I think my dad’s too old to vote

Write for Advice


Cary’s classic column from Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008

He says he’s not really following politics, but is planning to vote anyway.

Dear Cary,

My 84-year-old father voted a straight ticket in the 2008 primary.

Now he says that at his age he doesn’t keep up with politics anymore. When he was younger he was very interested in politics and read everything he could get his hands on about the political agendas and knew what was what. He doesn’t even read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. He says it isn’t relevant for him now that he is at the end of his life.

Nevertheless, he has declared that he will vote in November!

My question is how do I tell my father that he shouldn’t vote if it isn’t relevant for him and he doesn’t know what is going on?

I told him that it will be relevant to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Help!,

My dad is 84, too. He’ll turn 85 in May — unless he makes a wrong turn and ends up back in April.

It could happen. He gets confused. You take your eyes off him, he’s in Ladies Wear. Or he’s deep in thought on a traffic island.

But we can’t tell him what to do. It’s all we can do to keep him from swallowing Drano and stuffing kittens in his pockets. There are limits, even with 24-hour surveillance.

So knowing what it is like to try to control the actions of an aging parent, I would advise you not to tell your father he shouldn’t vote. First, it’s not your decision. Second, as Jeeves might say, success in such an endeavor is far from assured, sir. And third, even if he writes in Hitler and Mussolini, the empire’s fate does not rest on the divinations of one confused octogenarian — unless he’s a federal judge.

Nor is the right to vote contingent on demonstrable competency — with good reason, as in the past “competency” has been pegged to attributes that have nothing to do with competence, such as gender and skin color.

So here is a better idea: Let your father do as he chooses, and meanwhile work to get out the vote for your side. If you turn out five voters, their votes will either add to or counteract the effect of your father’s vote, depending on what he decides once in the booth. Either way, you come out ahead.

There is one issue here that you cannot come out ahead on: Your father is getting old. His faculties are declining. There is no cure for this. It is not easy to watch and accept. It is not easy to stand back. You may find yourself trying to control things that you really cannot control. That will only bring you pain. It will draw you into conflicts that are really not about what they purport to be about. So I suggest that you simply treat your father with loving kindness and accept his gradual and inevitable decline.

His voting is the least of your worries. Pick your battles. You may have to take his car keys away. But he’s not going to run anybody down in the voting booth.

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