Category Archives: Fathers

Advice for the Multiracial Community #3

Today on my third Multiracial Media column:

  • A biracial man grapples with anger when his widowed, white father begins dating a white woman.
  • A young white woman worries about saying the wrong thing to her new black boyfriend.
  • Two American moms are alarmed and upset when their Guatemalan tween daughter rejects her culture of origin.

Click here for the whole “Ask Lisa” column.

Submit your own question on the Multiracial Media site!

White Parents and Black Stereotypes

DadBabySilhouette[1]In this past Sunday’s New York Times, is an incredibly honest article entitled Purple Boots, Silver Stars … and White Parents, by Frank Ligtvoet, a white father about the budding racial identities of his two African American children: a daughter, aged seven and a son, aged eight.

Ligtvoet describes how the children—who have gone through various feelings about their identities, from “I’m not black,” to “I hate white people”—are beginning to emulate African Americans they see in their community, in various ways, from gait to style of dress.  The children, Ligtvoet explains have come to a place of accepting that they do not look like their parents (both white dads) and that they do look like others who are not part of their family at all.  Lately, both kids are trying to make sense of all that.

Ligtvoet describes a walk he takes with his children to the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn.  The children are wearing new clothes that they have chosen, in their father’s mind, to “assert their blackness”: purple canvas boots, tight jeans and a black t-shirt for the girl, low slung black and yellow basketball shorts and a cap turned backwards for the boy.  (Remember these kids are seven and eight).  Dad walks several respectful paces behind his children, amused by their independence, proud of their pride, and I imagine, at least a little proud of his own comfort with their experimentation.

The Fulton Mall, when I lived in Brooklyn, was shopping center frequented mostly by middle and lower income blacks and Latinos.  Though it was barely a hop, skip and jump from pricy, predominantly-white Brooklyn Heights, you were clearly in a different world here.  There were no posh bars or restaurants.  The smell of deep-fried fast food hung heavily in the air during all seasons.   The streets weren’t so clean either; garbage cans stayed full to overflowing and construction sites didn’t see much progress for months on end.  About once a week, I would take the long walk from our home in the Columbia Street Waterfront District over there, pushing my daughter in her stroller, aiming to check out the deals at the Macy’s of Downtown Brooklyn.

From the article, it sounds as if the Fulton Mall may have gentrified, like other parts of Brooklyn, but is still largely African American.  I can only imagine the reaction of two gaudily clad little ones being trailed by a white man.  (If he were walking by their sides, holding their hands, I don’t think they would get so many looks.  Brooklyn is fairly progressive.)

My first reaction to this article was: good for this dad, he is letting the children discover who they are, letting them explore and experiment with their identities.  I still think that, though after sitting with the article for a bit, I found myself hoping that Ligtvoet and his partner aren’t embracing stereotypes and confusing them with black culture.  For example I don’t think shorts pulled down to the hips are “pretty cool” on an eight-year-old.  Ditto tight pants on a seven-year-old girl—particularly if she is walking far ahead of a parent, appearing to be alone.

But I am not one to judge.  As a parent, you choose your battles and your priorities.  Every parent in a multicultural family has to strike his or her own balance, particularly when it comes to the culture that is not his or her own.

The comments following the article were also fascinating, some of them laudatory, but many others harsh and chastising.  Two examples:

 “…these children are emulating gangsters, not “black” people.  Hats need to be worn outside only by men and boys and brim should face forward, any other way is a gang symbol in the black community, same with the yellow(gold?) and black shorts.  Wake up before you get these kids killed.”

“As an African American who grew up in the ghetto …my mother would have never allowed us to wear pants partially sagged and tight jeans … Be the parents of your children regardless of skin color.”

These readers do have a point.  I cannot imagine any of the affluent, black parents I know allowing their children to wear the kind of clothes mentioned in the article, especially at such a young age.  These parents are all too aware of the stereotypes of blacks in the media as lazy, dumb, violent—even if that very image is celebrated by many white teens (and some adults) as “cool.”   Black parents do what they can, as soon as they can, to keep their children from emulating this image, pervasive as it is.  They know it is not just a “cool” costume their kids can remove when it’s time to apply to colleges and interview for jobs.

Nevertheless, I understand where Ligtvoet is coming from.   As parents, we’re supposed to smile when our kids let go of our hands and stand alone for the first time.  This is true whether our kids come to us genetically or through adoption, whether they resemble us or not.  What I think this dad is proud of is the fact that his children are safe enough with him and trust him enough to experiment.  They know, regardless of how far behind he walks, that he is truly in their corner and that his love is unconditional.

A Tribute on Father’s Day

“I love her.”

My husband Jon said these words with a sense of awe as he held our four day old daughter, whom we’d just brought home from the hospital.

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“Well, of course you do.”  I said, smiling at his bewilderment.

And he was bewildered.  Jon knew intellectually that he would love our child when she came into the world.  We had planned to have children from the get-go; both of us frequently speculating about “Junior and Juniorette” imagining what they would be like, what we would all do together.  Jon got excited when we’d “visit” with the baby each time there was a sonogram.  That was how it stopped feeling to him like just “my pregnancy” and evolved into “our child.”  Having a kid was exciting.  Or would be eventually.

The thing was, what exactly did you do with a baby?  Jon wondered.  How was a guy supposed to fall in love with someone who just lies there and cries, nurses or sleeps (hopefully)?   Jon was nervous about what it would mean to be the father of a newborn.  It might take at least a few months to connect with our child, he figured, at least until she could smile.

But four days in, Jon was holding Zoe, bouncing her just a little, when it hit hard.  Cupid’s arrow for new Dads struck with such force it brought tears to his eyes.  And he said it:

I love her.”  He was so startled and overwhelmed by the feeling, my eyes filled with tears too.  And from that moment on, a powerful new identity took over my sweet, funny, loving husband.  He was now Daddy.  Which is how he frequently referred to himself, even before our little one could vocalize her first string of da-da-da-da’s.

And two and a half years later, when my son was born, there was no surprise at all.  When the doctor handed him to Jon, Theo rested peacefully in the gentle, adoring hands.  “Daddy’s got you.”  Since I had had two C-sections, Jon held both children before I was allowed to.

As  mother, I have always been very involved with my kids and their lives–some might say too involved (but that’s for another post).   All along, Jon has been the best partner I could imagine on this journey of parenthood.

Today, I think my children are  the luckiest kids in the world to have a dad like Jon: the perfect balance of smart, loving, silly and respectful.  He teaches them complex board games, plays sports with them, reads to and with them, takes them on hikes, helps with homework, has high standards for them, but understands when they need to take a break and be a little wild.  He knows our children so well: how they’ll react to things, what their strengths and weaknesses are, when to stand back and give them the space they need to grow.  Best of all, my kids know how much he adores them, how special he thinks they are.  His love will strengthen them and impact who they are throughout their lives.

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Happy Father’s Day.