Saturday, July 8, 2017

On Raising Biracial Kids, Part 2: Grandparents on the other side of the aisle

This is Essay #27 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished, totally messy!) essay each week during 2017.

“She doesn’t know anything.”

My dad said this to my nine-year-old last weekend, as I was getting ready to go out. My parents were babysitting that night. I am truly grateful that they live nearby and can provide such support to me as well as participate in my kids’ everyday lives. But a sentence like this makes me take pause.

My daughter came upstairs to tell me this.

“Why did he say that? What were you talking about?”
“I was talking about Cheetoh*—“
“You know you can’t talk about him with Lolo.”
“I know. I forgot!”
“So what did you say?”
“I said I didn’t like him [Cheetoh] and he asked me why and I couldn’t remember. And then he said that you didn’t know anything.”

I held my breath. Tried to steady myself and not allow anger build into rage. I took a long, deep inhale. I slowly exhaled. I could feel my body begin to knot. I was working on not taking this statement personally. I took another deep breath.

“Do you believe him? That I don’t know anything?” I said as evenly as I could.
“No. He’s the one who doesn’t know anything." I'll admit: I laughed on the inside. "Why does he like Cheetoh?”

And here is where I have to be careful.

“He doesn’t read the same things I do. He has a different way of seeing things.” I said.
“So he’s reading, but he’s reading it wrong,” she decided. 

What do I say to that? In my head, I agreed. In my actual response, I said “He just needs to read more things outside of what he usually reads.”

“Can you help me with my answer to why I don’t like Cheetoh?”
“Because he grabs women’s private parts and hates brown people.”
“Oh yeah! Now I remember!”

[*Cheetoh is the name we use for the 45th president. Voldemort is another one. We do not say his name in our house.]


Some of you reading this will be shaking your heads, passing judgment on my parenting skills here. Chances are, you are white. Some of you will be nodding your heads in agreement, perhaps wondering why I couldn’t have taken a harder line. Chances are, you are a person of color. The complicated response is the one who passes judgment and is also a person of color. This last category would be the one in which my dad falls.

Eight months after the results of the 2016 election, I am still don’t know the reasoning and logic behind my dad’s choice to vote for Cheetoh. Here is a brown man, an immigrant who fled the Marcos dictatorship, deciding that a rich white guy who gives zero shits about him –and in fact, would probably like to have him deported—is a good choice for president. I’ve come up with some theories as to why he’d vote for Cheetoh: he really hates powerful women, which, in turn, makes him anti-feminist, which, in turn, makes him in opposition to me, a feminist. (This is nothing new.) He is gullible enough to believe the promises that Cheetoh will turn the economy around and revamp healthcare. (Based on what past experience? On what records of success with such things?) Well, we all know how that’s turning out.

But the bottom line is: I have stopped making the efforts in trying to understand this choice, as it doesn’t serve any purpose in the present moment. It doesn’t change the election results. It also doesn’t change my dad. He is too set in his ways to see anything beyond what he has already decided. (He’s always been set in his ways. His advancing age only further solidifies it, if that’s even possible.) I thought I could just leave things be.

A long time ago, my dad decided that we were not to talk about politics, ever. And when I say “we” I mean everyone in our family. He and his dad, my grandpa, would get into heated political arguments when I was a kid. Republican against Democrat. Light skinned brown man against dark skinned brown man. Privileged physician against the forgotten WWII veteran who now delivered mail. One time, it got so heated that my dad ordered us in the car and we drove away from my grandparents’ house before dessert.

My grandpa has been dead almost thirteen years now. His birthday was on the Fourth. He would’ve been 98. I wonder what he’d say about all of this. About Cheetoh. About my dad. About me. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to him when he told his stories. What could I have learned from him? What insight could I have gained? Alas, the past is gone and all I’ve got is now. So I turn my eyes to my kids.


It’s tricky to love someone who stands behind the things that are diametrically opposed to the things you stand for. But this is what unconditional love is, yes? Yes, but I want to note that unconditional love is not an automatic given, as I previously thought. It is built. It is tested. It is revised and rebuilt. It is tested over and over. The unconditional part is deciding whether or not to rebuild, test after test.

I hate to break it to ya, folks, but love is not some magic fairy spell that appears out of nowhere (it can be, but not always). It’s not “You are born. Your parents are there. You instantly love them.” (The reverse can also be applied here. Parents don’t always instantly & automatically love their children upon birth.) Love can be a decision you make. And I mean that across the board of Love. Familial, romantic, platonic. (Divine love is an entirely different matter that plays by a different set of rules, something for a different essay.)

So the same questions are still here, the same ones from last week’s essay: how do I teach my kids compassion and love, even for those who disagree with what they think, even for those who support people who do not see them, my kids –my daughters—as full people, but rather as objects to be taken, silenced, or removed? I know that the best way to teach anything is to model. In this case, I need to be the example of showing love and compassion.

But how do I myself extend and show love to my dad? Do I overlook his staunch beliefs, even if they are beliefs that threaten my very livelihood and his? How do you love someone like this? How do you accept who they wholly are and still love them?

Jesus did it. But, hell, I’m not Jesus.

Still, I’ll give it a shot. Because I want to try. Otherwise, where would we be if none of us tried to do the hard thing?

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