* This post is a republishing of a post that originally appears on ETM in 2016.
When my wife wanted to have children, I had some soul searching to do. I had a vasectomy after I had my first child with my ex-wife, so, clearly, I wasn’t planning for more children. Ultimately I decided that I was good with having more children, and so the question became how to proceed. Reversal was an option, but aside from being painful, it’s expensive and not very effective. Having said that, I realize that any man complaining about pain when talking about childbirth is just asking to be escorted to the ‘shut your face‘ department. I had made my choice and intended to live with the consequences.
I reframed my thinking and we decided to use an anonymous sperm donor. I’m a second generation stepchild, so this wasn’t a completely foreign idea. Plus, to be honest, my genes are okay, but they’re far from great. I’m short, my family has a lot of cancer and diabetes, and the men don’t tend to live very long. I’ve done my biological duty and reproduced once, and really, that’s enough for this particular genepool. Having a child that’s not biologically mine meant that we could choose any physical attributes we wanted. We chose a donor who is tall, athletic and black, all things that I am not.
I don’t consider it weird. I know a lot of couples that have adopted children from the U.S. and abroad, or used sperm donors, both anonymous and identified. I have a friend who gave his son for adoption to a gay couple and that child has a relationship with his biological grandparents as well as the parents of his two dads. Families come in all shapes, sizes, colors and configurations. My wife and I chose to have a biracial child because we think it’s beautiful.
No bones about it, my son is gorgeous. He has reddish brown skin, big coffee bean eyes, a mane of curly copper hair and a wicked smile straight out of Neverland. Yes, he looks different than me, and he will eventually have questions for us, but for now, he is primarily concerned with food, the cat, my phone, and, well, everything. He has a lot of my wife’s family’s traits as well, so it’s not as if there’s no family resemblance.
Looking different from the rest of your family is something I know about. I stand out in all my family photos with my olive complexion and dark features in sharp contrast with my “Village of the Damned”/ Targaryan-esque siblings. But in the fullness of time I can see that any real feelings of being an outsider in my family stem from the fact that my parents and I see the world very differently and always have. In school, I sometimes struggled to fit in, because I looked Mexican, but was culturally white. Like most kids, though, I eventually found my place.
In my son’s case, being biracial means that he is half white, so there’s the potential issue of him “not being black enough” because he’ll have grown up in a culturally white family. I can teach someone to fall in love with books, I can show a child how to keep trying after they fail, and arguably, I can teach someone to be funny. I can’t teach my kid how to be black. I can educate him on black history, real black history. I can make sure he knows about black heroes like Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X, and having gone to art school, I’ll expose him to black artists alongside the glut of white artists that art history books still choose to highlight. I can make sure there are plenty of Black Panther and Finn toys to play together with Iron Man and Kylo Ren. And if his hair changes and gets tighter curls, I’ll be happy to take him to a black barber shop and get his hair cut properly.
But there is a little voice in the back of my mind reminding me that this high-energy, impish, charming child might get into trouble in the future. It’s a small voice in comparison to the one I hear echoing in my brain endlessly demanding “dadacheese” in between Class-5 diaper blowouts and toilet paper sprints through the house. But that nagging little voice is there. It’s been there from the beginning, because, while I was expecting to have talks about racism with the kid, I wasn’t expecting the country to literally start burning shortly after he was conceived because police can’t seem to stop themselves from killing black men.
I will have to be honest with him about the dangers of growing up in a country where the system is set to work against him, where people will make assumptions about him, and police will be more aggressive towards him. People might call him a “thug”, or they might drop the pretense and just call him the N-Word straight out. They’ll treat him differently, and it might not always present itself in outright mean behaviors. He might just get comments about “how well he speaks.” It might mean endlessly answering “What are you?” (the correct answer being, “a normal humanoid larva-child with no abnormalities in my appendages”). I’ll remind him that the things he has no control over, like his skin color and height, are the least interesting things about him, and he’s better off getting people who can’t see past that out of his life.
These are conversations that white parents don’t typically have with their children. It’s uncomfortable, but this discomfort means that I’m doing something right. Because the situation IS uncomfortable. It’s not right, and it won’t get any better without a little discomfort. And for crying out loud, who cares if it’s a little uncomfortable for me? Boo hoo. I didn’t have to have “the talk” from my parents about WHEN I get stopped by the police, how I need to be as respectful as possible so I can live to see another day. I will, however, need to have that talk with my son. While I’m not happy that “the talk” exists, I am glad to be part of the conversation. It is not an academic exercise for me. I’m invested.
I think about privilege like this: if life were a video game, playing as a heterosexual white male is like playing on easy mode. That doesn’t mean the game never gets difficult, but it could be a hell of a lot harder. My son has to play the game with a harder difficulty, one that I have to prepare him for. It means that I’ll have to try to teach him lessons it’s taken me, oh… 36 years to learn, like how to play the long game, lose the battle to win the war, and live to fight another day. Considering that the next thing I’m going to do after working on this article is going to buy a potty for the boy, this is pretty advanced stuff. Still, these are things I’ll need to consider.
Black men are being targeted in this country. It’s not news. It’s an old story that starts around 1609 with the arrival of the first African slaves. My wife and I are not on the outside looking in on this discussion. We’re part of it, and we chose to be a part of it by choosing an anonymous black sperm donor. It’s easy to say I agree with Black Lives Matter, but words without action are meaningless. Our son’s life matters.
This means that from a young age, I want him to know what respect and self control look like. To learn that, I plan on enrolling him in Jiu Jitsu as soon as he is old enough. He’ll need to know how to handle himself during a conflict, more than I ever did, because he’ll have a higher order of potential consequences if he doesn’t stay cool. Kids are really smart and figure these things out, often times because life provides them those lessons quicker than we would like. I grew up in a pretty rough area, and it didn’t take long to figure out who you could mouth off to and who would make you regret it permanently.
Despite my having grown up in a tough neighborhood, I have children because I think the world is ultimately a good place, and that we can actively make it better through our actions and teachings. I can’t predict the future, and I know that there are challenges that my son will face that I didn’t have, but that’s just parenting.
I believe in letting my kids be themselves. They will want to know about things I don’t expect, they’ll figure things out sooner than I would like, they will disappoint and amaze me. I’m not here to be their boss, I’m here to teach them what they need to know in order to live a good life that is theirs.
For my son, that means teaching him about respect, justice, and the fact that sometimes people are disrespectful, unjust and cruel. My daughter will have to face challenges as a woman that I haven’t had to deal with because I’m a man. Growing up in America, they will likely be the recipients of some injustice. I could have had a child who looked exactly like me and he would undoubtedly have problems that I didn’t. That’s life. But, on the upswing, I also get to tell them that they are amazing, and that the very existence of our family as it is proves that the world is also a wondrous and joyful place. Some people see the beauty of all people and try to make the world better for everyone.
My job is to be a guide for my kids so that when they face challenges, they have a foundation from which they can make positive decisions, deal with the consequences of making poor choices, and recognize the difference between situations where they can safely screw up and those where they had really better not mess around. If I do my job well, the line of communication will stay open so that when I don’t know the answer and neither do they, we can figure it out together.
What will I say if my son asks why I chose to have a biracial black kid? I’ll tell him that I wanted him. Exactly how he is.
Kelly Raine is an artist, writer, and educator. He teaches children and likes to think he is pitching in to make the world slightly better. He wears a lot of black and wakes up very, very early.