I wanted to give my daughters a tremendous victory. Instead, we were handed defeat. But it was a glorious, inspiring day and they will never take that from us.
Like many other parents I know, I was stunned by the results of the presidential election. I could not sleep much that night or since. I was thinking about the future of our country. But mostly, I was thinking about my two daughters.
I feared having to face them the day after and having to break the news that our candidate, Hillary Clinton—who we hoped would be the first female president of the United States—lost.
I looked in on them that night as they slept like I’ve done on so many other nights. I wanted to wake them up to tangible proof that girls can become anything they want, even president. Instead, sadness filled me as I looked at their heads still swirling with hope and dreams.
When my 6-year-old bounded out of her room that next morning excitedly asking me about the results, I had to take a deep breath before telling her that Donald Trump had won. And then my fears became reality when she collapsed into tears.
I held her on the couch and after taking a moment to cry, to be angry, to question everything, and to hold each other, I spoke to her about losing even when we do our best, about democracy, about voting again in four years.
Here’s what I wanted to tell both my daughters: It was worth it.
Our long journey together began when in June 2015 I insisted we attend Hillary Clinton’s kickoff rally on Roosevelt Island. The sun beat down us as I struggled to hold my two girls aloft and strained to see Hillary through the crowd. We left inspired and hopeful and thinking about paid family leave, equal pay, access to childcare, paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, ending discrimination against LGBT families, all of the things Hillary had stressed were not “women’s issues” but “family issues.” It was worth it.
I was given the opportunity to teach my daughters over many months about the history of women’s voting rights in this country, to discuss the historical disenfranchisement of half of humanity, and to note how far we have moved. It was worth it.
In advance of New York’s primary election, we headed for the streets, my daughters and I. We wore buttons and stickers and held signs. We handed out pamphlets and spoke to our neighbors. My daughters knew we have never had a woman president and they reminded passersby of this fact again and again. And the sight of my daughters made people smile, and hopefully made them vote. It was worth it.
I took my 6-year-old to phone banks for Hillary. We made call after call after call. Some were overjoyed to hear from us, some were decided voters, some undecided, some rude and heartless even to the sound of a child’s voice. Some promised my daughter they would vote for Hillary and my daughter smiled a genuine smile. It was worth it.
I attended Hillary’s celebration at a midtown Manhattan hotel on April 19 after she won New York’s primary. I cheered the victory and I cheered the New York values of inclusiveness and progress and fairness espoused by all those who spoke. I tried in vain to get close enough to Hillary to take a selfie with her or to show her photographs of my daughters supporting her. But, I was able to capture her smiling, waving to us. I showed my daughters this beautiful moment the next day and it was worth it.
This summer my family took a road trip to Seneca Falls. I felt the time called for it. I thought it appropriate for my daughters to stand at the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention, and for them to learn more about women’s history and future. The names Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass passed from my lips to my daughters. They learned that the road from this convention to winning the right to vote was long. My daughters gave miniature speeches at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel where the convention was held, and later in the day, rocked on the rocking chairs on Stanton’s porch. It was worth it.
In the waning days of the election, I again took my 6-year-old to a phone bank for Hillary. We heard moving speeches from a number of New York’s elected officials. We saw a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and focus. We saw how many people and how much hard work it takes to try to become president. It was worth it.
On election day, we headed out again to face the lengthy lines of voters. We donned our buttons and grabbed new signs and handed out as much literature as we could. We saw the masses voting and my daughters became serious campaigners. I hope I inspired them. I know they inspired me. It was worth it.
Along with more than 60 million people, we voted for the first female presidential candidate of a major party. It was a vote for both symbolic and real representation. It was a vote for women and girls everywhere. It was a vote for me. It was a vote for my daughters. It was a vote for all the women who came before us. It was a vote to recognize my daughters’ strength and potential—that they are the future. My daughters learned the importance of voting and of getting others to vote. They learned about local elections. They learned that I believe in them, in their value. And, they learned that we will live to fight another day but that we have work to do.
I wanted to give my daughters a tremendous victory. Instead, we were handed defeat. But it was a glorious, inspiring day and they will never take that from us. It was worth it.
Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.