Sunday, June 14, I celebrated my son’s first birthday, as well as my fifth anniversary.
As my son awoke on this special day, he crawled to his feet in a crib surrounded by colorful, odd-shaped balls. He had never celebrated a birthday before. But he knew this day was different. Soon, the rituals of the day would begin to take shape, forming his understanding of celebrations and birthdays.
And all of this joy—it sprung in a climate of political unrest, COVID-19, and the ongoing fight for civil rights in the African American community.
Imagine the scene: a drive by parade turned block party, failed attempts at social distancing, and the awkward awareness of unspoken tension, masked with smiles and laughter.
Did I mention it was my anniversary?
A complicated blessing
Fathering in America (with brown skin) a precious baby boy (also with brown skin) is a complicated, beautiful blessing.
It means living in a constant state of extremes.
I remember the day my wife and I found out that our child was going to be a boy. My wife cried. Her tears were simultaneously joyful and sorrowful because she knew what it would mean to have a husband and a son with brown skin in America.
We both understood, and we were grateful and fearful.
As his father, I left the hospital overwhelmed, knowing that I would have numerous lessons to teach him surrounding the color of his skin.
4 lessons for my son
Here are four of the lessons I feel are critical for anyone fathering with brown skin. And while they are directed to my son, I hope they will speak to you wherever you are in your parenting journey, no matter the color of your skin.
Know that you belong to God.
You are your heavenly Father’s and he has a Kingdom teeming with all shades of skin.
You have been crafted by a perfect God who makes no mistakes, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you. This is what makes you special.
You have been created in the image of God. Yes, an image bearer with brown skin, dark eyes, wide nostrils, and strong coiled hair.
Right now as we speak, Jesus is in heaven fashioning a place just for you.
That is where you belong.
Our reality is a fallen existence.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, decided that they could define good and evil apart from God, and every person born since has had a distorted view of good and evil.
Historically, having brown skin in America meant that you were not all the things that God created you to be, that somehow you were less valuable and less beautiful.
I hope the moral excellence of your youthful innocence leads you to immediately understand that this is not right.
The only thing that is true about you is what God says is true. That is why you belong in his Kingdom and not this one.
Stand firm in his truth and cast off worldly lies.
There will come a day (or two. . .or three) when you will have to wrestle with the lies of the world and the truth from God. I pray these days never come, but you must be prepared for them either way.
I’ll assure you that I know the pain first hand.
I remember the time that I was threatened never to come to a friend’s house again, or else I’d see the barrel of a shotgun as a seventh grader. I remember my purity being in constant question simply because I had brown skin. I remember being at gunpoint, surrounded by police as a senior, for something I did not do—the list goes on.
However, I will tell you that this is why God called us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him.
As believers, it is our job to speak out against the lies that people spread about good and evil—that means reminding them that both can be found in all shades. I’ll also tell you that it is OK to cry. God gave us a whole book of laments in the Bible to assure us that our tears, pain, and experiences matter in his Kingdom.
God brings a greater joy.
The last lesson will come to you as a shock.
I’ll tell you that I can only give you this last bit of advice because you taught it to me first.
I will remind you of your first birthday, when you crawled to your feet, surrounded by colorful, odd-shaped balls.
You woke up with so much joy, and I entered your room with so much pain. I had forgotten about all of the things God said were true about me. I had been trying to make a home in this kingdom, but God was preparing one for me somewhere else.
I’ll tell you that on your first birthday, you taught me that even when this world brings deep pain, God brings an even greater joy.
Because what is true about us is what God says is true—even with brown skin.
Image credit: Maurissa Starks, see @rissajayshoots for more photos