Change the World

Don't Call My African American Son 'Aggressive'

When another parent referred to his son as "aggressive" in school, Will armed himself with facts and data to make sure that term appeared no where on his school's record.

There are a ton of words people have used to describe my son: handsome, funny, polite, and even a handful at times. To say that I was unprepared when I arrived at his daycare one Friday last year and was told that another parent had used the word "aggressive" to describe my son would be an understatement.


We first met Deacon when he was 4 weeks old and an unnamed foster baby in the NICU. Born at 28 weeks, we spent the first 97 days in the hospital where he underwent two surgeries before coming home as a healthy, happy 7 pound, 4 ounce baby right after Christmas.

As I stood in the office that day while one of the professionals told me that a parent had used this term to describe my child, thoughts of our little boy fighting for his life in that tiny incubator at the hospital ran through my mind. I thanked the professional for the information, signed a form saying I acknowledged the conversation, and picked up my happy, smiling 2-year-old and headed to my car. On my drive home, Deacon sang songs, asked questioned, and shrilled with glee when he saw a bus pull up next to us at a red-light.

That evening was just like any other. We got home, he played until it was time for dinner and a bath, and then I tucked him into his new toddler bed and kissed him good night. By this time, my shock had turned to concern and frustration. Concern because we know very little about Deacon's birth family medical history and are hypersensitive to his actions and emotions. Frustration because I didn't know exactly what had happened and knew I wouldn't get answers until Monday morning at the earliest. Had I failed as a father? Did I miss a chance to discuss emotions with him which lead him to the alleged "aggressive" description?

In my professional and academic career, I have completed and authored research so my mind naturally went to evidence-based facts. What I found armed me with information that helped me better understand the struggles that my son would face as an African-American. Throughout the weekend, I feverishly created talking points, gathered data, memorized cited sources, and did everything short of creating a PowerPoint presentation to prepare for the discussion I would be having with the Director of my son's school on Monday.

On Monday morning, I walked Deacon to his class and kissed him goodbye before heading up to the Director's office. I started the conversation by stating that the word "aggressive" should not be used to describe my son going forward and I wanted to be sure that it wasn't marked on any records for him.

Will with his son Deacon

I then went into the facts regarding the situation as I saw it:

"As the white father of an African-American child, I must be vigilant in protecting my son from bias that I've never had to personally face. I also have to balance bias from situations where Deacon does need to be corrected and held accountable. As my son's father, I know that he will be 3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than I was, based solely on the color of our skin (U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 2012).

I'm also aware that Black elementary, middle, and high school students receive disproportionate punishment for the same offense as White students (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). Finally, research has proven that White students are more likely to be referred to the office for objective offenses like smoking or vandalism, compared to Black children who are more likely to be referred for subjective offenses like the expression of disrespect or threat (Skiba et al., 2011).

This directly correlates with the perception of racial stereotypes about Black people and that Black boys, in particular, are aggressive and dangerous. I tell you this to explain why the term "aggressive" concerns me. In the past, any report about Deacon's behavior has been objective and transparent, but suddenly we get a report that only stereotypes my son and doesn't offer evidence or reason."

Once I had finished my speech and provided solid evidence to support my concerns, I waited for the Director to respond. Ready to overcome any objection she may have, I allowed the awkward silence to continue while she gathered her thoughts. Instead of defense, the head of my son's school said, "Thank you."

She completely understood my concern for him and stated that we should always stand up for him if we feel that he is being treated different. She went on to tell me that she wasn't aware of all of the information I provided and guaranteed that she had personally witnessed Deacon in class and he was no different than any other 2-year-old at the school. Sometimes he got pushed down, and sometimes he pushed someone down. She guaranteed that Deacon was not seen as "aggressive" to his teachers or any other professionals at the school. She then explained that, as his parents, we had a right to know about any concerns another parent mentioned but that it was only an opinion.

Finally, she let me know that none of her staff members could label any student and that if there were any concerns, it would be a process that I, as his dad, would be a part of. I left his school that morning feeling better. Not because I had "won" or "proven my point," but because the process had helped prepare me for the reality of issues my son may face as an African-American male. With this knowledge, I will be able to identify bias toward my son and have conversations with him about how, just because of what he looks like, he may be considered "aggressive" when the reality is that he is like every other student in his class, only a different skin tone.

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Family Stories

Adopting an Older Child Through Foster Care Was the Best Path for These Dads

After learning more about older-child adoption through You Gotta Believe, Mark and Andrew decided it was the best way for them to form their family.

"Hey! I got adopted today! These are my dads, Mark and Andrew!"

Jeremy was 16 years old when he found out his new dads wanted to adopt him.

In late August 2017, husbands Mark and Andrew Mihopulos, 34 and 36 respectively, remember driving out to the east end of Long Island. They knew at the very same moment they were driving, social workers were letting Jeremy know they wanted to adopt him. "We expected Jeremy to be hesitant or feel mixed emotions," shared Mark. "We didn't know how he would feel about having two dads and about having white parents and family, as he is a black young man."

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

This Dad Went 'Numb' After a Painful Failed Adoption, But Learned to Love Again

After a painful failed adoption that brought these gay dads to the brink of realizing their dream of fatherhood, Paul "went numb" for several months before trying, and succeeding, again

In the fall of 2010, what was suppose to be a non-committal daytime date in Seattle, ended up being 3 days of sharing life experiences, unpacking emotional luggage and the moment I realized I had met my future husband. Just under four years later, we were saying "I Do", and became Paul and Jamie Trudel-Payne.

Jamie, a devilishly handsome All-American freelance writer, came from a tightly woven, kind and virtuous household. While I, Paul, a cute (ish) bi-racial (Mexican/Caucasian) small business owner, came from a somewhat intrusive, rambunctious and very large Hispanic family. The desire and support received from both families was immense and just six months after being married, we began the adoption process.

Wearing rose-colored glasses we quickly learned that our adoption journey was going to be anything but rosy.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

4 Emotional Videos of Gay Dads Meeting Their Children for the First Time

Watch four emotional videos of gay dads meeting their children for the first time!

"It was love at first..."

"Uninhibited caring and love..."

"It's instant and it's overwhelming..."

It's true. For many of us, those first precious moments are tales we're excited to one day share with our kids, telling them how much we wanted to be their dads. Whether it's tears of joy, a loss for words, a fist pump in the air, or an immediate "I love you," we'll each remember the first time we laid eyes on our children.

Watch these four first moment videos of these amazing dads, and we guarantee, they'll be no dry eyes in the house.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Family Stories

Philippe "Swiped Right" on This Handsome Young Dad

At first, Philippe wasn't sure he could date a man who was a dad. But Steve, and his son Gabriel, have helped him realize a "fatherly side" of himself he didn't know he had.

"It's been one hell of a ride since the beginning," said 26-year-old Steve Argyrakis, Canadian dad of one. He was 19 when he found out he was going to be a dad and the mom was already several months along in her pregnancy. Steve, who lives in Montreal, was struggling with his homosexuality but wanted to do the "right thing," so he continued to suppress his authentic self. "I was so scared about the future and about my own happiness, that I had put aside my homosexuality once again."

A couple of months later, little Gabriel was born, and it was love at first sight.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

Ain't No Party Like a Gay Dad Dance Party

Gay dads singing and dancing with their kids is EXACTLY what you need to get your weekend started right.

Who jams to Led Zeppelin with their kids?

Who rocks some sweet moves to Kelly Clarkson?

Who sings along with their kids in the car?

Who breaks it down with a baby strapped to them in a carrier?

We all do! But these guys happened to catch it all on tape for us to enjoy! Thanks dads. 😂

Keep reading... Show less
Podcast

Traveling With Kids

If you feel that after a vacation with the kids YOU need a vacation (or a short stay in a mental institution) – you're not alone!

Traveling with kids is not always easy, sometimes we want them to have so much fun that we forget to have fun ourselves. We brought on Instagram-celebrity traveler and blogger Devon Gibby to share his experience and give us some tips on traveling with kids (and also without!)

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

Retired NFL Player Reveals He, His Husband and Ex-Wife Live and Raise Kids Together

Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer says "we get in fights" thanks to the unique co-parenting arrangement, but that they're "doing the best we can."

Former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jeff Rohrer, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1982 to 1989, came out as gay not long ago and became the first NFL player to marry another man, Joshua Ross. Jeff is a father of two teenage boys, who he had with his ex-wife, Heather Rohrer. In a recent interview with People, Jeff, Joshua and Heather discussed their unique co-parenting situation.

"It wasn't that Jeffrey came out to me, but once I figured it out, it was obvious he was gay," Heather said. "He thought it was wrong; he was so angry. He thought his children wouldn't love him, that he'd lose his job. I tried to help him. I kept trying to tell him it was okay, that it was no big deal. But it was to him."

Today, all three adults live together, along with their two children, Isabella, 16, and Dondillon, 15.

"We get in our fights, but we find a way to make up. We're just trying to do the best that we can," Joshua said.

"Jeff and Josh are my family, and we're a better team together than apart," Heather said for her part. "Being together for the kids is the important thing for us. It's been difficult to get to this place, but it's worth it."

Read the entire piece on People.

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse