When I was about four years old, my parents took me to the wedding of my dad’s best friend at work. I remember the wedding in part because of the amazing photos my dad took of the event that my mom still has, snapshots that perfectly capture my memories of a sea of smiles … and cake! Mostly, though, I remember that day because of what my dad told me as we were leaving the house.
My mom was fussing over my pretty new dress. I’m certain I had never been to a wedding before and I remember all the beautifying being of utmost importance to her. It was exciting and fun. So when my dad leaned down so that we were face to face, his somber tone didn’t fit the moment. He told me that the color of the skin of the people who were getting married was different than ours, that it didn’t mean anything about them or us. I started to cry because I thought I had done something wrong already. He shifted his tone, lightened up, and said he just didn’t want me to be surprised.
It didn’t lighten my mood. I remember thinking about skin a good deal of the ride to the wedding.
Indeed, I saw that the bride and groom had dark brown skin. I remember thinking the bride’s bright white dress looked particularly stunning against that dark skin, and remained confused about my dad’s admonition. I remember a happy bright and light house, lots of white flowers, that impossibly tall cake, and how the couple looked like movie stars. To this day I remember their glow: it was a day of radiant joy.
That was my take-away and that was the “surprise” of day, After the wedding I remember I kept asking to visit the couple. It was clear happiness lived where they lived. I’m guessing with some research I could confirm that my own parents separated soon after this, so my joy-seeking-missile inside wanted what those newlyweds had.
Not long before he died in 2009, my dad told me I needed to write a children’s book for which he had a concept and title, “Samesies” with the lesson that we are all the same no matter what our skin tone, religion or culture. We talked about how his early childhood lesson had briefly scared the crap out of me. He admitted he was afraid I would blurt something out because he thought I might not have ever seen a black person before. I guess it’s possible I hadn’t, given where we lived at the time, but I can’t imagine I would have said anything. I was super shy.
My dad grew up in a small town in Michigan that I didn’t even realize was racist until I was in my 30’s. I was shocked because he wasn’t that, nor were his siblings, and I’m certain they never were. But it must have shaped how he lived and parented.
I’m pretty sure that early childhood lesson whipped me into shape so I didn’t need a book like the one my dad wanted me to write. He scared me out of ever thinking that we were in any way different from someone with a different skin color.
This made it even more poignant when in my late 20’s I neglected to tell him that my new boyfriend was black. It wasn’t until months later when my then fiance’s father was going to be on a business trip in my dad’s city that I realized I hadn’t told him.
My fiance’s father was nearly a household name so as I said his name, my awareness of what I hadn’t previously revealed came rushing into my own brain. I somehow knew. Even though I knew my dad was not racist, as I said my potential future father-in-law’s name, I knew it was going to be an issue.
How could this be? My amazing dad.
My heart fell. I remember I was standing and felt like I heard my heart drop to the floor between my feet. I sat down.
“What is happening?,” I thought.
I remember an eternity passing before he got to his main concern: “I just don’t want you to have a hard life, and this will make your lives harder.”
My fiance and I had driven across the country when we moved from New York City to Los Angeles without incident. And it was the 90’s, for God’s sake.
I didn’t end up marrying this man but I will be forever grateful to his father, who over the course of one dinner healed my father’s heart. He used laughter and joy to put a salve on whatever of my dad’s wounds that triggered this response. He assured my dad that he knew his son and he knew me enough to know that we would be able to handle anything that came our way. My dad stepped right into that point of view and didn’t look back.
My dad died far too young and largely due to a lifetime of cigarette smoking. I was frustrated that it took lung cancer to get him to stop smoking. So we would have little struggles at the end of his life that were laced with my anger that I would be losing my dad at a mere 71 years old. ‘
I was such a brat when he told me he wanted me to write “Samesies.”
“You write it! It’s your idea!”
I knew he wasn’t well enough to write a book, but I harbored hope that he would start writing, become newly engaged with life and fight harder to survive.
Today there are many books like “Samesies” on the market, but it wasn’t until today that I realized his book idea was a little nod to one of the most difficult, albeit thankfully short, periods in our relationship.
It was also the most consistent message he gave to me — over and over and over – no matter the color of skin, economic status, what someone looked like, where they lived — we are all the same: giant hearts walking through life bumping up against each other in ways that can either help or hurt. He lived his life doing his best to hurt as little and help as much as he could. And, I do my best to follow in his size 13E footsteps.