There is little that brings me as much joy as the sound of my toddler’s chunky legs on our parquet floors as he makes that sharp right at the foyer and heads toward his shoes. The mere mention of the word “outside” and this kid is ready to go.
Should we go to the park? Or maybe that fancy outdoor mall across town? We tricycled this morning, so this next outing needs to be a destination. But which one will be the least exhausting? And I don’t mean the copious amounts of energy needed to take a toddler anywhere. No, no ... I’m talking about the exhaustion I already feel just thinking about dealing with another episode of “Black Dad, White Son.”
This is the point where I tell you that my husband (who is white) and I are the proud foster-to-adopt parents of our 21-month-old son. He came home to us shortly before Christmas 2020, when he was 9 months old. I don’t know if it was Saint Nick, Father Christmas or that Italian couple who play Mama and Papa Claus in “Rudolph” who made it happen. But our Christmas bundle of joy had arrived and everything was perfect.
Well, somewhat perfect. Nearly perfect? Perfect adjacent? As an interracial couple, our one small caveat to us adopting was that our child be a mix of something. It just seemed like it would be a much easier undertaking for all of us. I concluded that having a racially ambiguous baby would stem questions in an already questionable circumstance. So when we were presented with the whitest baby on the face of the earth ― I’m talking straight-up white, no-chaser-of-ethnicity white, white-white, Allan Willis from “The Jeffersons” white ― I was honestly like, hmmm.
Our society has grown accustomed to seeing white parents with Black kids. But Black parents with white kids? Not so much. So when I saw our son’s little face looking back at me from his placement photo, I was just ... confused. I never thought we’d be presented with a little white baby. Those were usually the ones reserved for white heterosexual couples. Here I had been preparing all my life to raise the most self-assured, entitled, Black (or some other non-white) child that I could ― fists pumped high with pride and self-love. But looking at this blond-haired, blue-eyed baby, it felt like I’d been practicing for Marching Band Regionals, only to have all the other schools call out with mono on the day of the statewide competition. What had all that prep been for? Apparently I should have been doing a different kind of training.
“As uncharted as this territory would be, I knew that we would rear the most enlightened white kid ever. The world wouldn’t know what hit ’em!”
Now I was potentially going to be the father of a child the world would always clearly see. Goal, right? But as he looked back at me from that photo, it only took a millisecond to readjust my own vision to see what a gift he was. So, we said yes. Then, once he was finally in my arms, the only emotion I felt was unconditional love. He was as perfect as perfect could be.
I guess I could now stop pushing Black hair care videos on my husband. And as uncharted as this territory would be, I knew that we would rear the most enlightened white kid ever. The world wouldn’t know what hit ’em!
With a new baby at home and a global pandemic raging just beyond our front door, we were in pretty much full-on nest mode, which, luckily, helped our bonding process. We had very little interaction with the outside world. We spent our time fixated on his schedule, tending to his dietary needs, and working on fine motor skills.
Then with the new year came a new administration, and, finally, a chance for people to get COVID vaccines. Things began opening up again and people started to venture out. Concerned that our 2020 baby would become some awkward, socially inept kid that wouldn’t know a booger from a bougainvillea, we got the shots as soon as we could, so we too could do some as-safe-as-possible-for-our-baby venturing and get him acquainted with a living, breathing, thriving world beyond our Pottery Barn hand-loomed area rug.
Los Angeles is a bustling, modern metropolis where people tend to be unfazed by even the most outlandish things. It’s Hollywood for Christ’s sake! It invented outlandish. But even in our hip little hamlet just north of the city where the “I’m with her,” Prius-driving, taste-all-the-flavors-at-Salt-&-Straw, voted-for-Obama (TWICE) crowd reside, we have become the object of such fascination due to the unconventional makeup of our family.
Like the woman who sat next to us at a café one day and just stared and stared and stared, seemingly thinking, the white dad must have had the healthier sperm. Or the time not so long ago we went to the farmers market and, unfortunately, left the stroller at home. At first we felt there were just too many people to let Mr. New Legs Walking scramble around on his own. But after 30 minutes of exchanging him back and forth, we eventually put him down, which prompted him to want to hold both our hands. As we strolled linked together competing for Best in Show, a woman jumped out in front of us in that unnerving Jack Ruby sort of way and asked if she could take our picture. I told her no and picked the little guy back up for the remainder of meandering through the sweet corn, soaps and succulents.
They’re just curious, I’d tell myself whenever something like this happened. But as these little incidents started to become the norm, I slowly began to feel more and more self-conscious. And I hated that I was feeling that. Here I was ― Mr. Confidant with his head held high who only walks in his truth, and now I felt like I was becoming a scowling figure who, from behind a KN95 mask and sunglasses, watched and felt everyone’s eye on his family and silently dared them to say something. It’s too much to carry around. But what can you do?
“Black Dad, White Son” only intensifies when my son and I are out on our own. The looks, as I interpret them, range from “I’ve never seen a Black male nanny” to “Did that man just take that baby?” Recently, when a cashier at the grocery store asked if my son was my baby, I wanted to tell her the only question she should be asking was, “Paper or plastic?” This is the exhaustion I speak of.
The response from Black people seems to have more of a “how could you?” tone. A WHITE BABY!? Lord Jesus, it’s too much for them. I find that Black people never voice their opinions directly. They’re typically conveyed through a long, hard and uninterrupted gaze. Then comes the muffled not-so-muffled, “They didn’t have any Black babies to adopt?” It can smart, but when you hear that from strangers, you can usually ignore it. It’s when it comes from people you love that it can take on a different kind of ouch. I have friends and family members who rarely, if ever, ask, “How’s the little guy?” or “When do we get to lay eyes on this cutie-pie?” He conspicuously seems to never come up.
What’s that old saying? You know who your friends are when you adopt a white baby? But big ups to the Black meter maid in Santa Monica who made it a point to take a second from the ticket she was writing across the street to shout out, “I see you, Dad.” She made my heart swell that day and I will never forget her because in that moment all I was thinking was that I was a horrible father for having forgotten to pack the lovey.
Maybe you’re thinking I should do some yoga or meditation to release some of this energy I hold regarding this situation. But the true salve has been the online group of compadres I recently found. I did a search to see if there were any other Black people out there with white kids ... AND THERE ARE! And the stories from these Black transracial foster and adoptive parents are so similar to my own, from the hysterical to the “Oh, no, they didn’t?” that it’s made me feel so seen.
As I got to know these parents, they became a sounding board and safe place to land. This small subset of people knew exactly what I was experiencing because they were experiencing it too. Wow! I was in a support group. This is the kind of shit white people do! But I don’t care ― it’s great ― and I love connecting with them.
Finding these folks has not only helped me get it together a little better by showing me I’m not the only one dealing with this stuff, just as importantly, it’s made me realize I’m not making this shit up! I can spend less time and emotional energy wondering if the things I’m hearing and feeling are real and more time finding ways to deal with them.
There’s been one piece of advice from a woman in the group that’s been especially useful and I heed it to this day. She advised me to always carry our son’s birth certificate with me whenever I’m out with him because, unfortunately, it’s just a matter of time before I’m in a situation where someone has made an inaccurate presumption about me and I’ll need it.
“My hope for him is that he will always know just how much Papa and Daddy love him, that he approaches the world with love and kindness, that he’ll be curious, and always speak his mind (yet never feels the need to white mansplain), that he prizes knowledge and intellect, exhibits good amounts of sarcasm, cherishes joy and laughter, and most importantly ... that he always has rhythm and knows how to season his food.”
I sometimes find myself watching my son and wondering how this experience of having two gay dads who are two different races will impact his life. What kind of man will he become because of it? For me it’s an exciting prospect. I mean, who among us wouldn’t be proud to say that a healthy dose of show tunes and Frederick Douglass made them what they are today? But above all else, my hope for him is that he will always know just how much Papa and Daddy love him, that he approaches the world with love and kindness, that he’ll be curious, and always speak his mind (yet never feels the need to white mansplain), that he prizes knowledge and intellect, exhibits good amounts of sarcasm, cherishes joy and laughter, and most importantly ... that he always has rhythm and knows how to season his food.
And as for me, I’m an overachieving, militant, Black, gay Virgo. The 1,500 square feet in my head that I call home will always just be what it is. As much as I don’t always want to think about race, I will. I’m Black. But I hope that with time, I will acquire a more balanced equilibrium regarding “Black Dad, White Son” and maybe, just maybe, it’ll become less exhausting. Maybe not. Either way, I just ask that you put your cameras down, rein in some of that annoyance or entitled curiosity, and just smile as you pass us by. And, who knows, maybe I will sign up for yoga or meditation. Or is that too white?
Scott Brown lives in Studio City, California, with his husband and son. He is a screenwriter with a penchant for world travel, classic cinema, and Little Debbie snack cakes.