Personal life changes surely have political impact. In my household we welcomed a son this week, a little bundle of (adopted) African American joy named Jack. We are white. In just the 48 hours Jack has been in our lives we’ve noticed changes to our racial attiudes, even as liberal and progressive as they already were.
Commentary By: Steven Reynolds
Below you will see a picture of my new son Jack. That photo was taken yesterday when he was ten days old. He came into our lives on Thursday, and while it will be a couple months until this adoption is finalized, we are proceeding with confidence, mostly because my wife and I have fallen in love with the little nipper. Hey, I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly five years, and one of my first reactions upon bringing Jack home was about how I was going to write about him. Our love for Jack is vitally personal, as one can imagine, and it frankly isn’t anyone’s business. But we are white and Jack is African American, and this year race is the elephant in the room who is getting noticed a whole bunch. So here goes.
Let’s just begin with a little background. We brought Jack home on Thursday at about 2:00 in the afternoon. He was nine days old. I will not discuss his birth mother except to say she produced a very healthy boy and she was unable to raise him. We are profoundly thankful for her decision, but beyond that, our feelings and thoughts for her are and will remain private.
Jack does not do tricks as yet, unless you consider squirming while having a diaper change, eating, burping and sleeping “tricks.” We participate in and watch each of these tricks with avid interest. Jack is our reality show. What’s become fascinating to me is that almost everything is filtering through the prism that is Jack now.
This morning while reading the paper I pointed my wife to a photo of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and said, with a wink towards Jack, “now that’s a handsome black man.” Not “handsome man,” but “handsome black man.” My wife, ever the lawyer, countered immediately with a picture of Attorney General nominee Eric Holder. The point is not that we were on the alert to show our boy Jack examples of high-achieving black men, but we were distinguishing “black man” from “man,” and very consciously. Our views about race our changing, and it is not that our views were “wrong” before and are making a move towards “right,” but that those views are in control of a little guy named Jack. He has changed us, in less than 48 hours, in some very profound and political ways. My writing here will therefore change.
Of course, our lives will revolve around the boy. I am not teaching this semester because of a drop in enrollment, and I will be staying home with Jack for the next several months. I suppose this might mean that blog writing will not suffer in that time, but all indications so far are that Jack is the guy who guides every decision. For instance, we are very conscious that Jack came to us just a few days before one of the most historically significant moments for African Americans in our history, the inauguration of Barack Obama. There’s an opportunity for us to see Barack Obama, or at least the train he is riding on the way to Washington. You see, we live about a half block from a great view of the tracks Barack Obama’s train will be travelling. This morning’s household debate is whether we take Jack to view this historic moment from the distance of a few hundred yards and in some very bitter cold. Oh, if we didn’t have Jack we might or might not have made the trek down the street to take part in history in such a small way, but he’s ruling our lives now. Nobody is complaining about that, not a little bit.
A note on naming. I understand Barack Obama represents an historic first, not just that he is the first African American to be elected President, but that his name is so not typically American. Lots of families are going to be naming kids “Barack,” “Malia,” and “Sasha” in these months of political euphoria. We have chosen instead to honor our own relatives. Jack is named after my Dad, who is deceased. He carries both my family name and my wife’s. Oh, sure, being the Eagles fans we are, my wife and I considered a second middle name of “Dawkins” after our favorite player, but Jack probably won’t get that name added to his birth certificate unless the Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl. The boy may be racially African American, but with my wife and I raising him, he’s going to be largely culturally “white,” whatever that is, and I don’t think we can help change that a whole heck of a lot in the long run, no matter how we try.
Heck, Jack already has shown his political tendencies. On his first diaper changing he made the usual “comment” newborn boys do. He missed my wife, who had the honor of changing him that time, aiming decidedly to the left. I was pleased our little leftist will fit into the family so well. While we will likely turn him into a book-reading nerd who enjoys reading the paper in bed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, we promise to instill in him a sense of African American culture, certainly. Still, with world travel and the Philadelphia Eagles and current events and politics and the role all of those have in our family structure, this boy is going to be an odd mix. Not apologizing, just sayin’.
To close, at least for now, I will likely be missing several sessions of Drinking Liberally here in Philly over the next months, but I’ll bring Jack down to show him off on a nice evening, and soon.