How Not To Celebrate National Adoption Month

Occasionally life gives you pop quizzes, which you fail.

This weekend, life's pop quiz was "Hey, Ken, since it's National Adoption Month, do you think you could model how to react positively and constructively to challenging or uncomfortable adoption-related social situations?"


That wasn't the right answer. Not even partial credit.

Many timeson this blog, I've talked about the social challenge that adoptive parents face in responding to rude questions in public, and how uncomfortable those situations can make us. I've admitted fantasies about telling rude people off, but maintained that adoptive parents should generally opt for education or avoidance over confrontation in order to avoid conveying to our children that there is something upsetting or shameful about adoption. It's much better for our kids to say "Actually, that's personal" or "whyever do you ask" than to say "go screw yourself, you nosy twit", however viscerally satisfying the latter is.

Yeah, well. About that.

When it came to it, on a sunny November Saturday watching my son play soccer, I blew it.

Now, I was provoked. But like I said earlier today, provocation is not an excuse.

I was sitting there in the sun when a father watching a game on the next field started up with me. He was an aging jock type, Al Bundy in sweats and a smirk. "Is that your son?" Yes. "Really?" Yes. "I mean — that kid there. He's really your son?" [smirk] Uh-huh. "Yeah, that kid?" [smirk] "Because he's — you know." Huh. [More smirks.] Then, "Hey, I'm just askin'. Am I not being PC?" No, you're fine.

If I had left it at "no, you're fine," he would have lost interest at my lack of response and wandered off. But I added ". . . I mean, considering." And he picked up on it, and followed up, and asked what I meant, and it went downhill from there. I won't describe it at length, because it would defeat the purpose of advocating against smacking down rude people about adoption in public near our kids and in favor of either educating or avoiding. Suffice it to say: (1) I said he was fine, considering his capacities, and that I supported people like him being mainstreamed, and did they bring him on a bus from his group home, and so on [I was thinking of crazy people, but in retrospect it sounds like a joke about the mentally handicapped, which is embarrassing to me], (2) he blustered and threatened and got red in the face, (3) I said a number of things that were cutting and a number of things that were merely angry or incoherent, among them "that depends on the color of your ear," [very sure I said it, seemed very a propos at the time, no idea what it means], and (4) people started to notice and look concerned and there was the possibility of getting into a fistfight for the first time in decades, and (5) eventually something happened on his son's game and he cussed at me and pointed at me and threatened some more and went off to look after his son.

So. Not my brightest hour. The saving grace: Evan was on the field and didn't notice.

Did it feel good at the time, to confront him and cut at him and score points off of him? God, yes. It felt great. But I sure as Hell didn't impress any of the parents or kids in earshot about adoption being a normal, positive thing. I made them think of this adoptive parent as being angry and out of control. And I helped solidify in their mind the idea that cross-racial adoption is somehow upsetting and Other. Plus, had my son been there, and observed it, he would have picked up that there was something very upsetting, and maybe shameful, and controversial, about me being his father.

The guy was trying to get my goat. He got it. I'll try to do better next time. But I can't promise anything.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Mike says

    Kids need to see that there's an alternative to being a passive-aggressive bitch. You handled the situation appropriately.

  2. Old Geezer says

    I agree 100% with your rational, measured analysis, but once in a while it just feels like it's good to bring the asshat down a peg. It always used to bother me when I got the opposite: "You can sure tell he's your son." Why? If he looked slightly different would he not look like he was my son? Just passed our 45th adoption anniversary and have loved every minute of it.

  3. says

    Mike, Kids also need to see that aggressive-aggressive is just as much a loser's proposition. As Ken wrote, walking away and ending it before it begins is the path to take. As a former teacher, I can tell you that kids see how we respond to situations and emulate it later on.

  4. Al says

    If it's any consolation this makes me feel better about not ruining my friends' kid's birthday party when someone said to me "But you are adopting an American kid, right?"

    I just looked away and said "What was that, dear?" while crossing over to the other side of the yard to see what my wife wanted. It may have dawned on this person that she committed a faux pas when my wife finally showed up to the party an hour or so later.

  5. Mike says

    "aggressive-aggressive is just as much a loser’s proposition"

    That's how cowards rationalize never taking action.

    The park dad was popping off. He should STFU in the future. He won't, because everyone tolerates nonsense as a coward's credo has been wrapped up moralisms.

    You don't want aggression-aggression? Then STFU and mind your own business. And if you don't, well….Some folks out there are still teachers in the school of hard knocks.

    Society would be better off if more were willing to stand up for themselves rather than pretend that walking away like a coward is the upright thing to do.

  6. Linus says

    Some people are assholes, and some people are so ignorant they come off as assholes. If you can tell the difference, the second kind are worth correcting, forcefully if necessary. Only Ken could tell us what kind this guy seemed to be (although the "am I not being PC?" comment moves him in my mind to the first kind).

  7. says

    He was the first kind.

    But I had already shown my penis to four people that day, so I could have handled it more maturely without danger of being branded a Beta Male.

    (Not at the soccer field, mind you.)

  8. nrasmuss says

    While I will certainly agree with your underlying sentiments, which I believe are best translated as "I'm better than pointing out for all to see that you're either a fool, a jerk, or both" … I'm not sure I agree with your final analysis. Isn't it, just sometimes, perfectly appropriate (or at least, necessary – for sanity's sake) to point out, in no uncertain (and sometimes heated terms), that some individuals out there are either fools, jerks, or both?

    In this case, kiddo wasn't around to digest, so … point, if a low one, scored fairly – and why are you so quick to assume that the adults listening weren't either (a) silently cheering you on, or (b) at least figuring out that it's no light matter to 'just make a joke about it'?

  9. Matt says

    "he would have picked up that there was something very upsetting, and maybe shameful, and controversial, about me being his father"

    Living in this world, there's absolutely no way he's not going to pick up on the fact that there are people who think that. What he needs to pick up along with it is the fact that those people are morons, and their moronic opinions are not worthy of the respect that our egalitarian culture tries to insist that we give them.

    If the story involved you resorting to weapons or fisticuffs, then I'd concur that you had (probably) overreacted. But if it happened the way you say, I'd classify your behavior as praiseworthy.

  10. bw says

    "But I sure as Hell didn’t impress any of the parents or kids in earshot about adoption being a normal, positive thing"

    Would have impressed me, and I probably would have added a voice to your point that he was intentionally being an idiot. Maybe if more people were willing to talk back to jerks, fewer people would be calling on the government to silence jerks.

  11. says

    Ken, you made a horrible example.

    But I'll cheer you. I think your point is dead-on, but on the other hand there is also the reality that our society seems to have completely abandoned common courtesy in day to day life and I for one think rude people must be called on their rudeness more often.

  12. says

    The problem here is (and I say this with all the love for Ken that I have) that Ken lowered himself to the guys level. That's what his whole post is about. He was little better than the jerk. That's the point of the juxtaposition with his earlier Ken's Law post.

    And, lest I prove myself a hypocrite I have lowered myself to that level too many times. Especially on the court. There's something very sad about a dorky over the hill white guy responding when a little teenager gets in his face.

  13. delurking says

    "The problem here is [snip] that Ken lowered himself to the guys level."

    I don't think so. Someone comes up to you and says something both stupid and insulting. You say "That is stupid, so I conclude you are stupid". Perhaps Ken regrets becoming angry. That, I sympathize with; it is better to reply without getting angry. Even stupid people can learn. If they don't change their opinions, public shaming may teach them to keep those opinions to themselves, and the shaming is more effectively done by calm people.

    There are situations where someone's naivete results in a condescending or insulting comment, and in those situations a different approach may be warranted. But here, a total stranger, who was watching a different game, came up to him for the sole purpose of denigrating his family.

  14. Cackalacka says

    Ken, I've silently disagreed with 100% of your posts since election day, but I'm going to go ahead and say you're wrong here.

    You should give yourself partial credit. Dude cast aspersions on your family. Full stop.

    That's enough to awaken the most thoughtful person's reptilian brain. I know in hindsight you probably wish the episode were more eloquent, but hey, nobody left in handcuffs, and your son didn't witness this asshole's slight or your subsequent 'conversation.'

  15. says

    Here's the thing:

    1. I don't feel a need to prove anything, and don't feel obligated to make conversational decisions based on that.

    2. Some people can be politely educated, and there is value in politely educating them.

    3. Some people are of bad faith or are too stupid to benefit from polite education. There's no point in trying to educate them. They probably won't stop being ignorant assholes even if you tell them as well as anyone ever got told. So if you get in their face, it's probably about (a) self-image or (b) visceral enjoyment.

    Not that visceral enjoyment isn't very viscerally enjoyable.

  16. delurking says

    I must disagree with your final conclusion in point 3. Let's say you had said nothing at all, and then at next week's game he did the same thing? And the week after that, he did it in front of your son? You have made it less likely that he will repeat the insults to you or to anyone else. Even stupid people of bad faith can be taught via public shaming to keep their mouths shut.

  17. says

    Ezra's comment isn't getting as much credit as it deserves: "As a former teacher, I can tell you that kids see how we respond to situations and emulate it later on."

    I agree with Ezra. Young kids are very responsive to adult behavior and rely on adults to set behavioral standards. Even if Ken's children did not see his behavior, it appears some other children may have. Ken is right to be concerned about how his behavior impacted persons around him.

  18. says

    delurking, I'm not sure I subscribe to the domino theory of rudeness. If he continues to be rude, I can always adjust accordingly. But when it's a single social interaction occasioning rudeness, I try to ask myself whether responding FOR GREAT JUSTICE is to accomplish anything, or to fluff myself.

  19. bw says

    "3. Some people are of bad faith or are too stupid to benefit from polite education. There’s no point in trying to educate them. "

    Maybe they can't be educated, but even the most primitive organisms can be trained, via negative reinforcement, to reduce the frequency of certain behavior.

    You didn't lower yourself to his level. You called him on being a jerk, in a way that, based on his swearing and posturing, stung. Maybe the next time he has the opportunity to be a jerk, he will seek to avoid being stung again. Maybe, the incident your confrontation prevents is the one where someone really gets hurt.

    Far too much emphasis is placed these days on non-confrontation. Kids are taught to avoid conflict, and they end up shooting up their schools, so it clearly isn't working. Why not teach them to discern when confrontation is called for and what level of confrontation is appropriate, so situations don't fester to the point of tragedy?

  20. says

    I'd have to agree with the person who said you were defending your family. It's really difficult to do that rationally and in a manner that will "educate" anyone.

  21. hllb says

    Ah Ken….you've done what we ALL want to, or have wanted to do at some point. Unfortunate that you may see some of those people again, but yay that your son didn't hear it. And I so wish I could have heard your verbal lashing. It was probably far to quick witted for him to follow!

  22. Dustin says

    No, you didn't have anything to prove, Ken.

    But it sucks no one chimed in to help. Just a little "Dude, you realize you're insulting this man's fatherhood, right?" from someone else could have really helped, I bet.

    It's so hard for me to keep my mouth shut that I wrongly imagine other people chiming in when they really, really should. Adoption isn't just about the adoptor and adoptee. If someone presses 'is that you kid' repeatedly they are way out of line and ought to be mocked.

  23. Dustin says

    He's essentially asking if Ken is really his father, which is rude enough that he owed an apology instead of repeatedly asking again and again.

    I guess there are bigger problems in the world.

  24. says

    Ken, I very much agree that keeping a level head here is important, and understand your frustration at not doing so. And I understand the need to educamunicate people on adoption and all that vaguely liberal sounding stuff that is none the less still important.

    This, IMO, is much worse than someone in a grocery store idly asking "oh, these are your kids?" or what have you. So you needed to stay calm – easily said, not so easily done. The thing is, based on his actions yes I would say this guy probably did some bullying in his day (for large values of "some", even). Having some experience with grown up bullies myself, I think this guy needed to be dealt with accordingly. Education is noble, but wasn't going to accomplish anything short or long term.

    A calm, but pointed response was called for. Fucking with family is not ok.

  25. kmc says

    It's interesting that Ken put a certain amount of emphasis in the post on things he said that, in retrospect, probably made little sense or came across differently that he'd intended. As someone who has struggled against a lifelong hot temper, I think that's actually a very important part of the story–someone reacting in anger is actually less likely to make the point that needs to be made, so telling someone off when "they deserve it" only increases the arguer's own feelings of anger and works contrary to the principles driving the argument. It's not going to educate anybody, and there's approximately zero chance that the asshat who provoked it is going to gain anything at all. So, no, it's not an appropriate or effective response. I admire Ken for recognizing it and admitting it so readily to himself, because the kind of pride that starts that fire burning rarely allows one to clear the cloud of smoke and see the true scene unfolding.

  26. bw says

    "Ken, I very much agree that keeping a level head here is important, and understand your frustration at not doing so. "

    What? Did he take a swing? Did he raise his voice or use profanity?
    It sounds like he kept a level head. The only thing that would improve the response is if the insult was sophisticated enough to leave the jerk scratching his head wondering if he was really insulted. Nothing makes a jerk feel smaller than that.