What Bristles My Beard: Racism

I am thankful that my father is a racist.

I took my son to his first London Knights game at 6 years old. It was an exciting time for him as he had never seen a live hockey game up to that point. At the time, I had not yet been awarded custody of him, so visits with him were minimal; 4 days a month. This was the first time I had done something with him of this nature and I was beaming with pride.

As we were in the men’s washroom of the JLC, my son, at the urinal, turns to me and says “look dad, black kids!” motioning to a young father with his 2 children. In absolute shock, and in a stunned moment of panic, I did my best to profusely apologize to the father and children. In my son’s defense, he had very little exposure to ethnic diversity.

The following day, when discussing the incident with my son, I was taken aback to my own childhood. I grew up with a European immigrant father, whose outdated views were passed along to me growing up.

In grade 8, my brother and I would take a 45 minute walk to school, crossing some unsavory parts of Windsor. I came home one day and told my parents we had made friends along the way who went to the same school. After a brief exchange, he asks me, “Are these kids black?” “Yes dad they are black,” I respond with a puzzled look.

“Stay away from them. Black kids are trouble, and are always up to no good.”

That was my first introduction to racism. I’m sure if I looked back further I could find more examples, but this is the one that stood out above any others. There was no concern for the path or the dangers we may have encountered on our way to school, just simply the colour of the skin of those we walked with.

Two years ago, my son tells me about a friend of his from school. “His name is DeAndre, and he’s black dad.” He was perplexed as to why I didn’t care about his skin colour, and it instantly made me rethink everything I had taught my son. He thought I’d be upset over this, and when I quizzed him as to why he felt this way, he simply said “Because Grandpa says black people always cause trouble.”

For a multitude of reasons, I quit speaking to my father later that year. It has been 2 years since I’ve seen the man. Depending on what side of the fence you’re on, that can either be upsetting, or refreshing. It was a decision that was long overdue, and as I’m indifferent as to how a normal functioning family acts, I find the exclusion of his presence in my life quite refreshing.

During holidays, it can feel hollow from time to time, but as a family, we make the best of the situation. It’s not always easy seeing or hearing about people’s fantastic family gatherings since I do feel as if, by eliminating my father, and subsequently my mother who stands by his side, that I’m cheating my son and stepchildren of the ideal of “Family”. I wish I had the bond that most men do with their fathers, or that my children do with me; or some variation of father-son bliss. But I don’t, and when reflecting on how unhappy I was/am with my father, and what he stands for, I know the choice to alienate myself from him was the right one.

I always try to remind myself that my actions are mirrored on to my son. So, the day he told me his friend “was black”, I asked him this. “Do you think I’m a racist Nik?.” He didn’t think I was. This sparked a lengthy talk about how the colour of one’s skin, or where they come from, have little importance when it comes to friendships. In that moment, as in other father-son discussions we’ve had (such as the kneeling debate over the American anthem), I felt I did my very best to raise my son to be an educated, aware, and respectful young man.

This son of mine will stand up against hate, ignorance, and fear. My son has learned to treat others as human beings regardless of sexual orientation, skin colour, or beliefs. He had the opportunity to see and hear different views on the topic of race. And since I don’t want my son to be influenced by my own father, I am grateful that he gets to learn about racism from me.

I am not my father, and for that reason, I am thankful.