I didn't have a traditional relationship with my biological dad. Despite his absence, my mom never uttered a bad word about him. However, she did share that she moved on because he was not ready to be a husband or father but he was great guy. My mom did her best to make a happy home without him. We were very close to her clan and always had an array of loving adults, both men and women, in our lives. Things were so good that I didn't realize something was missing until she met Dan.
Dan and my mom met at a church in Chicago and started dating when I was almost five. I was a pretty outgoing kid and I loved the attention he showered on me. We went to museums, parks and family vacations. Dan would lift me up, swing me around like an airplane and crack up at my silly jokes. I grew to adore him. In hindsight I realize it wasn't just the fun. The sense of structure and the constant male presence made me feel secure. Soon it was clear that Dan was the man in our lives — it didn't matter that he was White... well, at least to us.
Within a year of dating, my mother and Dan decided to wed. My family liked him, but everyone made it clear: While race doesn't matter in our home it did to outsiders. Luckily, we didn't live for others. In a matter of months both my mother and I became Fogelsons. They got hitched and Dan adopted me. Life after marriage was great. My dad loved me and treated me as his own. Still, things weren't perfect. As I got older I realized "others" would ask questions about my "White dad." While my father was content shutting adults down with, "that's my daughter, that's all you need to know," it was harder for me to deal with the probing questions and lingering stares.
In the fourth grade I went through a phase were I'd almost jump out of the car before my father could hit park. I didn't want to cause a scene; I was trying to avoid one. My doting dad's goodbye hugs and kisses were sure to raise questions. My father seemingly understood my need for space. My mother reminded me that he loved me and my chilly behavior hurt his feelings. I just didn't want to be the topic of lunch table conversation.
By the time I entered middle school my family relocated from Chicago to the St. Paul, Minnesota area and things changed. First, there were a lot more interracial families. Second, my dad was the head coach at our school. This time around when kids asked about our relationship it was in awe, not judgment. Still there were hard times. I remember my mom warning me to be aware when I went into certain neighborhoods or stores because I would be treated differently as a Black girl. She reminded me that innocent touching could be perceived as stealing or good-natured fun could be misconstrued into being a public nuisance.
I resented the notion that I would have to live my life on guard because I was Black — especially because I had intimate knowledge of how others didn't. I was angry, but I learned that she was right. The world isn't fair. People wouldn't care that I'm an educated female with a great family. All they'd see was a Black girl. I keep those lessons close.
Today I'm working on balancing all of my identities. I am a Black woman who grew up in an interracial home (my parents had two children together) and has a bi-racial upbringing. I've been exposed to three worlds — Black, White and mixed — and have seen the benefits and challenges of all. Am I self-conscious some times? Yes. Would I trade in my mom and dad for a "regular family"? Never. I love both of my parents. Most importantly, I'm thankful that my father knows to remind me that I am beautiful naturally — I don't need relaxers or extensions. My brown skin and thick tresses are perfect. It's just another reason why I love being daddy's little girl.