Sunday, April 21, 2013


Dear Temple,
I hope this note finds you well and happy. Michael Jackson is blaring from Elijah's CD player in the background. I'm catching the lyrics, "Skin head, dead head, everybody gone bad" and something about a "victim machine" and "Don't you black and white me."
It's hard to write you a letter when I'm getting a earnest human rights lecture from Mr. Jackson. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong.
When Elijah gets into something he goes full boar. We've been getting an earful of Michael Jackson lately. I prefer the Dangerous album because it's mellower and works as background music, but it's in the car. We both hate the Michael Jackson Cirque Du Soleil Album.
Anyway, Mr. Jackson and my wife have me thinking about our newest child. A co-worker of Crystal's asked her if anyone gave her the "eye-roll" about seeing us with an African American child in our family. I asked Crystal what her co-worker meant by that. She told me that it had to do with our ability to raise an African American Child.
It's a good question.
It's also not a simple one.
The canned answer you'll usually get from people who think they're progressive is, "Of course you can! There is no reason that it should be any different!" These people are well meaning but they are wrong. It is different and no amount of shouting or rhetoric that make us feel good about ourselves can change that.
The basics of raising a child are no different between races. You've got to feed them, educate them, shelter them and turn them towards the sun every now and then for photosynthesis to occur.
The difference is that, as a Caucasian man, I will never know what it is like being an African American in America. I can learn about and rationalize the culture based on my own experiences but I can never fully relate. Period. It's plain stupid to think I can.
It doesn't mean I won't be a good father. I am a good father. I'm just not an African American father.
I can do my best to immerse him in his culture in real ways. I can make sure we go to parks in areas that are predominately African American. If he's interested in joining a choir or joining a sports team, I can find one representative of his culture. What I can't do is raise him in an African American family, because ours is not.
No matter what I do, at his age, all of his cultural influence comes from my family. He can play with, join groups, and be with his culture - but hanging around with and living with are two separate things. He lives with me and I'm a white dude.
He did have a chance to live within his ethic background. His biological family didn't work out, two foster homes which represented his culture didn't work out. If any family of African American background were available to him, he should have gone to them. Period.
This doesn't mean that he would be necessarily better off. Our home is very suited for children. I just think that culture is important. I realize that I'm defining culture pretty narrowly, but this is my letter and I can do what I want. I know a lot about Elijah's culture, gleaned from his previous homes and paperwork and do what I can for him. I know nothing about our newest's and I mourn for his history that is lost.
What I did do for him was make a life long promise to be his father. Something which nobody has ever done for him before. It is the greatest gift I can give him and I do it freely. I love him dearly. He is my son. I will raise him up, show him how to be a good man and eventually send him forth to pursue whatever future he desires.
That will just have to be enough.
I love you much and miss you always,
Uncle Justin

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