It is Time to Leave Bristol Palin Alone

It has long bothered me the way we feel free to talk about Bristol Palin merely because of choices she made. As I now parent an adopted child whose birth mother made some difficult emotional decisions, not unlike those Bristol Palin made, my attitude towards Bristol have changed. Blast Sarah all you wish, but leave Bristol alone.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The bottom line is that Bristol Palin is now a mother, a teen mother, and that will make it tough for her. It is time for Greta Van Susteren to leave Bristol Palin alone, it is time for Rebecca Traister of Salon Magazine to leave Bristol Palin alone, and it is time for bloggers to leave Bristol Palin alone. Go ahead and comment, if you please, on Sarah Palin and her new tax problems, but it is time for us all to let Bristol Palin make decisions about her life and that of her son.

There. I said it. I said it not as a political commentator but as a father of an adopted son whose birth mother also had to make some very difficult decisions about pregnancy, childbirth, and whether to keep the baby or make an adoption plan. I’m personally grateful that my son’s birth mother made that adoption plan, as he lights up my life even as I write this short piece. (That’s my pride and joy right there on the left.) I just can’t imagine the difficulty of making a decision about an unexpected pregnancy, and that’s what Bristol Palin’s was. It just isn’t in me anymore to judge her. What we should do instead is try to understand the very difficult decisions young women, women of all ages, for that matter, go through when they find themselves unprepared for a pregnancy.

Today’s issue of Philadelphia Weekly gives us some insight into just this matter. The article is written by Jennifer Merrill, and she describes herself as follows. From Philadelphia Weekly:

I’m 18 years old. I recently graduated high school in the top 10 percent of my class with a 97 percent GPA. I was Student Council co-president and co-editor of the school newspaper, as well as a member of the National Honor Society, Student Advisory Council, National Latin Honor Society, Quill and Scroll Honorary Society for High School Journalists and the yearbook staff. I was even on the homecoming court and was named “Friendliest” in the senior class Who’s Who. As a freshman at Temple University, I’m majoring in magazine journalism. I’m just your average teenager–well, except for one thing: I’m pregnant.

Jennifer Merrill’s article is the cover story this week in Philadelphia Weekly, and surely deserves the cover. It is very much a first-person account, even moving through a narrative form through much of the article as she leads the reader through the difficult moments she lived through since finding she was pregnant last August. We find what happens when she found out she was prenant, and how both her mother and boyfriend handled it. We also find that while Jennifer Merril is pro-choice, she could not make the decision of abortion concerning the baby in her own body. To me, that’s truly pro-choice, that she chose, and had the freedom to do so.

Jennifer ends her article leaving us in the air. She’s evidently not decided whether to make an adoption plan or to raise the baby and try at the same time to continue her schooling. To that end I would just like to say that both decisions can have joyous results, and that many open adoptions will mean she has contact with her baby throughout the baby’s life. I might talk about the joys adoption has brought to my wife and myself, and how we imagine that adoption has set Jack’s birth mother’s heart to rest. I might let her knwo that an adoptive family will likely be more ready materially to care for her baby than she will, though I would continue to stress that I can’t hope to understand the mother love she is developing as she carries the child to term. But mostly I would tell Jennifer Merrill that whatever decision she makes from here on out it should be the interest of the baby and herself that she should be focused on, and not the expectations of those outside her immediate situation. But, you know, I think Jennifer Merrill truly understands all that, and I think she’s a remarkable young woman. Here are the words with which she closes the article in Philadelphia Weekly:

Regardless of what I choose, I know I’m making the decision out of love. I feel confident in saying that no matter which option I go with, the baby will have a good life. She will be given opportunities. She will have parents she can look up to. Most important, she will be loved. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I can only hope that one day she will understand.

Yeah, Jennifer Merrill has her act together, and she’s going to make a fine decision in this very difficult time of life, and I’m happy she has the room to make that decision. That’s where we have all gone wrong when discussing Bristol Palin. We have not treated her as a woman, though very young, coming to grips with some of the most important and emotional decisions of her life. Oh, Rebecca Traister surely implies that those decisions are actually guided strongly by Sarah Palin herself, but even that I find to be distasteful to critique. Let’s leave Bristol Palin alone. Let’s let her choose how to live her life, and let’s also hope she has the support she needs for her choices.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Personal and Political: Please Meet Jack

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.

Saturday, January 17th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |