Friday, May 15, 2015

The Teacher Dad : Parenting for Change

I'm a 37 year old white father of twin bi-racial 4 year old boys. I couldn't be any more proud of that fact. They are 2 of my 5 kids all of whom I love dearly. Our mixed race family turns heads everywhere we go, mostly because we are super cute! But also because we are clearly a loving family.

When my wife and I decided to add to our family through adoption we knew the responsibility we would have in raising our soon to be diverse family. We talked about the challenges that our boys could face as Black Americans, but then again we also discussed the challenges our daughters will face, and the overall hurdles we as parents will face in raising all of kids. Being a parent is challenging work regardless of family make-up. 

Our goal is to raise strong independent thinkers that can show empathy and compassion for all types of people. Kids that can follow rules, but also know when a rule needs to be reevaluated and challenged. We encourage our kids to feel, think, and question.

So, as I sift through the recent events surrounding the death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore, I'm asking myself what I would be saying to my boys if they were older. How would I try to explain to them what happened, and what has been a pattern of "happenings" in recent years towards black males?

And it's super hard. Because I'll have to explain to my suburban American kids that life isn't "fair" to everyone in our country. That there are some kids born into homes that don't have the same support and love that they do.There are kids born into families that live in places where opportunity is different, where schools are not like the ones they go to. That there isn't a choir class, or iPads, or arts & theater, or a library with new books every year. It's hard for me to have to explain that there are people that don't think it's fair to help these kids and families because they feel by helping we are only furthering a problem. That help equals dependency, and it's not okay to help people that will just then rely on that help.

I know that when I say these things the response will be, "why?" "Why are kids not being treated fairly?" "Why are there schools that don't have the same things my school does?" "Why do their families not have the same opportunity?" "Why do people feel that way about kids and families in that community?"

They are going to ask all of the right questions.  And I'll have to explain to them that it's history. That there has been a history of segregating the have nots from the haves. That while our country was founded on the idea of all men being created equal, it hasn't been practiced by everyone. I see that I'll have to look into the eyes of my kids and explain that because 4 of them fall into a "minority" subclass, that they might find a tougher road. And that's simply because of skin color or gender. That our country has a history of stereotyping people just on looks alone.

I think of all of this, and I struggle with the idea that in 8 years when my boys are 12, that all of this could still be going on. That 8 years later we could still see areas of extreme poverty in our country. That we could still hear the same "just work harder" banter. That when my kids finally do ask "why" I'll have no better answers than I do today.

A colleague recently asked me about our decision to move to this community. A community that is noticeably less diverse than our previous Fairbanks, AK home. Did it play into consideration? Sure. It was a worry to know that our boys could be even more of a minority in this town. But, I also explained that since moving here we've connected with other families like ours, and that while we are not the norm, we are cared for. Does that mean things will be easy when our boys are bigger? No. No it doesn't. Their mom and I will have to put a strong emphasis on the importance of first impressions. On how to be mindful of surroundings and the situations they put themselves in. We'll have to talk about tone and the power it has in positive communication. The truth is we'll have to do this with all of our kids, because it's true for each of them. 

In the end, I know that they won't be totally alone in that they will always have the love from each other, their siblings, extended family, their friends, and of course their mom and me. We're so proud of the little men they're becoming and regardless of the life struggles put in front of them, this loving support team will always be there. 

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