Guest post from Teddy’s dad.
Yesterday, DC was covered with tens of thousands of people commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The “I Have a Dream” speech is probably the closest the 20th century every got to a Biblical prophecy. And for me, a middle-class white guy, it was always an inspirational speech for the nation as a whole. I was born 13 years after the speech was given and 7 years after Dr. King had been assassinated. I never experienced the firehose of Bull Connor or the dehumanizing effects of segregated water fountains. Those are things from the past. America now strives to be a place where “justice [is] a reality for all of God’s children,” and I have always intended to do my part by being nice to people.
But listening to “I Have a Dream” again yesterday morning, I was moved by something much more personal. Dr. King and I share the same wish for our children. It is awkward for me to lay claim to having anything in common with Dr. King. In addition to the difference in race, he was a strong man of God; I’m not. I am of the dot com era; he was of the social upheaval of the 1960s. His property, family, and life were constantly under threat; I’ve never been threatened with violence. But even with all those differences, the skin color of our children bring us together. We both hope that the future is a place where “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Last week over dinner, Teddy and I started playing a game. He pointed to one of his body parts, and then the same one of mine, and then named it. For example, he pointed to his hair and then my hair and then said, “Hair.” The game evolved to me asking questions about the body part. “Whose hair is it?”I asked, and Teddy responded, “Daddy’s.” “What color is Daddy’s hair?” and “What color is Teddy’s hair?” We both have black hair, so that was easy for him.
We continued the game with eyes and Teddy realized that Daddy has blue eyes, but Teddy has brown eyes. I internally applauded myself for telling Teddy that he may have inherited his brown eyes from his biological mother. What a good adoptive dad I am! Not afraid to have the tough conversations, I thought.
And then Teddy pointed at his face and said, “Face,” and then pointed at mine. And right there I stopped. Was I going to be the first one EVER to tell him that Daddy had white skin and he had black skin? Was I ready to begin what will certainly be a lifetime of conversation and discovery about skin color, race and American society? Was I ready to explain that it is dangerous to be a black male teenager in America?
No. I wasn’t ready. I chickened out and quickly distracted Teddy by asking him about his meal. But I won’t get to take a pass on this for very long. Teddy will notice. Or one of his friends will notice. Or when his sibling shows up, we’ll have to explain where he or she came from and why they are both black, but their Mommy and Daddy aren’t. I don’t know how this all plays out or when I’ll be ready to talk.
I, like Dr. King, look forward to the day when race relations in America is just another example of why this country is great. I doubt we’ll get there in my lifetime, but I pray it does in my children’s lifetime and will play out exactly as Dr. King prophesied:
“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”