Last year, I wrote about what it has meant to be the Daughter of a White Woman (if you haven’t read that post, read it here). It opened up many conversations with friends in interracial relationships to get an idea of what it might mean for their son or daughter. It also opened up a lot of conversations with people who “just had no idea.” I get it, life is confusing, but that’s why I want to bring you context to my life. That blog post is only half of the story, because I, on purpose, didn’t write about what it means to be the daughter of a black man. So settle in, because it goes something like this.
Growing up, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be black. For all I knew, I wasn’t. That identifier wasn’t talked about in our family until my brother and I were old enough to understand, and where we lived it didn’t seem like it mattered. I’ve mentioned many times that we moved around a lot when I was a child. We always followed my dad for his job and that was that. I always knew my parents were different, but it was more so because my mom was incredibly extroverted and my dad was well, quite the opposite.
As I got older, my brother and I began understand more about our family. We never lived close, so we would see them once a year, usually during the summer. It was our family unit, just the four of us. I didn’t know any different. I thought it’s how all families were. I remembering telling friends in junior high school, so matter of fact, that I didn’t really know my mom’s side of the family because they disowned her for marrying my dad. I knew it had to do with him being black, but my simple, Midwestern, privileged mind didn’t fully grasp it all. Like how I didn’t fully understand why after living in South Carolina for 11 months, our family quickly moved back to Illinois, where I was born–I’ll give you a hint, it had to do with race.
When I was 14 years old, I was diagnosed with a heart condition. I would have regular doctors visits to check in, especially as I continued to play sports and do marching band. One morning in 2007, my dad took me to my appointment. He sat in the doctor’s office as they did everything including an EKG. After everything checked out and I was given a prescription refill, the nurse asked if my dad would be able to pay for the bill. I remember looking at him because the nurses question had caught me off guard. No one had ever asked my mother that question. But he didn’t flinch. He politely answered her and we left. I remember it being brought up at dinner that night and my mother let us know she felt some type of way. As I look back on this experience, I’m sure my mom was questioning my dad’s reaction. And my dad was probably thinking, “what good would it have been to say anything?”
I think I’ve seen my dad angry twice in my lifetime. This was not one of those times. And if he was, I would not have ever known.
To understand my dad, is to understand the life he came from. My grandfather was in the military, so they moved around a lot as a child, eventually ending up in Colorado Springs. My grandfather didn’t like gospel music, so they listened to classical music. He was an absent father to my dad and his two older siblings. He had an affair (and an entire different family), eventually leaving my grandmother and my dad (the youngest of his siblings) when he was in high school. I think the environment he grew up in wasn’t one where you could be proud of being black. That wasn’t a thing. (Fun fact, the movie blackkklansman is based on a true story that took place in the very city my dad grew up in, if that gives you an idea of what living there was like in the 60s-80s.)
He put himself through college, graduated and began working for State Farm, where he worked for 34 years. He’s served as an elder, deacon, teacher and a coach. My dad made a life for our family and I’m forever grateful for what he’s done for our family.
In 2015, my dad and I went on a trip to Thailand and it was one of the best trips I’ve taken. To spend two weeks traveling in another country with him wasn’t something I knew I needed, but on that trip, we talked about so many things and I got to see my dad in another light. It was around that time, that everything seemed to be shifting in the United States. More unarmed black men were being shot and killed at the hands of police officers. There were more mass shootings, including one where I lived. Barack Obama was about to finish his second term in office, the list goes on and on. I honestly asked him about his feelings on these things and it was so eye opening to dialogue with him about these things.
On that trip, I asked my dad a question I know he wasn’t ready for. There is stereotype of black men not being involved in their children’s lives. I asked my dad how he ended up being such a good dad, when he didn’t have an example of what being a good dad looked like. His answer was simple, “I made a choice.”
It’s my dad’s side of the family that I’m closest with. They’re the ones who text, call, and email me (yes, my 80-something year old grandma emails me on a weekly basis). They’re the ones who have been invested in my life, all this time.
I can’t go anywhere with my dad without people commenting on how much we look alike. Aren’t genetics great? And I’m proud of that. I love that I look like my family. It’s actually easier going with my dad somewhere because it’s easier for others to put the puzzle pieces together. A few months ago, I went with my mom and sister-in-law to get our nails done and I could tell people thought they were related and I was just tagging along (Welcome to America).
My dad’s strength comes from a quiet place that has always showed up, always protected, and always set an example. In the last year, I’ve really been able to wrap my head around what it means to be a daughter to a white woman and a black man.
What I love most about being the daughter of a black man, is that he affirms me for who I am without race being attached to it. That will always be part of my identity, but my dad tells me I’m smart, beautiful, strong, creative, and authentic. He speaks more to my character than my outward appearance. To hear those affirmations from a male’s perspective is so important. At the end of the day, I’m not my hair, I’m not my big round eyes, I’m not my big nose and I’m not the mixed girl who didn’t grow up listening to gospel music. He taught me what counts is my character, how I treat people, how I teach people to treat me, how I react, how I love.
Being the daughter of a black man, means I am who I am, and I can be proud of that no matter what.