Photo Credit: Steve Gatto
You know you’re a dad if: At the thought of your daughter dating, visions of gun cleanings while interviewing nervous, pubescent, would-be suitors fills your head. No doubt, the impulse to protect is a powerful one with most fathers. Just listen to the lyrics of one of the most popular songs with the young women these days, by an artist who goes by the pseudonym of Bruno Mars, “I’d Catch A Grenade For Ya” and it’s obvious that the concept of bearing the burden for the “tough stuff” is just a part of the job description for men, but what happens when that protection and those tough things are those you are unable to protect your children from… both sons and daughters? What’s a dad to do?
For me, it came a couple weeks ago, during the morning ride to school. “It” being that one moment that many blacks will unfortunately experience at some point in their lives. “Dad, me and ***** like each other and so ***** told his/her parents that he/she liked me and they told him/her that this was not allowed… because I’m black.” It hit me hard. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m just getting used to the fact that my child is developing a genuine interest in the opposite sex and recently asked about dating, but this, dealing with prejudice in the process? I was floored. Internally.
I’m generally one of the most level-headed people in my circles so hiding the bubbling volcano of emotion inside was no problem. I tried to ease the burden of this revelation for my child by dismissing the notion that this was nothing but raw, ugly ignorance in the form of prejudice by saying, “You know what? ***** parents are old world and maybe it’s a cultural thing? Maybe they just want ***** to be with a person of their own culture?” To which my child replied, “No, **** told me they’d be ok with him/her dating another white person.” Damn! Ok, let’s go with what’s behind door #2. I immediately moved into comforting mode, asking my child how he/she felt about this and then proceeded to tell him/her of my experiences dating a few asian girls when I was younger and how I rarely got to meet the parents. I wanted my child to know, that I know how it feels and I can empathize. I’ve been there. The truth is that though I shared this information, I know there’s nothing I can really do to soften this blow. My child is old enough now to understand, analytically, that there is ignorance in the world and it has absolutely nothing to do with them but that’s “head knowledge.” That’s what you say to yourself in an attempt to ease the pain, but it’s the heart that takes a beating. I knew this hurt and there was little I could do to ease the pain. This is one of those things we have to go through so that we’ll know, going into adulthood, that prejudice is real and alive and no matter how big a celebrity or how much of an average Jamaal we are, we will be subjected to it at some point, as unfortunate as that realization may be.
As my child went to exit the car, I made one last attempt to comfort and received an uneasy smile as if saying, “Thanks dad for trying, but this is one boo boo you can’t make better.” As I drove back to the house, I dissected the conversation and realized that I’m glad this happened now, and not when my little one was younger or much older. I came to this conclusion because I know that the maturity level is great enough to be able to process this, with a little guidance of course, then there’s the necessary evil of the mandatory hard lesson that people are going to dislike you because: the color of your skin, your shoes, your name, your hairstyle, your car, your neighborhood… and the list goes on. Regardless of ethnicity or phenotype, this is something we all need to learn young because the world can be a harsh place and no matter how much a dad like me would love to be able to protect my children from all of the evils of the world, I can’t. And they need to know that and grow a little thicker skin so that the ignorance in this world won’t be able to stop them in their tracks as they pursue their own purpose and path in life. For me that day, I was reminded just how important it is to be a protector, but more importantly, how important it is that our children experience some battles of their own while they’re still at home. It is in those times that the protection of a dad seems more passive than active, but it is in that passive posture that our children will learn how to process and fight their own battles while still feeling we’re there to catch and/or comfort them should it be a battle they’re not fully ready or able to fight. And that’s when we move to an active posture, ideally giving them healthy tools to help fight the next battle victoriously or find the object lesson in defeat.
In this way, the protection a dad provides is fully realized because protection isn’t just a physical thing. It’s the capacity to protect the minds, hearts and health of those who call you daddy. And husband.
Disclaimer: I kept this post as gender neutral as possible out of respect for my child and their “friend.” That too is for their protection.