Blast from the Past!
Brought back for our current audience to read & comment on.
Originally published on May 31, 2010. _________________________________________
He was a dusty country bumpkin, hopping on trains to work a job for a dime a day. They called him ‘Big Boy,’ because he was 11 pounds when he was born. He never went to high school, drove a truck through Casablanca in World War II, and retired as a garbage collector for the City of Los Angeles. He saw the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, Integration, White Flight, The Age of Aquarius, Reaganomics, Monica Lewinsky’s dress debacle, and finally, the inauguration of America’s first biracial president.
He also took me to Disneyland for EVERY single birthday until I was 12, breathed a sigh of relief when I (barely) graduated high school, never said “I told you so” when things didn’t work with ‘baby daddy’, swelled with pride when I graduated cum laude from an elite college, cheered at my freelance writing success, cried tears of joy at my wedding and called my kids his “little buck-a-roos.”
His smile was pure sunshine. He was my dad, and he died one year ago today.
When I was eight years old, I asked him how he would react if I ever married someone white. What should I expect his answer to be? This man was a share cropper’s son. He was born in the 1920’s, and even as a full-grown man, he was obliged to answer respectfully when a white man called him â€œboy.â€
In truth, my question was more dare than earnest inquiryâ€”the silly â€œwhat-ifsâ€ children ask to rile their parents. But it’s not what he said that resonated most–though I’ll get to that later–it was how he dealt with bigotry throughout his entire life.
We lived in a predominately white, middle class town. It was the 1980’s–the wounds of those on the loosing end of the the 1972 Civil Rights Act had scabbed over, but one careless bump, a little scrape, and there could be blood. So when my father moved about town in his dirty, painted-crusted work clothes, I noticed THE STARE. You know the one, which is often accompanied by Starer switching sides on the sidewalk. I would see it, then look at him. Like most young children, I would observe situations and look to my parent’s reactions to events in order to make sense of the world around me. Thing is, he didn’t see it. This ‘not-seeing seeing’ was deliberate, and quite clever for an unassuming country boy. He smiled at the scowls. He spoke when not spoken to. He was kind. He was friendly to the unfriendly. And you know what? He won ‘em over every time. He confronted negativity with positivity, and we all know that eventually, the good guys win.
So when my dad answered my interracial marriage question I shouldn’t have been surprised when he said that he didn’t care who I married just as long as I would get out of his house. (Just making sure you’re paying attention, hee hee)
The point is, he didn’t care if my future husband was pink, blue, purple, yellow, orange or a mixture of all of the above–he just wanted me to pick someone who would love me a make me happy. I didn’t know it at the time, but my father’s reaction to people who might have been off-put by him would be the saving grace that kept my relationship together with my husband as we experienced objections from his family. My father made me realize that if I was going to make it work with my husband, I would have to confront confusion with clarity, stereotypes with patient deconstruction, and enmity with empathy. I would do this, not because I craved acceptance and approval from “the other,” rather, I did it because I loved my man, and my man was not them. And my father was right–killing with kindness works, at least with reasonable people.
I know some ladies reading this struggle with introducing a non-black significant other to their families, and not all are as fortunate as I was to have parents who were so welcoming, and I plan to deal with that in the book. I want to explore ways in which couples can walk against the windstorm of family disapproval and come out on the other side, just slightly worse for wear!
His funeral looked like a rainbow of white, black, yellow, and red people, all of them with fond memories about how you just couldn’t help but like him.
Dad, thank you for the lesson, and thank you for being a TRUE strong black man. Until I see you in heaven…