The other day 5 asked me a question:
“Daddy, can someone with one color of skin marry someone with another color of skin?”
Since most of his questions revolve around dinosaurs, outer space and what snack he can eat, I was not expecting that query. But considering his thoughtful, introspective nature I shouldn’t have been surprised.
“Of course, buddy,” I told him. “You can marry whoever you want.”
And that was it. Seconds later, he was back to playing with my old “Star Wars” figures.
But his question lingered in my mind. I’m not sure what prompted it — whether he saw or heard something on tv or at school. It could be that he was just curious. Either way, I’m pleased that he asked me and I’m pleased that he’s growing up in an era of open-mindedness and personal freedoms when it comes to race relations and gender bias.
I considered how important my answer was to him at that moment. Had I hesitated or tried to walk a tightrope with a “Yes, but” answer, that might have impacted the way he viewed people of other races, religions and creeds for the rest of his life. This was one of those times when we are put on the spot as a parent and our response can send our child down one intellectual or emotional road or another. Which path do we choose?
In other households I’m sure there might have been a different answer — an answer spoken in hushed tones with words like, “just between us” or “us” and “them.” There might be less open-minded parents who are choosing to send their children down a path of bigotry and intolerance with a heavy dose of exclusion. It may not be the overt bigotry of the past but it is bigotry nonetheless.
That’s why his innocent question during a lazy Sunday afternoon has the potential to transform his thinking and possibly the thinking of others. It’s the proverbial small burst of wind in Africa that turns into a hurricane along the East Coast of the United States — it may seem isolated and innocuous at the moment but it has potentially far-reaching consequences down the road.
Consider this: My son is having a conversation with a classmate. The discussion of marriage comes up. My son says, “My dad told me that I can marry whoever I want.” The other child has never thought about that question but agrees. Now, his thinking is also enlightened. Conversely, consider this: My son says, “My daddy told me that I can only marry a white girl.” That other child’s thinking is now infected, too. How far does it spread?
I like to think that my wife and I are enlightened in our 21st century thinking but, and more importantly, I think we as a society are more enlightened today than ever before. My son’s question forced me, once again, to ponder an irrefutable truth — our children will look to us for for guidance, answers, direction and teaching. We won’t always have the perfect answer. We won’t even always have the right answer. I just hope that we will always have a good answer that will satisfy, encourage and cause them to question their own beliefs.