturday-night curfew to ear piercing -- erode. Once I issued fiats, now I seek consensus.

But until recently I thought of political opinion as one remaining sanctuary of paternal muscle and fatherly rants. Politics was one area where I could dominate the home front with my keen insights and my habit of pounding on the kitchen table. This, it turns out, is no longer the case.

The other night, for instance, I locked horns with the older kid on the question of whether Abe Lincoln or Harry Truman was a better president. He took Lincoln, I took Truman. No matter how often or how hard I pounded on the kitchen table, he won. He kept his focus and pointed out that the Civil War that Lincoln prosecuted had a greater impact on the fate of our nation than the Korean War that Truman oversaw.

I felt like one of those mountain goats who butts heads with his male offspring. This time the old goat had lost ground.

Moreover, when this kid and I discuss who should be the next mayor of Baltimore, I haven't been able to use my old standby argument, a favorite fall-back position of fathers arguing with their kids -- namely, that the kid should listen to the dad because the dad has more experience.

This doesn't work because, unlike me, the kid has grown up in this town. He has experience. He has used its libraries, ridden its mass transit, walked home from its Oriole games, frequented its nightspots, and now that he is driving, experienced its traffic and its high auto insurance rates.

He has also had the experience of having his tires punctured by an Inner Harbor vagrant who took an ice pick to them when he didn't get a handout. And he has had the experience of being stopped at random half a block from our house and frisked by police. Despite the rub of urban life, he likes it here.

As a matter of fact, the kid, like many natives, is absurdly loyal to Baltimore. He has already announced that after going away to college he is going to "do a Baltimore" and move back into the house he grew up in. We will see. His younger brother -- who at times says he plans to move to a gated community on the coast of California -- has also voiced plans to spend his post-college career in Baltimore, in our house.

Baltimore, as mayoral candidates tell us, may be losing 1,000 residents a month, but my kids say they are going to stay here and fight, over who gets the house. That is down the road. A few days from now, the older kid will walk over to the polling place set up in the school where he went to kindergarten and cast his first vote for the candidate he wants to be mayor of his hometown.

The kid and I are still discussing who that candidate should be. Maybe instead of telling the kid who he must vote for, I will elicit his views. But I doubt that will happen. Old habits and old goats die hard.

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