It finally happened. Last night my four year old brown son told me he wanted to be white. There was no preparation. There were no indicators that he was even processing this. In fact, as best as I could tell, he barely even noticed color. And I’ve tried to be mindful of the color issue with all of my brown kids. So, that question seemingly came out of nowhere. And, I was not braced for the heart-shattering impact. I knew we would have difficult conversations about race eventually. But, not this one, not now.
I’m no stranger to these kinds of out-of-nowhere questions, though. My daughter, who is adopted and my biological niece, was notorious for tossing out these wrecking ball questions – you can imagine the delicate intricacies of family dynamics when navigating her specific questions. I guess all kids come up with this kind of stuff at times. But, I would say that, generally, displaced kids probably have the more complicated of these questions. We are rarely really prepared with an answer. I mean, it’s not like “Where does milk come from?” or something easy like that.
I’m pretty sure that I did not handle it as well as I should have. The staggering rush of questions and emotions running through my mind in that instance overwhelmed me. Some of my biggest fears are my brown kids going up too white. That may seem a little silly on the surface, and maybe it has a lot to do with fear of a cliché. But, I really do want them to be able to fit into their own culture, as well as my family. I also don’t want them to resent me or my wife (or other white siblings) because they are brown and we are not. We have intentionally put them in a school that is predominantly black so they can experience their own culture in ways that we can’t give them. We’ve researched hair and skin care as if it were a college post grad study. All of these things and more we did so they could live in a white family comfortable in their brown skin. And if I’m being completely forward and honest, it stirs a sense of shame in me because I can’t be a brown dad for them. Saying it sounds silly, but there it is. The truth. And that’s probably a whole other blog post.
So, what probably seemed like a fleeting statement to him turned his dad into a blubbering, sniveling, snotting mess. I grabbed that little dude up, and told him that I love him just the way he is, and that I didn’t really care what color his skin is. I explained to him that none of my sons are white like me and that I am perfectly OK with that. I was a fine mess.
Deep breath. Where is this coming from? I started leading him down that journey with some questions of my own. It turns out, he just wants to grow up. He wants to be strong. He wants to grow a beard. He wants to be like dad. Consequently, his dad is also white. There is a selfish part of me that is very flattered by this. I told him that he will grow up, that he will probably be bigger than me – in his perception, he probably doesn’t realize that I’m actually short. I told him he could, and should, most certainly grow a beard. He will be brown, though. As for being as strong as me, we’ll just have to see. That was good for a chuckle.
In a later conversation that he initiated, he asked me why God made me white and him brown. I’ve wondered the same. I don’t really know, Son. It was his decision for whatever reason, and we’ll just love through it. I’m your dad, but I’m still learning stuff, too.
It is good that he feels safe and secure enough to dive into these difficult topics with me. I hope all of my kids develop that sense of safety. He will grow to be a strong man. And a good man, I think. He will also know his dad is in his corner, always.
I’m humbly reminded of the eyes that are watching me, always. Maybe I wish they had better role models than me. I don’t get to make that decision for them, though. But, I did make a decision to be dad.