Full disclosure: The headline is a lie. My daughter isn’t actually 2 years old yet. She’ll be 2 next month. But I remember, before she was born, making fun of parents who’d tell you their child’s age in months instead of years. And then I became one of those parents. So today, this is me attempting (and likely failing) not to be a hypocrite.
Parenthood, so far, has been an anthology of those moments: a salmagundi of shit you said you’d never do and thought you’d never do and find yourself doing. Saturday morning, for instance, my daughter and I choreographed a dance to the “Elmo’s World” theme song. I’m a slightly better-than-terrible dancer, and she’s 23 months old, so it wasn’t a complicated dance. It was basically just a pared-down version of the cabbage patch. But if you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be caught cabbage-patching to Elmo, I’d first wonder why you had such an arbitrarily specific vision of my future. And then I’d ask who kidnapped me because this act must clearly be something my captors are forcing me to do.
I also never thought a tiny person who still sleeps for half the day would possess the power to hurt my feelings. But that happens a little whenever I’m trying really, really, really hard to make her laugh and she looks at me like she’s a clerk at the DMV explaining to someone in line that they completed the wrong form and need to go back to the back of the line. Sometimes I want to scream, “EVERYONE ON THE INTERNET THINKS I’M FUNNY; PLEASE LAUGH AT ME, YOU TINY TYRANT!” But then she’ll look at me and say, “Snack, please.” Which means I need to hold my tears and go find her some blueberries.
Mostly, though, I never imagined being as invested in someone’s growth and survival and happiness as I am with hers. My primary jobs as a parent, I’ve learned, are to 1) keep her alive and safe and healthy, 2) do whatever I can to help her grow and mature and reach her potential and 3) get the fuck out of the way when getting the fuck out of the way is necessary so that I don’t stunt that growth and limit that potential.
And I, like all other parents, am learning on the job. I make mistakes and hope these mistakes prove to be inconsequential. I try to remove all of the weird and awkward and unflattering parts of me and give her nothing but the good stuff. Which I know is a fool’s errand because if that stuff is a part of me, it’s a part of her, too, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. And I want to fill her with hope and a metaphysical limitlessness. I want her to exist as if walls and ceilings and gravity haven’t been invented yet.
And I need to separate this from the feeling that I am also possessed with that she needs to be protected from her country—her home.
Like the rest of the country this morning, I woke up to the terrible news of the terrorist attack in Las Vegas. When I first hear about these types of mass shootings, they remind me of lightning bolts. So sudden and random in their devastation. And largely unpreventable. What could you possibly do to prevent yourself from being somewhere where someone just decides to start shooting?
That initial feeling dissipates, though, when remembering that, like avoiding water and trees and open spaces and polelike objects when thunderstorms strike, there are substantive ways to help limit the chances of something like Las Vegas happening. But America isn’t interested enough in doing those things. It continues to choose, instead, to allow itself to clutch and horde increasingly efficient human-killing devices to guard itself against some existential and nonexistent racial threat. America is so guilt filled about what it’s done to nonwhite people—and so fearful of retribution—that it’s willing to kill itself in order to keep itself armed.
And this is the country my 23-month-old daughter lives in. It is also a country where her president and her government are openly antagonistic toward people who happen to be black and happen to female—two things she happens to be. It’s a country where the mere acknowledgment that—because she happens to be black and happens to be female—she might have different adversities to face from someone who is only one of (or neither of) those things is met with violent resistance.
My wife and I have, to the best of our abilities, childproofed our house to protect her from the kamikaze streak young children have. We feed her nothing but organic foods; a month ago, a family member attempted to give her a piece of a Kit Kat, and she bit into it and made a face like she’d just swallowed bird poop. We’re going to teach her Spanish and French, arming her with a trilingual and door-opening weapon. We plan to encourage her to play sports so that she’s equipped with whatever positive attributes being on a team and participating in a competitive physical activity will give her.
Although, once she comes of age, she’ll be free to choose and practice whichever religious beliefs she feels comfortable with, we’re raising her as a Christian. We take her to church with us and we pray for and with her, equipping her with a spiritual shield. We even started protecting her before she was born, choosing to wait until we were financially capable of providing a comfortable life for her before having her.
But she was born in a place—in a country—where tens of millions of her countrymen are devoted, unconsciously and intentionally, to making her less safe and her already precious life more tenuous. As her dad, I’m willing to do whatever I need to do in order for her life to continue and be good. But as a black American man raising a little black American girl, I don’t know if that’s enough here. And that scares the fuck out of me.