I was at a group meeting of foster-to-adoptive parents and one of the parents said when someone asks about her family, she doesn’t tell her daughter’s story: “It’s her story to own,” she said. I thought about this in as much as I wondered how much we create the narrative for our children, whether they are adopted or not?
The idea of who is narrating has weighed heavily on me of late because I came from a parent-teacher meeting where we spoke about my son’s aggression and his anger. I had brought it up as the issue at hand and the teacher said she saw anger as something he is dealing with. In that meeting, I said other adoptive parents have told me that adopted boys are angry. I have seen this myself in some adopted boys. After that meeting, I took my son to an Aikido class because I thought this peaceful martial arts might be the best way for him to learn how to divert and channel aggression. When we were leaving, a woman approached me and said she had adopted her son and that she too had been adopted. Her son is around the same age as mine and she is about my age, so we naturally fell into an easy rhythm of conversation. She said her son is aggressive and the therapist they are seeing had recommended Brian’s Aikido class.
The next week at class, I sat near the mother and she said that my son reminded her of her own. She said Black boys are aggressive and that is why they grow up to be fierce and passionate leaders – she cited Michael Jordan, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – she said this is who they are. I looked at our boys on the dojo mat and thought about this – I know such loving and caring Black men that a one-size fits all fierce leadership quality seems too much a generalization. Even though I also know first hand of the anger Black men carry in their hearts after a lifetime of racism has colored their way of being – this is the fierceness that comes out in the writing, the oratory of anti-racist leaders, and the anger that some of my friends who date Black men complain about.
Marcus Garvey said: “At no time within the last five hundred years can one point to a single instance of the Negro as a race of haters.” I don’t believe being Black is the reason that my son is aggressive or angry. I tend to think that for my son it has come from transitions – leaving his birthmother to be with her aunt to be with me and my partner and then to live through the separation of our family and the leaving of our home on the bayou along with the dispersion of our assorted pets. He’s been through a lot for a five year old and perhaps the transitions he has experienced make him uneasy and fearful and therefore angry.
If I could try to find the roots of his anger – would it be that his mother is white? that he has two mothers? that his mothers are older? that he has an innate sense of distrust of his caretakers that was encoded in him as an infant? that his mothers are no longer together? that while in our best efforts to keep his world consistent, it has been uncertain? Perhaps all of these factors collude with his being a boy who has tendencies to act out perceived injustices.
How his being Black or racism impacts his life or stokes his anger and aggression is something that I am carefully becoming a student of so that I can guide him through a world that is remarkably unfair – I hope to show him as Mr. Rogers’s mother showed her son, “to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping … there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
I wonder though in just my saying that “my son is aggressive or angry,” how much I am narrating his story for him. If I give weight to the statement: adopted boys are angry or Black men are aggressive, am I co-creating a reality that is not entirely his and is not serving him? Perhaps he is simply a boy who is five years old and is figuring out the world much in the same way our puppy, Stella, is biting us and everything at every opportunity, because she is a puppy and that is how she is figuring out the world. She will grow up to be a dog who doesn’t bite – shouldn’t I have equal faith that my son will outgrow his tendencies towards aggression and anger as I help him learn to love the shadow side of himself – as I have learned to love my own spiritual shadows?