Of Compasses and Fathers

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Great piece, Tod.

    Two response:
    1.) A Thursday Night Bar Fight suggestion: What might the young’ns actually be right about?
    2.) My boss often shares a quote (the author escapes me): Our job is not to prepare the road for the child, but the child for the road. We cannot smooth the road, but we can prepare them for the bumps. Giving them a compass seems like a damn good way to prepare them for that road.Report

  2. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    Very nice. My dad had a strange relationship with multi-racial marriage. When I was a kid there was, for a short time a mixed race couple at our church, black husband, white wife, youngercthan my parents, and my parents had them over to our house for Sunday dinner a couple of times. They didn’t regularly invite people over, so ths seemed to indicate real liking of them (and indeed, in my very hazy recollection, they were nice folks).

    But when my sister got serious with a black guy my dad hit the roof and very nearly disowned her, refusing to join for Christmas dinner if the guy (about as white a black guy as The Fresh Prince’s Carleton, mind you, and infinitely nicer to my sister than her prior white boyfriend) was there.

    But when I married my part Indonesian wife, he called it the best decision I’d ever made (not that he didn’t think that was a low bar!).

    But the initial compass heading was set by the action of inviting the mixed race couple. The reaction to my sister’s boyfriend seemed, as a result, not normal but a violation of the established rule.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to J@m3z Aitch says:

      Considering the most recent thread on Martin and other examples from my life, it has been my observation that (surprise surprise) a lot of people can be very weird with their issues on race.

      I’ve seen a lot of people make horrible and bigoted comments about blacks and Hispanics while holding Asians as comparable to Whites (especially White Protestants) in their industriousness, work-ethic, intelligence, etc. I think there is a whole school of study on how groups like the Irish, Italians, and Jews became “white” in American culture and society.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

        there’s a good book called, of all things, “how the irish became white”.Report

      • Avatar Peter in reply to NewDealer says:

        One interesting thing is that we don’t normally classify people of part-Asian ancestry as fully Asian. Nor, for the most part, do they classify themselves as such. Hapas (one-half Asian) most often identify as mixed, if indeed they think about their race at all, while as far as I can tell Quapas (one-quarter Asian) generally get subsumed into the white category with at most an occasional nod to their “exotic” background. In contrast, with the One Drop Rule being as strong as ever, people who are as little as 1/16th or even 1/32nd black consider themselves (and are considered by others) as fully black. Some even take prominent positions in the black community, for instance Benjamin Jealous and Valerie Jarrett.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Peter says:

          I’ve never heard the term Hapas and Quapas before. I know several people of partially-Asian decent but this never came up. Though your theory works only if the rest of their ancestry is white. If they are part-Asian and Black or Hispanic that is another matter.

          Of course then there are my people, the Jews. White when convenient or Jewish when convenient. For good and for ill.

          What is Einstein’s old joke?: If my theory of relativity is proven correct, The Germans will call me a German and The French will call me a citizen of the world. If my theory of relativity is prove incorrect, the French will call me a German and the Germans will call me a Jew!Report

  3. Avatar Angela says:

    Happy Fathers Day!
    I like the compass metaphor.
    And it’s still so hard, watching them sail into the reef, knowing the chances of survival are small.Report

  4. Avatar Peter says:

    Interracial marriage would be less controversial if it weren’t for the enormous gender skew.Report

  5. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    Being slightly younger than you, I don’t recall anyone that had an influence in my life having issues with inter-racial marriage. I do remember my mom (white) dating a black man when I was in about 6th grade. I remember her trying to talk to me about it when I was playing on the computer. She asked me if it bothered me that he was black, or if it would bother me to have a black step dad. I recall being very confused and saying something like “of course not, why would that bother me”. I guess I never thought about it, but we were living in Texas at the time and perhaps she thought it would be a problem with some of my friends???

    Anyway, thanks for sharing :). You sound like a great dad, and I’m guessing your father would be very proud. Happy Father’s Day!Report

  6. I never had arguments over race with my father, in part because I was too afraid to contradict him. He got very angry–frighteningly so–when someone disagreed with him about almost anything. His racial views were really not that progressive at all, although I imagine they’re not very unusual either.

    In his later years, he stopped using the n-word, but I don’t think he ever really chose to challenge his own racism.

    Two of my brothers married latina women, and my father seemed to accept them, but I do think it would have been very different if the new spouses had been black instead of latina (the racism works differently). He would have been probably very upset if it was a question of his two daughters (my sisters) marrying non-white people.

    I’ve still learned a lot from him, and now, about 5 1/2 years after his death, I’m learning more. First, there are the negative lessons. I can be just as weak and bigoted as he was sometimes, and sometimes even a bully, and his life is a reminder of how far such things can go and how I need to check that tendency.

    Second, there are the positive lessons. Whatever his racial views, he seemed to treat most persons of color he met courteously. (I know of one exception–and while it wasn’t a clear out-and-out example of racism, it was disturbing.) Courteous treatment in public is no great victory for tolerance, acceptance, or welcoming, but it is at least an indication that he realized, on some level, that it’s wrong to treat people differently for arbitrary reasons. Toward the end of his life, he grew to accept and welcome my sister, who is gay, and her partner. In fact, her partner and he grew very close, and she was at his bedside when he died. That’s a sign that things can and do indeed change, and we can choose to change for the better.

    I also learned from him to distrust experts and formal credentials, like college degrees. He was a journeyman electrician who had to deal with college-educated managers or engineers who often (by his account, at least) didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s an attitude often derided as “anti-intellectual,” and at its worst, it can be that (as the first, but not only, person in my family to graduate from college,–and as a liberal arts major, no less–I can attest to that). But at it’s best, it can be a healthy attitude to others’ claims of authority over you, and it can feed a healthy skepticism of things done in the name of “our own good.” It also has the potential for valuing people for what they choose to do rather than for whatever hoops they may have jumped through or whatever class-privileges they were born with. It’s just too bad that this valuing did not challenge his racism to any significant degree.Report

  7. Avatar Barry says:

    Thanks for posting this, Tod.Report

  8. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    The largest row I ever had with my parents was because they had failed to live by the advice they had given me. All my life I’d been told that a husband & wife always stand together & back each other up in public, even if they disagree in private. Then, when they got into a disagreement with my wife, they demanded I stand with them over her.

    We didn’t speak for 4 years after that.Report

  9. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I choked up a bit when I read this. Not least because I recently had the chance to meet your boys and can clearly see the very fine young men they are growing to be — people, Tod puts his money where is mouth is on this stuff.

    But mostly I got a little bit misty because you made me think of my own father and his guidance given to me — guidance which as you illustrate, was no doubt deeply uncertain for him to dispense but which he did anyway, out of love.Report

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