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?"
My answer: KEN SMASH KEN SMASH KEN SMASH.
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
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