Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Day at the Park

This essay is excerpted from the new anthology Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood:

1. I’m unsure why, but I get asked—quite often—about the hardest part of being a father. The people who ask me this are almost all younger cats who are about to become fathers or are there already. That question is a Pandora’s Box. Being a father is hard in a million different ways: Balancing fatherhood with partnership; being able to do the things that I love to do on a consistent basis (for example, writing—I’m writing this at 3am, while everyone is asleep and I have a moment to myself); the loss of money; having to send your child to childcare because both parents have to work to afford all the additional costs. Working all day, coming home at night and only seeing your child for forty-five minutes before their bedtime—in these ways and more, daddyhood is hard as hell. But none of this (yes, even the money problems) even comes close to the raging difficulty of being a father of color.

2. Being tattooed, visually Black (I’m half Jamaican and half Puerto Rican), over six feet tall and muscular, holding a little ethnically-ambiguous toddler makes many people double, triple, quadruple take—and also, for some odd reason, loosens tongues, mostly of white folks, and creates an environment of familiarity. And yet they still manage to see me wrong: In my daughter’s twenty-two months of living, I have been labeled ‘uncle,’ ‘babysitter,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘cousin,’ but never father. I can’t tell you just how crushing a blow this is. I LOVE being a father and I think that I am becoming a better one by the day, but to have one of my greatest joys discounted is painful.

3. Do we really live in a society that is still stuck in the lie that Black men cannot be fathers? Well…I must admit that I was on that same shit for a while. When my partner told me she was pregnant, I had fears that, at the moment of birth, a Greyhound ticket would appear in my hands and I’d leave my partner and new child to fend for themselves. I thought I’d become an absent father sleeper agent—the baby’s first cry would activate me and my mission would be to get as far away from mother and baby as possible. Because, throughout my whole childhood, I never once had a friend or met anyone (of color) whose father lived with them, or in some cases, even knew who their fathers were. There is a generation of brothers and sisters born after Viet Nam and before the release of Ghostbusters that are a tribe of fatherless children. My own father, I saw the bastard five times in my life.

4. People mistaking me for everything but being a father almost invariably happens at the playground. While the mothers (rarely do I see fathers at the playgrounds—but it could be where I choose to let my daughter play) are sitting in groups, either texter-bating or focusing intently on some new piece of thousand dollar baby gadget—I’m in the sand, on the structure, kicking the ball. I’m playing with my kid. Over at this park in El Cerrito, California, I was teaching my daughter how to hang from one of the monkey bars. She is a ridiculously daring kid and will try anything, as long as it is dangerous. This kindly older woman (dressed up like a fashion model to go the park) smiled at me and said, “My uncle used to do the same thing for me. He always let me do the things that my father would never let me do.” She drew out the “never” as if I was tossing my daughter over an open lion’s mouth. I told this woman that I was an only child, that my kid didn’t have any uncles, and that I was her father. She glanced between my daughter and me several times, and finally said, “Noooooo.” Wow.

5.When I think about it more, not being recognized or acknowledged as my daughter’s father, while painful, isn’t nearly as crazy as being a man-of-color at a park. When race, size, gender, and how we dress intersect, it disrupts social fabrics. Like I stated earlier, I play with my kid while at the playground. And if my daughter decides to play with other kids, I play with them too. I don’t touch them, because you just don’t do that—you don’t touch other people’s kids without permission. One day I was kicking a soccer ball with my daughter and some other little kids she was playing with. One of the kids, a blonde, vacant-eyed little girl, tripped, fell down, and scraped her cheek on the wood that bordered the play area. I helped her to her feet and asked her if she was okay. She looked over at her mother, who was starting intently at her cellular phone, and got nothing. She then looked at me, I looked at her, and she wailed as though the end of the world was nigh. The cellular mom looked up, fixed me with the most baleful stare, and ran over to us, dialing her phone. Instead of asking her daughter if she was okay, she snatched her up by the arm and thrust her behind her back. I then hear her telling her husband “this big nigger just pushed Miriam to the ground.” Unbelievable.

6. I gathered our things, and made to leave. This lady then blocked our way. “You can attack a kid, but now that my husband is coming you’re trying to leave? You’re not going anywhere.” She then put her hand on my arm and tried to stop us. All the while my daughter is getting freaked out because she is very rarely exposed to yelling or overt signs of anger. Being who I am, I figured, “Let’s see how this plays out.”

7. Three minutes later, an SUV pulls up and this really fit dude pops out of the truck and comes barreling towards us. I see that he has his fist cocked a little. I put my daughter down and send her to go and play, which she was grateful for. I could feel just how tense and anxious she became. This guy comes up and started screaming at me. Before fatherhood, I would have gone at him, but I have been trying to change that part of myself; violence is a social ingredient that I am weaning myself from. When he finally paused, I asked him did he think that yelling and threatening me was going to do any good? I then asked him why neither he nor his wife had asked Miriam what had happened. I then asked them, “If I were a white dude, would you still think that I pushed your daughter?” That stopped them. All this time that the silly adults are going at it, little Miriam is clinging to her mother’s legs, terrified. “Your daughter fell, and I helped her up.” I focused on the mother: “And if you weren’t so busy looking at your phone, if you were actually parenting, you would have seen what happened. Better yet, it might not have even happened if you were playing with us.” Then I looked at the dad: “I can appreciate your concern, but if this is how you react to situations you know nothing about, you might get hurt. If this was two years ago, I would have beat the shit out of you for yelling in my face and pretending like you were going to do something.” I then bent down and asked Miriam if she was okay. She looked at her parents, and then at me, and nodded. I took out a wipe and wiped her scraped cheek. “Does it feel better now?” She nodded. I gave her dad the dirty wipe, and went to go and play with my daughter.

8. That encounter still nags at me on a number of different levels. Miriam’s parents never answered my question: If I were white, would they still have accused me of hurting their daughter? My honor as a father and as a human being was totally disregarded. Two children had to experience the stupidity of their elders: Miriam’s parents for false accusations and racist words, and me for delivering veiled threats. I lost that day. I lost the core of the person who I am trying to become. I lost hope that my daughter would be able to live in a world where skin color wasn’t a factor. I lost faith that the rift between white and black folks could ever be repaired.

9. As we were driving home, I started to cry. It came up and spilled out so powerfully that I had to pull the car over, turn it off, and just let everything come: Not having a father of my own to ask if he had to deal with anything similar; almost dipping into self-hatred because of my skin color; cursing so many men that came before me for fucking it up for my generation; every nigger I have been and would be called; how my daughter’s hair is different than her parent’s and how people point out this difference as if my kid had won the lotto. All this was trapped in my crying. I saw my daughter through the rearview mirror and she looked so sad and scared that I had to hold her. I pulled over, got her out of her car seat, and we sat on the hood of the car, holding each other. I cried into her hair and she, feeling daddy’s energy, cried into my chest. We were there for a little while when this old woman hobbled by and smiled at us. “You have such a beautiful daughter,” this woman said. “She has your eyes.”

Editor's note: Welcome to Shawn Taylor, the newest addition to the Daddy Dialectic line-up. This essay is included in Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood, which collects some of the best pieces from this blog and the allied print zine Rad Dad. Order an advance copy now!

77 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very moving post--thank you for sharing this incredible story. I am sorry for the pain you have endured and most assuredly will have to continue to endure because so much that is, unfortunately, been ingrained in our culture for so long. Hopefully, one day (not soon enough), what you have described will be a thing of the past.

I do think that the gender issue also has a great deal to do with how people react to men in general who are in and around young children. The fear of molestation has created a terrible barrier when it comes to men being primary caregivers to their own children, let along anyone else's kids. How truly sad that any sign of affection between adults (even female adults) and children not their own is seen as danger. We live in strange times.

Please understand that I do not mean to trivialize the role race plays in how you are wrongly perceived---I do recognized that hurt as distinctively belonging to the heritage of racism that permeates our world.

I wish you the best--and know that you will continue to embrace fatherhood despite all of its many challenges--whether those challenges are due to racial injustice, gender injustice or normal everyday realities of parenting.

HB

Brett Hetherington said...

Quite simply, I admire you. You are a credit to humanity. You write so well, so honestly and it moves me. You are overcoming so much in your background and are the greatest role model for your daughter (whose confidence is a testament to your effort and love as a father.) The way you handled that incident in the park with those ignorant parents showed the kind of self-composure and strength that is extremely rare. Every time we act in a principled way we are somehow undoing the absence or the violence or the disregard of our own fathers towards us, and that is a very difficult thing to do becayse we have their memes in us. Crying openly in front of your daughter is another brave act. Again, I sincerely admire you.

Brett Hetherington said...

...

Adam said...

I can't believe that woman would run up to her daughter and not ask 1) are you okay and 2) what happened.

Maybe it's because I'm a dad myself, but I would never tell my wife that someone did something to our son unless I knew it was true. And, realistically, a parent knocking my son to the ground would not be the first thing to pop into my head. If you'd shoved her down I doubt you'd be helping her up.

As for parents neglecting their kids on the playground, I see it way too much. Yesterday I was at the playground with my nephews and this girl was sitting in the middle of the slide while a line of kids waiting to go down it formed. Her dad didn't notice for quite some time and then, when he went over there, didn't even tell her to finish going down it. It was ridiculous. The weekend before last I had to tell some kids they were too big for a certain part of the playground and needed to go to the part for kids their age. No parents in sight at all for them. It's as if some people believe the park itself is a babysitter.

So good for you for getting in their and playing with your daughter, in that regard you're one of few.

Marlon Cole said...

"Being a father is hard in a million different ways: Balancing fatherhood with partnership"

These words mean much and it is so true.

Marlon
- http://www.forfathersproject.org/

yatima said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. And bless that old woman for seeing your eyes, and your daughter's.

James said...

Kapow.

Balancing Jane said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I loved the line "violence is a social ingredient that I am weaning myself from." I hope that your choice and restraint helped illuminate the absurdity of their reactions for the little girl's parents, but even if it didn't, it certainly set a great example for your own child.

ND said...

Very moving post.

I am a white woman who is as frustrated as you are with these women who are not acting as responsible parents, who are preoccupied with material things, who cannot interact with men in an adult fashion (needing to call in their husbands), and who are racist fools. And, as you correctly saw, they are usually married to men with analogous immaturities, who are just as annoying and frustrating to deal with.

My frustration comes from a little different place; the fact that I have worked hard on my career, in a very white-male dominated profession that has not adapted well to work/family balance issues for many years as I looked in vain for a man who would do equal parenting with me. I think that the phenomenon of both parents needing to work full-time or more to pay for the child is derived from these upper class and upper middle class families where the wife does not work. Maybe in coming years we will see more reform so both parents can work at 30 or 35 hour weeks and both can parent, minimizing the amount of time in day care.

I find it very inspiring that a man of color, who did not have a good relationship with his own father, is setting these people straight on what is good parenting at the playground. And, to do this in the face of what I imagine is very threatening racism, is especially good.

Congratulations and well-done.

If I can pass along one suggestion, I wanted to mention that I had a very similar attitude to your daughter's as a girl and even as a woman, in taking on very risky things (some would call this courageous, but it is, as you point out, sometimes reckless and dangerous and not appropriate risk-taking or courage). One reason I have learned that children sometimes do this is if their father is around and involved in the family but is not able to be there for them emotionally, like if they are crying or despondent. This was the case with my father. Stephan Poulter's book "Father Factor" discusses this issue.

Also, because as children we are so utterly dependent on our parents, we can start becoming caretakers for them when they are needy because we think we need to keep them alive first in order to be able to live ourselves. But this is really backwards. The parents are supposed to be getting support from other adults, such as a spouse, or, ideally, being be self-supporting emotionally, and providing emotional support to the child.

So, if it is possible to share your feelings with your wife instead of your daughter, this might be healthier for the daughter? That is not to say that you shouldn't let your daughter know who you are emotionally, but that it is probably too much to ask her to support you emotionally and maybe better to present your emotional life as something you are able to manage in her presence without her support? And, I suspect this then makes you better able to handle it when your daughter is crying, like being able to empathize with her or validate her experience. And then you'll be in a stratosphere better league of parenting than those people on the playground and your child will likely be much more successful than theirs in life, family and work.

I hope I am not offending with this unsolicited advice. When you said your daughter liked to do dangerous things, it struck a chord with me based on my own childhood experience with my father, and I though you might be going through a similar thing with your daughter.

You are really doing a great job, though, and thank you very much for sharing your story.

Wolf Pascoe said...

The only bump I came to in this incredible story is when you questioned yourself for delivering veiled threats. I don't think you were delivering a veiled threat. I think you gave a foolish man a much needed warning that will possibly save him from coming to grief in the future. You were acting as a man should act. On a scale of one to ten in this crummy situation, you get an eleven.

Ashley said...

Thank you for sharing your story. My daughter was adopted and we don't look alike. I understand the frustration with people mistaking you for someone other than her parent. I also share your pain for the racism that still exists. I have not experienced it in the same way you have, but I experience it by seeing the way the world responds to my daughter. Unfortunately white priviledge is still very much alive. Only by having these important conversations, including your article and your questions, can we began to work toward equality.

Rona Fernandez said...

Wow,amazing post. Thanks for giving voice to the voiceless, mostly invisible men of color out there who are really trying to do right by their children and still don't get credit. Cant wait to get a copy of the book and read it with my husband (we are both people of color).

emilylhauserinmyhead said...

Thank you so much for this. This is very moving, and felt to me to be ultimately very hopeful. Telling the truth is ultimately a hopeful enterprise, even when painful, I think. Thank you.

Toldain said...

You say, "the encounter still nags at you". I can understand that, but you did well. You did very well. I only hope that I could do so well in such a situation.

I expect that if you could see them, watch them five years later, you would find that the experience transformed them. It was a moment of truth for them. That wasn't your purpose, and rightly so, but it was.

Cassie said...

Beautiful, touching piece. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down.

bluebottlebooser said...

whoa. I'm moved to tears. Being a lesbian non bio parent carries some similarities. mostly the not being recognized part. My son is blond. I've brown hair. he's fair skinned. I'm olive. He's the spitting image of my wife and not a thing like me or anyone related to me. mostly I'm just relating to how hard it is to be a daddy. it's the most heartbreaking and extremely blissful thing. I never would have guessed.

thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and very moving.

I do have hope that the divisiveness between races will end. My kids attended a grade school in the suburbs that was a melting pot of white, black, Asian, Hispanic....in a school of 300 students, we had more than 40 countries represented. And my kids didn't see skin color, they saw the kids. I remember asking my son once to describe a new friend he'd made. Daris was almost as tall as he was, my son said. He was funny. Sometimes he got in trouble with the teacher for talking too much. And on it went. He never once mentioned that Daris was Black. My pale-faced red-headed kid didn't care. And that gives me hope.

I hope for you that you survive the pain of encounters like that at the park. Your daughter is very lucky to have a dad like you.

Josh said...

Dude, you are welcome to come to the playground with me and my kids ANY TIME! This is a great piece and I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

rtb.ink said...

How we choose to look at things matters. What I take away from this post is the lessons learned. The angry racist remarks blew up publicly, which is good. You can take this as a reason to be angry or as another nail in the coffin of racism in the US.

My wife is Asian, I'm white and my girls GodMother is a Black Latina, I made a conscious choice when my girls were young to cut race out of their world, and instead emphasize respect for elders and more formal manners in day to day life. It made a difference for them, and also for me. Simply following a rule that I have to address any black man much older then me as "Sir" effected how I thought of them.

Julie said...

This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

Great piece. Moved me to tears. Keep being a parent it's the only antidote to the fuckerie that we as people of color must endure throughout our lifetime

emma said...

I cannot imagine what you go through every day. My (white, Jewish, middle-class) husband came up against the issue of just being a man at the playground (bad enough)until our kids were too old to go to the playground.
One time he had our son and daughter while I was at the movies. While he was helping my daughter climb, a "well-intentioned" woman came up to my seemingly alone son and asked him where his mom was. He said "at the movies". She then TOOK my son to the edge of the playground to confer with the other moms and they were about to call the police when my husband came up. It didn't occur to them that there could be anyone else with my son (they were visiting a very white upper-class suburb at the time).
My husband and I were completely flabergasted at this.
And this does not even come close to your experience or the other experiences you haven't shared.
I wish our society was further along with gender issues and race issues.
Thank you for bringing these up and addressing them with such frankness.

Laura Mauk said...

I am a half-Mexican woman, who is married to a black man. We have a 1.5 year-old and live in a mostly white community in Southern California. We have more experiences like this than you could imagine. So much so that I started my own blog in an effort to open up the conversation and in some small way lend awareness. I don't care as much how all of these experiences effect me. I care greatly how they will effect my daughter as she grows and my loving husband, who is judged on a daily basis every time he walks down the street. And to all of the people who don't believe this is still happening because of the date and the fact that we have a black president, IT IS. Like I said, I am now a witness to it every single day. Laura @ lauramauk.blogspot.com

Y.H. said...

Thank you Shawn for sharing your story and opening everyone's eyes and mind. I look forward to reading more from you. Your thoughtfulness as a parent and concern foremost for your daughter and the other child in guiding your actions shines through the tense situation you described. Wonder if I would have had the same control around my 3 year old under those circumstance - hoping so.

You and your family are always welcome to our parks in Brisbane, California!

Selfish Mom said...

Amazing post. I'm not even going to argue with you about a parent's role on the playground (playing with vs. letting kids play on their own) because you brought the word texturbating into my vocabulary.

Anonymous said...

Truly touching. My husband is also mixed & our daughter looks more like me (white) and I have watched the way others treat him versus me and it makes me infuriated the way people form negative assumptions simply based on our skin color.. The one thing that (god knows) none of ever had any say in the matter.

Keep your head up & being a great father!!!

tb said...

Terrific story, though the part that struck me as most unusual was that your playground was populated by so many parents. When playing with my 2.5-year-old at nearby playgrounds, I'm generally surrounded by nannies.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you so just made me cry! You are a fantastic writer! The bit about "losing the core of who you want to be", I have felt that way (in a completely different context). Sometimes it dawns on me that I have just clarified for myself via counter-example exactly what I want that to be, which lets me drag a little victory out of the defeat. I love that you cried with your daughter. I wish my dad had been able to share his tears with us- he could tell us, in detail, in simple understandable terms, how he felt, but with out any emotional inflection really. I'm not really faulting him, we all wish there was something different about our parents, I'm just saying I found it really touching that you could share that cathartic release with your kid. I look forward to reading more and wish you all the best.

Kelley said...

Thank you for writing this. It is so beautiful and yet so painful.

Please keep writing. We need your voice.

DigaMama said...

"In my daughter’s twenty-two months of living, I have been labeled ‘uncle,’ ‘babysitter,’ ‘guardian,’ ‘cousin,’ but never father. I can’t tell you just how crushing a blow this is."

Yes, I understand how hurtful that can be. I took my son on a school outing recently and was asked if I was the nanny. Granted, his father takes him to guarderia in the morning (daycare) and i pick him up when none of the parents are there -- so many of them had actually never seen me, his black mother, before -- it stung. I chalked it up to my being a foreigner and them being Spanish (we live in Spain) and not understanding the cultural significance of that sort of mistake.

I commented on your playground experience over on NYTimes and must say "parenting while black" (particularly in public and on the playground) is the source of much...shall I say...introspection for minority parents, mothers and fathers alike. Discipline is something I'm particularly interested in as we are of the gentle discipline philosophy. There are times though (and your child is young yet) that they act like unhinged beasts and you WANT to raise your voice, but sometimes choke because you don't want to be perceived as that "crazy black mother." It's a terrible stereotype that I am guilty of buying into myself -- so much so that it impacts the way that I parent.

Many good points, and wonderful to hear a father's perspective.

Holly's Mom said...

This was a very moving post. I so admire your restraight and the love you have for your daughter and the history that lead you to this place and your brutal honesty with yourself.

I was shocked to hear however that this happened at a park in El Cerrito, as I live in Berkeley and frequent many parks there with my Three Year old. I feel like this is such a welcoming and progressive place and whenever I go back east to visit family I am reminded how ignorant it is in other places and feel thankful for the bubble of tolerance that I live in, our world here is so multicultural, and though I am a white woman, my daughter has predominately mixed race friends, Filipino, Mexican, Spanish, Chinese, African American, Japanese, Turkish, Russian, just to name a few.

Yet still even in this place the ignorance does seep through.. one of my daughter's friends has blond hair and blue eyes from her father, her mother from Spain, is all dark and looks nothing like her. She fills me with stories of cold shoulder's and judgment so often others mistake her for the Nanny.

It saddens me when people make assumptions, I always err on the side of caution assuming the child is that of the caregiver. But I think what is even more shocking is that the mother would use that language and behavior in front of her impressionable child. It outrages me.

I have never seen this kind of ignorance here with my own eyes, but then again I might be one of those clueless mom's checking email while my daughter plays. In my defense, Daddy works from 9-7 and as a stay at home mom 10 hours of constant attention is hard to give every day all the time. I do play with my daughter for hours every day, some days it's at the park, but others the park is a stop before dinner after 5-6 hours of play somewhere else, gymnastics, the pool, a friends house.

I guess I just caution you to think about how some of your comments are judgments on others without knowing who they are or what their stories are either. When Daddy takes my daughter to the park he too plays with her vigorously, but he also only see's her 1-2 hours a night as you so sadly pointed out, so he relishes the time he has with her. It's not that I don't love the blessing of being able to stay home with my daughter, or that I condone actual neglect, but my job is 24 hours a day, I don't get a day off or even an evening so if I get a few minutes to myself to check email and make plans for the week while my daughter happily plays, try not to judge too harshly for in my little bubble of an ideal world, the world I want my child to grow up in, when I look at you I would surely see a happy child delighting in time playing with her daddy and not judge you either.

Maybe one day I will see you at the park and strike up that conversation as I often do with the parent's who are not already in conversations and our girls will play happily together.

Anne said...

Thanks you so much for sharing this moving and beautifully written post.

I'm sure you know this, but you didn't lose that day. You handled the situation with incredible courage, dignity, and compassion. I think that couple learned a valuable lesson, because of you.

Brohammas said...

Great writing and even better parenting. I have no doubt this sort of thing happens all the time.

I'm a white guy, probably about your size. I used to box at a North Philly Gym wher they just knew me as "the white heavyweight".

My wife is black.

On one occassion I had to stop by to talk to a trainer and had my 5 year old daughter along. While the two of us sat on a bench waiting, a brown skinned woman who was a regular here looked at me, looked at my daughter, then back at me again.
This woman gave me the first smile she had ever sent my way and said, "I didn't know you wuz Puerto Rican!"

People of any color, when seeing me with my kids, want to accept that I am in fact just a plain old white guy.

christeen said...

Wow. I can't believe people can jump to the worst conclusions, as if kids don't just fall and scrape themselves up all the time.

Your daughter is so lucky. You said you don't have much to compare it to, but trust me, ou are a rockin' dad.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

This is a heartwrenching and beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing it.

I can't help but wince at your digs at mothers "text-erbating", not "parenting", or talking with themselves. As a fulltime unpaid carer of children for ten years now, I can tell you it was so isolating to raise young children with neither status nor pay, to be discouraged to be ANYwhere with young kids except parks, to so often have no grownups to talk to, let alone someone to help (I was always pleased to see men or women pick up or touch or otherwise help my kids - not every parent/carer is imbued with molester-fear of EVERY adult). Park dates where for ten minutes to two hours my children could run around safe and I could gulp down a few hours of adult conversation - often with women supportive of the pressures of motherhood - were golden. The thought someone who didn't do what I did all day nor understand how hard it was, looking in at these brief moments in my day (the rest were spent nursing, wiping ass, cleaning, cooking, tending boo-boos, reading to children, watching other people's children) and sneering at my inattentive or whatever parenting, gives me deep pain. There are neglectful parents/carers, it's true, but when it comes to carers, especially mothers with young children, I wish people would support more and speculate less.

That said, your larger points about being disregarded at a father, the blatant and repeated forms of racism and Othering you have experienced, those suck so bad. Thank you for sharing, because I now these are not isolated nor even rare incidents, and people need to be exposed to these stories. This is a devastating and wonderful piece, and I am sharing it far and wide.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, othank you for this, and keep writing. The world needs your voice.

Brotha Wolf said...

Brotha, I dunno what to say. This is one of the most powerful posts I've ever read. Words can't describe how moved I was reading this. All I can say is thank you. Thank you so much for writing this.

googoodadda.com said...

Wonderful post, honest and well written. Sad to discover this happened in the SF Bay Area, one of the most progressive places on the planet. sigh With dads like you out there, I know we can change the world, one playground at a time. Thanks again for sharing.

Calee said...

Wow. Just wow.

Sarah said...

I really enjoyed this post. I'm not sure how to contact you or the blog moderators to ask if we can cross post on another blog (Love Isn't Enough), so I'll ask here. Can we have permission to cross post?

Anonymous said...

Wow, all I can say is that I'm impressed with how you handled a insanely f-ed up situation.

Anonymous said...

"Lady"????? You write so well, and then you insert this complete non sequitur. You mentioned some racist harpy who'd rather hurl invective around than watch her own kid, but where did this "lady" come in to the story?

Jerry said...

I came here via Fathers & Families, where your post was blogged.

You have my utmost admiration for how you dealt with it, as well as my jealousy, I used to play with my kids in the Berkeley / El Cerrito area, and I would so love to move back. But hang in there, I'd like to say it gets better, but possibly not.

Best wishes,

The Daddy said...

Man, what a powerful post.

I'm a white dude and will never understand the pressures and added crap you have to deal with being a black dude, and I can't imagine having to deal with that extra element in fatherhood.

I share your grief over the lack of dads at the park and "texturbating" is my new favorite word. I find it amazing that as a fellow stay-at-home dad, taking care of the kid for all but two hours in the day and then also going to work at night until early in the morning, I also am never sitting on a bench texting. I'm out there playing with him at the park. I'd love a chance to relax, but I also love playing with him and want to watch my kid and make sure he's not knocking other kids over or what not. It angers me the double standard of how men are perceived as unable to be sufficient parents out in public with their kids, when they seem to have to go above and beyond to be considered "capable" of raising a kid.

I'm rambling.

Powerful post, thanks for sharing. I agree that you won that engagement, when a younger version of any dad would have felt justified in defending himself from an unprovoked ignorant attack.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because my kids look like me, but I've never gotten that "uncle" stuff that the author talks about. Even when I was with my nieces and nephews years ago, white folks would assume I was the dad. If your kids look drastically different from you (as the writer insinuated about his daughter) then folks regardless of race are gonna wonder if that's our child.

My son has gone to a predominantly white school, and there's definitely a different dynamic between us and the other parents. Not sure if it's racism or the fact that we don't live on that side of town, don't go to church with them etc. In some cases, it's a little bit of both. Some parents speak to us, some don't. it was the same when my son went to a predominately black school for kindergarten. *shrugs*.

Dude seems overly sensitive to me. If that ep in the park actually went down like that, that's crazy but it's crazier that dude thinks that we live in a post racial society. If a white person overtly called me the "N" word in public, I'd be shocked. But in no way would I break down in tears because I had some sort of epiphany that my child would likely live with racism in America like we all have.

As a parent I've learned to focus on the things that I can control. I can't make racism go away, so why cry about it (literally). All we can do as parents is do the best we can and hope our kids turn out ok. Racism doesn't scare me. Bad teachers, peers with negative influences, the possbility of having to kill someone who harms my chldren...these are the things that scare me.

Mary said...

Thank you for your incredibly descriptive and moving depiction of your experiences as a father of color. I would love to read your book one day...

Mary said...

Thank you for your incredibly descriptive and moving depiction of your experiences as a father of color. I would love to read your book one day...

Mary said...

Thank you for your incredibly descriptive and moving depiction of your experiences as a father of color. I would love to read your book one day...

LisaMJ said...

Wow, I am sooo sorry this happened to you. It made me tear up. I could really feel how painful this was for you. I hope those awful people have some small amount of sensitivity anf feel bad for acting how they did. I don't know why people assume taht people of color, especially big ones have no feelings. It sounds to me like you handled it well, you defused a violent situation, and though in the past you might have wailed on the guy, you didn't which was better for all concerned, especially your daughter and the other little girl. Sounds like you are a good Dad and that other little girl knew you were a nice man and hopefully her parent's reflexive racism won't infect her too much.

Robert said...

That was a real good post - so well written that we could feel the emotion behind the words.


Amazing job and thanks for sharing your experience with us!

@tshaka_zulu said...

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, gave it away to Goodwill.

Thank you for sharing this post and most importantly for your self-restraint. Not blowing your top means that there wasn't an audience that day who had the opportunity to have the "angry black guy" stereotype strengthened in their own first-hand experience.

More importantly, your daughter needs to know by your own example that we as men can be in control of ourselves so that one day she won't accept any excuses when some knucklehead inevitably attempts to excuse HIS lack of self control. We all have issues, many of us experience being black in America, but it is incumbent upon us to consistently model restrained strength. They need to know that we will fight for them, but that we can do it in a way that builds rather than destroys. Far too few youths understand this concept for that same lack of guidance you spoke of.

I also have a daughter and have outlined my dealings with her and prejudice when she decided to date a Russian boy. His ethnicity doesn't matter, it was his mom who was the issue: http://dadstalking.com/2011/02/lifes-hard-lessons/

Rachel Kadel-Garcia said...

Thank you for sharing this. It reminds me of some interactions my husband had with a neighbor -- a woman who didn't believe in asking kids what's going on, and triggered off of a demographically-different man interacting with her daughter to jump to conclusions. (His difference from her was primarily nationality and class, but she may have seen it as racial as well.)

I'm wishing you the best.

ScientistMother said...

wow, this was so moving. thank you for sharing it

Chanel said...

Amazing piece! As a member of the fatherless tribe myself its an amazing opportunity to learn about something I never had. Kudos to you for not beating that guys ass as well. You set a beautiful example for your daughter of true manhood.

The story you tell sounds like classic El Cerrito racism to me. So many people in the bay have this arrogant, ignorant belief that racist ignorance doesn't exist in our liberal paradise.

I worked in the area for years and as a sista never went without regular awkward and disturbing experiences such as yours.

Great Job.

Anonymous said...

Shawn,
You are a great father.

Divafied Mama said...

I applaud you for not stooping to that father's level, and I also admire the love you have for your daughter. I was so moved over here at work, that I too had to shed a few tears. As a "Daddy's Girl," what you just showed your daughter at the day in the park will stick with her forever.

mpm210 said...

Wow. That was an incredibly powerful story. Honestly, it shames me that we still live in a country where, not only was that reaction not atypical, but the fact that she didn't even regard you as enough of a person to confront you herself and ask you what had happened. Maybe she would have reacted similarly if you had been a white man, but the fact that it's a question is a plague that is eating at the heart of race relations in this country. I feel that the long history of distrust between all racial and ethnic groups has left us buried at an impasse. For all of the strides that have been made toward racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, etc. equality, people only push so hard, and once we've reached a new milestone we plateau. We then see the evil head of -isms poke up again in new and different places than we ever had before. Society can force change upon people all it wants, but until we as people start seeing ourselves and everyone else as individuals, we will be caught in a web of -isms and stereotyping.

Elaine Ray said...

Powerfu piece. I often hear women  — particularly black and Latina women  — tell stories of being mistaken for the nanny. I had not thought a lot about what this experience is like for black and Latino men. Thank you for sharing so personally.

Elaine Ray
www.myfathersposts.com

Prosey said...

Beautiful post...and I firmly believe you handled the situation EXACTLY as it had to be handled. That idiotic, racist couple were very lucky they encountered YOU and not someone else who had the presence of mind to be objective and direct with them. Maybe (doubtful, but maybe) in the future, they won't be such morons.

This entry has been shared, and I am adding you to my blogroll. (With many thanks to Mirror On America for linking you.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not a father, I'm a daughter, but I've had to deal with similar situations from the other end of things. I'm about as generically white as one can get, but my dad is very visibly Jewish. We don't look anything alike--I've got pale skin and straight blondish hair; he's got darker skin, brown hair that tends towards the Jewfro style, and he's definitely got the "Jewish nose". My entire life, people have for some reason decided it's perfectly okay to say things like "are you sure she's yours?" to my dad, even with me standing right there. He also took a major role in raising me, something that was even more rare when I was growing up than it is now. I know there were times that he had to have been hurt and frustrated by people's reactions and comments, but he always did an amazing job of not only responding to them with dignity, but also making sure that I knew that he loved me and that other people's thoughts shouldn't matter to me.

Long pre-amble aside, it sounds like you're doing a wonderful job with your daughter, despite the difficulties you face due to your gender and the colour of your skin. You worry that your daughter will be affected by the things people say and they way they behave around you, and she probably will, but as someone who's been in a similar situation I can tell you that the opinions and stupidity of strangers barely rate when compared to the love of a father and the time spent with him.

Mariah said...

I can so relate - as a hispanic/german woman who's mother to half filipino kids. My son looks nothing like me, and I endure very similar comments living in Texas. Lots are hurtful and very much echo your own experiences. You wrote it out so eloquently.

Jessica said...

Thank you for writing this, it really touched me. Makes me remember that there's still so much our society needs to work on. You're setting a great example for us all by practicing non-violence and putting your daughter first! Keep being the great dad you are and I look forward to more blogs!

Michael said...

Shawn, your commitment to being a good man and father shines through this post. As does your vulnerability. Thank you for writing it, and thank you for the experiences behind it. I hope you and your daughter can continue to express yourselves the way you did, crying on that car hood, feeling fear and all those questions between you. Keep writing. Keep leading and loving your daughter.

Jeff said...

Nice post, good luck.

lyn said...

What an amazing post. I haven't been by in a while, and just, wow.

There is one piece of this that *might* get easier as your daughter grows and talks more. She'll call you "daddy," at the park, in front of other people, and then your relationship will be clearer.

My wife gave birth to our oldest, and I was always on guard for people assuming I was a nanny or an aunt. She looks nothing like me. I was surprised what a relief it was when she started calling me "Mama," loudly, in public. You might already be there, and it's entirely possible that the race issues (which are huge) will render people deaf, they won't even be able to hear it, but some people might.

Jen Green said...

Thank you for the courage it takes to share a story like this. I think you are doing a remarkable job raising your little girl. I've worked in day cares and I had to stop because seeing all the crazy parenting styles made me never want to become one. You sound like the type of parent who would have given me hope during that time that real honest to goodness parents like my father can exist, and that I can be one too. Thank you.

Justine Fontinell said...

This brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your horrifying and hopeful story. And thank you for being a beautiful father.

Simon Hodgson said...

Wonderful piece.

Sage said...

I can't type. I'm crying right now. {{HUGGING YOU}} I hope they never stop hearing your voice in their heads.

Juliana Britto said...

Oh my gosh. This story gave me shivers, it sounds like something that would happen in the Jim Crow south. I CANNOT believe you responded so eloquently, that was so beautiful and mature! I really really hope that they never forget that day.... Who's says that?!?!!?!?

Anonymous said...

Sorry - but the story just doesn't sound real. At all.

The type of interaction is very believable, but the details reek of fiction.

Attentive at the playground, doesn't yell at his children, perfectly calm in the midst of unrighteous accusation, says the perfect things to the racist couple to render them speechless, then tenderly wipes the wound of their daughter as they look on dumbfounded...

So we're to believe this tattooed, muscular, big black man shows up at the no father park with all the white mamas and nobody noticed him (like he says they usually do) or paid any attention to their kids while he was out in the playground? Then she runs up to the scary guy and calls him the N word?

It's straight out of a Hollywood formulaic/stereotypical outrage script. Misunderstood tough guy with big heart deals with hypocritical highbrow people that think they're better but really aren't, cutting them to the quick with the perfect response, leaving them to contemplate the evil in their hearts as he disappears into the sunset. (I also like the irony of the "helicopter parents" that don't pay attention to their kids at the playground).

Anonymous said...

That's a cute story.....a little too cute. The "victim" paints himself not only as perfection of parenthood, but also with complete self restraint, all the while reminding us that he has the physical capacity to take out the "assailant", all against the stereotypical backdrop of an inattentive white mother and a raging, musclebound, SUV driving white father.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely wonderful article. I hope you never have to experience this again.

Stanley said...

This unfortunately (the racist assumptions we carry), cuts to the core of us all in some degree or fashion, I'm afraid. I know I have struggled with irrational prejudices that I feel diminish who I want to be. However, your experience, so candid and honestly expressed, can only help us.
By examining ourselves and sharing our knowledge, I suspect mostly positive results will follow. Slow change, but better nonetheless.

Stanley said...

Only by sharing hard won knowledge will we improve our social world. Well done, sir.

Amy Reese said...

I lost it when you wrote, "I lost hope..." Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that you continue writing and parenting the way that you are.

Yasser Taima said...

You're not alone and neither am I. You did the right thing in the park, and you don't have to do it perfectly for it to be right. You're not alone, man. People look for anything they can attack and go for it. A guy once kept fowl-mouthing me while I repeated "Ok, continue, are you done now?" and then looked and looked for the "nigger" in me and found nothing he can pick on that was different than he was, except an ever-so-slight non-local accent. So he finally asked "where're you from, (expletive)? where?" so he can have a go at it. Like you I just stood my ground with no fowl language or act but a firm but tense rebuttal, because I thought of my 21-month old daughter. You are not alone. There's a nigger in all of us, waiting to be picked up and picked on by the next sob.