Papahood: More than DNA and a Birth Certificate

Monday, June 17, 2013

By Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes

With the recent controversies (and inexcusable racist backlash) over a Cheerios ad that featured an interracial family, I spent this Father’s Day celebrating those dads that may not look exactly like their children. And in my case, anything like their children.

My papa has light eyes, compared to my dark brown, almond-shaped ones. While my skin simply turns more bronze as I walk down the street, his fair skin easily becomes lobster red with any amount of sun exposure. His ancestral roots can be traced to various European countries, where mine hail from another continent entirely. When people ask him where he’s from, “Las Vegas” or “Chicago” is a sufficient answer, as opposed to the follow-up I receive: “No, where are you REALLY from?” When given a choice of where to eat for dinner, he’d likely suggest In’n’Out Burger over my Pho Saigon 8.

I am not biracial. But I grew up in a family that is.

My papa’s been my papa for over 25 years, and our story is just one of thousands. Our faces represent the faces of parents and their non-biological children across this country. Our relationship is one of love, trust, and choice.

I wasn’t even four years old when my mom re-married, though I do have fairly clear recollections of the day. Not because I knew it was the most special day of my parents’ lives, but because I got to wear a pretty dress and eat from the biggest cake I’d ever seen.

As many wives do, my mom took his name that day. But unlike many other small children of remarried mothers, I did not. I had the great fortune of being inside a family unit that valued personal decision-making. And family choice was among them. While my relationship with my biological dad (bio-dad for short) was fairly nonexistent, my mom and her newly re-married husband never forced a legal change in name or legal change in guardianship onto me. Of course, I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I remember two distinct moments when it crystallized.

Six years old: I marched home one day to tell off my parents. My anger and confusion stemmed from the feeling of being left out of the family: Mama was a Rhodes, Papa was a Rhodes. And me?! My last name was different. And while we all may have looked a little different, that was not reason enough for my name to be different. At that point, I had made it up in my mind that there must have been a conspiracy between my mom and dad that purposely left me out of the family. Upon this accusation, I was told that when they chose to marry, my mom made the personal choice to change her name. She went on to tell me that it would have been unfair of her to make that same choice for me without my consent or understanding. They explained what it meant for me to take his name and the steps we would have to take to do so. I pondered this for some time and decided that I really did want to share the family name. I felt more of a connection to their last name than the one I had at that moment.

Eight years old: After a particularly negative visitation with bio-dad, I came home in an emotional state and expressed a desire to change this whole “dad” situation I was in. I had two father figures, but only one that I actually wanted as a dad. Even at a young age, I knew that fatherhood was based on love and trust, not a piece of paper or string of DNA. Again, in a conversation about personal decision-making, my parents shared with me my available options and the subsequent outcomes. And like before, I pondered what this meant for my life, and eventually gave the green light to start the legal process of having the dad, who raised and loved me, become my legal father.

As years went on, our friendship and relationship strengthened. And while he likely never thought he’d raise an Asian-American daughter that he, in fact, did not biologically contribute to, he raised me better than most fathers I saw around me.

It’s funny – this whole “nature vs. nurture” thing – because as I look at myself as a full-grown adult, I see so much of my dad. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be equipped with some of my most beloved attributes: a vast knowledge of classic rock and pop culture, a deep appreciation of clever wit and sarcasm, or this rebellious spirit that is constantly questioning the world around me.

I share these stories because while I may not be biologically biracial, the biracial aspect of my family is something I hold dear. Fatherhood is not a role that every man directly chooses or can even excel at. But in my case, my papa and I actually did choose each other and that choice is what makes our relationship strong.

Papas in the world: Know that your love surpasses our many different identities, ethnicities, and skin colors. Here’s to celebrating our beautiful and powerful interracial families (and also to clever and well-executed responses to the racists who get upset by cereal commercials).

Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes works as State Strategies Manager at Advocates for Youth, managing state policy and youth mobilization around issues of reproductive and sexual health/rights. As a proud Las Vegas native and current DC-transplant, her passions lie in facilitating and creating intentional spaces for not only social justice movement-building, but for creativity and radical self-expression. 

This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.

No comments:

Post a Comment