I believe I started leaning left in direct response to my father's lean to the right. The more he grumbled his indignation about "youngsters" who had no sense of patriotism, the more stridently he supported the war in Vietnam, the more he would turn the TV to roller derby when reports of civil rights protests were being aired - the more I would see his views as skewed and downright wrong.
But it was my gentle, quiet mother who sealed the deal. I don't know if she was a Republican or a Democrat. She never said and, in our home, voting was a private matter.
I was preparing a high school essay assignment. I chose to write about abortion because almost everyone else was writing about the war in Vietnam. My father was obsessed with the body counts on the evening news. KIAs. MIAs. Us. Them. Surely this would turn out to be a USA victory like WWII, right? He could have been watching a football game. The reports were horrifying. I was horrified. He just seemed fascinated by the contest.
I was a virgin. My amateur scientist-self viewed the reproductive cycle dispassionately. Egg meets sperm, they combine in some mysterious way and a cycle of division and growth begins that leads to embryo, fetus, baby, child, adult. Why would one consider the disruption of this cycle okay at one stage of development but not another? Isn't abortion the same as murder?
This clinical examination of my "facts" was occurring, however, during a time of my own sexual awakening. I'll let the Freudians among you wonder about the timing of the push-back against my father. Girls at school were discovering Planned Parenthood in droves. Rumors whispered at school about abortions were no longer rare. Were these girls bad people? Couldn't they see my simple premise? What was I missing?
Adolescence is confusing for all of us. But back then? Whew! Why were black students being led into school with police escorts in the South? Why should any of us be barred from school because of our skin color? Why were demonstrations becoming so violent? Why were we in Vietnam? Why were boys being forced to register for the draft? Why were some of them going to Canada? Why were so many not coming home?
I was a sprouting flower child. You remember? Make love not war. Give me a toke on that. National Organization for Women. Male schoolmates becoming young men. Burn your bra. Four dead in Ohio. Teach your children well.
Then one day I was travelling in the car with my mother. I was reading my essay to her about abortion. She was normally effusive with praise about all of my school work. Today, as I read, she just looked sadder and sadder.
"Mom? What's the matter?"
"Don't repeat this to anyone, okay?" Ohhh. A secret with mom.
"I had a friend in college," she said quietly, "who died trying to give herself an abortion."
By this time, while driving, she was furiously blinking back tears.
"Honey," she said, "I've had six of you. I love each and every one of you with all my heart and can't imagine life without you. But we never had any birth control except the rhythm, which didn't work so well. If I had become pregnant a seventh time I don't know what I would have done," she said. "Maybe I would have died."
And so, another child's simplistic view of the world bit the dust. And my mom sealed the deal.