By Washington Osiro
There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a father, a parent. For as long as I can remember, I loved children. I love their purity of emotions and of thought – both qualities they unfortunately lose the older they get. I adore their shameless honesty and unconditional love. I am completely enamored by the ease with which they forgive even the worst transgressions and disappointments.
Yes, I wanted a child and I was also aware of the challenges of raising a black boy in America.
By the time our son was born, all 7lbs. 6oz. and twenty-one inches of celestial joy, I had lived in the US for over twenty-two years. I had seen and experienced enough incidents and moments of life as a black man in America that confirmed the pitfalls, if not outright perils – of being a black man in America; of raising a black male in these United States. The fear was so palpable that from the get-go, I shared them with the woman who would carry and eventually bear our only child.
I also remember the moment that changed everything including my fear.
His Mom and I were in the sterile white room awaiting an ultrasound. She was laid up on the bed/table and I was seated next to her nervously waiting for the Ob/Gyn. The ultrasound technician, a plump and pleasant white lady, stood across from me gently applying the gel onto Mom’s belly. The door to the room opened and the Ob/Gyn, a petite Asian lady walked in sporting the obligatory stethoscope around her neck and clutching a clipboard.
“Well good morning?” She crisply offered.
“How are we feeling today?” She continued.
Without waiting for a response, she continued “Let’s see what we have.” This was a cue for the technician to begin the procedure.
“Oh, there is the spine. It appears to be developing well. Four chambers of the heart. Nice. One, two, three, four – all fingers are present.” The two healthcare workers efficiently worked through the procedure calling out their observations in languid but confident clips. They had obviously done this before.
Mom was giddy with anticipation while Dad, the gravity of the moment suddenly upon him, became quiet and pensive.
“Oh, what do we have here?” The doctor queried.
“Looks like you are having a boy!” She announced.
“Really?” Mom asked. “How can you tell?” She continued.
“Oh, I am sure!” the two workers announced near-simultaneously.
“It IS a boy!” the technician reiterated.
“Aww……. He wanted a girl.” Mom said.
“He already has her name picked – Miko. He wanted a daughter.” She continued. She was right. I wanted a daughter. However, still taking in the enormity of the moment, the gender of our yet-to-be-born child suddenly became the least of my worries. Immediately after hearing the sex of the developing fetus, other details about its development became even more important than its gender: The forming eye sockets and cortex and toes, the shapeless blotchy blob in the middle of the screen that “was a normal-looking chamber of the heart – from a different angle” now became important, not only to the technician’s trained eyes, but for my edification. My concerns about the gender of the child were immediately replaced by silent prayers for the healthy and complete development of our unborn baby. My mind raced to scenarios that many parents in our situation, regardless of race, have been in – with markedly different and life-altering observations:
Feedback from the attending Ob/Gyn about a possible problem with the development of the unborn child.
Fortunately, that was not the case in our visits and months later, on April 23rd, 2003, we welcomed our son.
It would be an understatement of monumental proportions were I to describe that early Thursday morning as the happiest day of my life because it was not. The euphoria of the 3AM birth of our son was simply indescribable. Along with his maternal Grandma, Mom and I welcomed the one person who forever changed all our lives. They say that raising a child is akin to wearing one’s heart on their sleeves – permanently. The late Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran is less dramatic but just as profound in his take on children (The Prophet). In Gibran’s words, we became the archers aiming the arrow that was our only son and sending him off into the world – as a black boy in America. All we could hope and pray for is that we had raised him well; that the rest of America would see in him, at a minimum, his humanity – especially as our “cute” black son grew to become a young black man.
After all, this was an America that saw people who looked like him, not as “cute,” but as a “suspect” or the “suspect” and no, I was not being irrational – not given the events of the last two weeks – descendants of the fears that were at the core of my desire to have a black baby girl instead of a black baby boy.
From “Jogging While Black” to “Birdwatching While Black” and finally just “Being Black” in America, the world has been treated to an American society that sees and treats its black citizens as sub-humans. I still cannot get over the video-taped murder of George Floyd under the literal knee of ex-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
How does someone sworn to “Serve and to Protect” ALL treat a fellow human who pays their salary with such callousness and heartlessness – unless they do not think of them as humans worthy of humane treatment?
And how does one explain the conscious mocking and potentially deadly threats of one Amy Cooper to birdwatcher Chris Cooper spitefully weaponizing the term “African American man” during her 911 call to the New York Police dispatcher?
It is my fear of incorrectly answering variants of these and many like questions that were at the heart of my desire to have a black girl instead of a black boy even though black women such as Sally Hemings were just as susceptible to being brutalized by the forefathers of Chauvin and Ms. Amy.
I was afraid then and I am absolutely terrified now. I am terrified for the safety and well-being of our teenage son. Our “cute” little boy who was a fixture at my place of work now has a bullseye on the front and back of his hoodie and it hurts to the core. It hurts to think that some non-black friends and colleagues who took turns walking our toddler around the office might now be afraid of his young black male mien.
It is also this reality that formed my reality, some seventeen years ago; a reality that in retrospect, was as wrong-headed as it is one I would be ill-advised to disregard.
Notwithstanding, our young black son or “Our Conscience”, as most parents are wont to say, is a beautiful, thoughtful, and compassionate soul.
He loves his parents and is unafraid to speak truth to either of them.
Our teenage black son is loyal, respectful, and protective of his friends. He tries to use good judgement – most of the time – and listens to his peers – a virtual United Nations of schoolmates. And even as he wrestles with his faith, the young man has internalized the Golden Rule and seeks to do unto others as he would want them to do to him.
An incredible artistic talent, the Kenyan in our son manifested itself when he barely hit his teenage years. In our periodic evening runs around the neighborhood, the thirteen-year-old left me so far behind – that he got worried something had happened to me!
“I was worried Dad.” He offered when I met him walking back – to look for me!
“I don’t like sweating Father,” he beseeched me when I needled him to hone this latent talent and eager to allow him to find himself, I obliged.
“Dad, why don’t you just listen to Mom?” He implores whenever his Mom and I begin to argue – again, in my efforts at modeling good behavior, I indulge him.
Our young black man is the perfect blend of Momma’s Boy and his Father’s Son – muddling his way through the teenage years the best way he knows how. The former characterization tears and tears me up as I remember some of George Floyd’s plea – for his Mama – as Derek Chauvin kneed the life out of him.
Unfortunately, some in America will not see our young black son as the quintessential Momma’s Boy or his Father’s Son.
They will not allow him the “youthful indiscretion” his non-black friends are afforded by the truckloads. They see him as an animal – to be subdued – even if it means asphyxiating the last gasps of air out of him – with the camera video running.
And all his Mama and his Pops can do is love him and pray and hope that others see the beautiful humanity that we see in him.