Three years ago I came across a riddle in a news article. My kids love riddles even though they can rarely solve them. However, once they discover the answer they are quick to ask every adult who sits down at a table with them the riddle. But this riddle was different. When I asked it to them they got it right, but I got it wrong, for a few seconds.
Here’s the riddle. See if you get it right:
“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate – that boy is my son!”
There’s a lot of stop and go traffic in our city. Our 3-mile drive to school tends to take us 15 to 20 minutes each morning. Needless to say, over the years we’ve been at a traffic standstill behind many cars that are…colorful. Especially the language on bumper stickers.
Over the years I’ve noticed bumper stickers and I think to myself, “I hope my kids don’t see that.” Whether they see it or they don’t see it, they rarely ask about them because they either can’t read them or what is on the sticker doesn’t make sense to them. There is a truck in town with a bumper sticker of a silhouette of a naked woman with her legs spread open and the words “spread the love.” Every time I see it, I hold my breathe and try to figure out what I will say If my children bring it to my attention. As of right now, that has not happened, but this week a different bumper sticker was brought to my attention by them.
During our evening commute, we were stopped at an intersection stoplight. There were about 15 cars ahead of us on the two-lane highway and I was contemplating changing lanes when my daughter asked, “Dad, why do people have bumper stickers?”
Boarding the plane for a recent trip, my daughter inched patiently behind me counting each row we passed anxiously waiting to get to row 26. As we approached our seats she tapped me on the lower back and said, “Daddy, can I sit next to you? Sister can sit next to mommy.”
“If that’s what you want to do, sure.”
We got to our seats, sat down and began digging around for our seat belts. Settling in, I started to untangle my headphones and quickly download some music before setting my phone to airplane mode. My daughter looked out the window curiously. After a minute or so she said, “Daddy, why are most of the people who work in the airport people of color, like the people who drive the carts and at the restaurants and the people on the plane like the pilot and other…whatever they’re called…people who help?”
“The flight attendants?”
“Ya, them. Why are most of them and the pilots white?”
About a year and a half ago my younger sister embarked on an exploration of the family tree using one of the many commercial DNA test kits. Like many others, especially those whose heritage is riddled with the various American storied outcomes of conquest, persecution, and integration, my family was very interested curious to garner a better understanding of our history.
For most adults there is no conversation more uncomfortable than talking about sex and sexuality with their child. This is especially true for fathers with daughters. But why is it so hard?
To start, we live in a society that objectifies women. We grow up watching and listening over and over again to messages that portray women as sex symbols. We are taught that real men are players, sleep with a lot of women, and have the upper hand in relationships with women. We are taught that menstruation is gross and taboo to talk about, and testosterone equals strong and entitled.
Two hours of each of the first four weeks of my daughter’s second week of 3rd grade school year was spent taking national standardized tests. This was her first experiences with these tests and based on her self-report they were all but enjoyable. Each day I asked her about the test that was taken that day. Each conversation followed a format similar to the following:
On our way to school the other morning my daughter asked me, “Why are most of the people who do construction work Latino?”
“That would be a better question to ask a Latino person who does construction.”
She was silent for a moment and then said, “But I don’t know and Latino people who do constructions and I don’t talk to strangers. Why do YOU think a lot of construction workers are Latino.”
“Ok, you’re right. Hmmm…it’s hard to say because I only know a couple Latino men who do construction and I know that Latino men in construction is a stereotype. Latino men, like Tata, and your uncles, and cousins are Latino, but they don’t do construction.”
It was a Wednesday. The afternoon was moving along as it typically does. My daughters and I sat down to eat a snack. I asked both of them, “Who did you each lunch with today, sweetie?” My older daughter looked at me and began to cry. Tears and a hug later were followed up by a question I had asked myself growing up. But the context was different and I had no one to answer. I asked the question because I was pushed and tripped. Hers was because she was told nobody likes her.
Last school year my youngest daughter befriended a young boy, Jonathan in her class with Down Syndrome. A few months into the school year she and my older daughter were having regular conversation about playing with Jonathan. Throughout that stretch of time I was met by periodic questions and comments about why Jonathan. Why doesn’t Jonathan say words? Why does Jonathan have different rules than other children? Why does Jonathan have his own teacher? Many times the questions came across as rhetorical. It sounded like the came out of a conversation that the teachers had with the students. The questions were more about receiving confirmation from me, a former early childhood special educator and researcher of high-quality inclusive education. But I wasn’t confirming what other adults were telling them. Most often, I was clarifying misconceptions.