I am not a career politician. I do admit to being politically active and I admit to paying attention to the political ramifications of new legislation that affects the agencies that I have worked for in my career but four years ago, I ran for State Representative in my district.
Campaigning was extremely hard work. I spent eighteen months working to build a political network, reaching out to elected officials, community leaders and meeting the people whose causes I was championing on the campaign trail. During the final ten months of the campaign, I knocked on the door of every registered voter in my district. I believe that a candidate is responsible for meeting constituents on their turf and for my campaign; that meant at their homes. The entire process was an experience that was eye opening and life changing all at the same time but most of all, it was life affirming.
My schedule as a candidate was full. I worked a full time job, attended community functions, and campaigned just about every waking hour during the week and on weekends. There were phone calls to make, letters to send, coffees to attend, fundraisers that were held and interviews that were given, but my favorite part of the entire campaign was the time I was able to spend knocking on doors. I was able to talk with people about the issues that affected their lives the most and in the process, I learned so much about the people and the problems in my community. It was grueling and time consuming work and when all of the votes on Election Day had been counted; I lost.
I would never trade my campaign experience for anything in the world. It was such a personal exploration of life and our political process that I truly believe I have become a better person because of the time I spent as a candidate. I could never put into words the appreciation and respect I have for everyone and for the entire process; supporters and non-supporters alike. Everyone should spend time as a candidate or as a volunteer for a candidate or for a political cause at least once in their lives. The opportunity to attempt to make a difference in my community has changed my life for the better.
But when the campaign was over, I was exhausted. Eighteen months of non-stop activity took a physical and mental toll on me. In the final push before Election Day, my campaign manager and I were down to three hours of sleep per day. We decided that when the votes had been counted, win, lose or draw; it was a time for a break. A day off was definitely the right course of action for both of us.
I woke up late on the Saturday morning after the election and I spent the day with my family just playing and enjoying our time together. I even watched a college football game during naptime. It was the kind of day you make time for when life catches up with you and you realize that you need a “time out” from the rat race. It was a great day; my wife and I laughed, played, and had fun. By the time Stephanie started the bedtime ritual, I realized I had not necessarily taken the day off to rest; I had taken the day off to redirect my energies and it was a revitalizing redirection.
I was also giddy and filled with excitement during the entire day because my wife, Stephanie, stood before the entire group of supporters who joined us on election night and announced to the world that we were going to have another baby. So during the day, Stephanie and I kept shooting these little excited smiles at each other because we were both thrilled about the new arrival that would greet us in the New Year.
Anyway, as the day wound down, I went into our family room and selected a DVD for Stephanie and me to watch together and then I sat down on the couch and waited for Stephanie to join me. She was putting our son, Joshua, to bed and as the time wore on, I became concerned. After a while, I glanced at the clock and realized that Stephanie had been upstairs putting Josh to bed for an hour, so I went upstairs to check on them and found that Josh was still awake.
He refused to go to bed. He was fighting his fatigue. Stephanie had tried everything to help him fall asleep but he was intent on staying awake, so I switched places with her. It was my turn to try and get Josh to fall asleep. I knelt on the floor beside his bed, told him some stories, sang a few songs to him and I rubbed his back for a very long time. I looked up at the digital clock in his room and noticed that it was 11:30 p.m. and Josh was still awake. I knew he was extremely tired but for some reason, he was fighting the urge to sleep with every ounce of his little body.
“What’s up buddy? Why won’t you go to sleep?” I asked. As he looked up at me, tears started to well up in his eyes.
“I can’t,” he replied. “I just can’t.”
“Yes you can. Just try.”
“I don’t want to, I don’t want the day to end,” he said with a very sad voice.
“Because when I wake up, you’ll be knocking on doors again.” The words stunned me as my heart sank into the pit of my stomach. My routine of being home almost every night and just about every weekend to spend time with my family had been disrupted by eighteen months of campaigning.
I looked down into his little brown eyes as he looked up at me, waiting for a response. He was waiting for me to tell him that I would be out campaigning again in the morning. I mustered up a smile for his benefit. “No I won’t, I will be home all weekend. I promise. I will be home tomorrow and the next day, no more knocking on doors.”
“You promise, Daddy?”
“I promise. Now get some sleep so you won’t be grumpy tomorrow and we can play.”
A calm resolve seemed to settle over him as a big yawn muffled his “okay, daddy.”
I sang another song to him and rubbed his back until his exhaustion cradled him off to dreamland. I hoped, as I did every night, that he would have wonderful dreams. I kissed him on the forehead, quietly stood up and walked out of his room and looked at my wife who was standing in the hallway. She had heard our entire conversation and gave me a big hug as I closed Josh’s door behind me.
I would never trade my campaign experience for anything in the world because I learned so much about myself and the world around me. But the Saturday after my election defeat, my son taught me the most important lesson about my campaign that is applicable to everyone in the world and transcends politics, work, hobbies and every other distraction we may have in our lives. My son taught me, “No matter how busy or important the work or cause I am involved with at the time seems to be, I should never forget about the people who mean the most to me in the world.”
No matter what you do in life, please heed the words of my son and make time for the people you love and care about the most in this world because if you don’t, one day, all you will have left in your life is “knocking on doors.”