Welcome to Peterson

I remember the first time I saw the small child who would be my second child.

He arrived at O'Hare airport in the arms of my fiance Paige. Not only was he asleep, he was also tiny, malnourished, color blind, and infected with an intestinal parasite. Did I mention he was black?

I will be the first to admit, albeit without any pride, that I was brought up to respect other races, yet was kept far away from anyone who wasn't white. Our after school specials taught us that no matter the color of our skin, we were all basically the same. Yet on grade school field trips all of us from Saint Vincent's were steered clear by the chaperones when the kids from other schools with non-white student bodies came close.

Little did I know I would have to learn my way around racial differences on my own. I had talked the talk, but had not taken a single step in walking the walk.

I recall two distinct encounters during the first few months with Peterson. The first was at Farm and Fleet, a place I was sure would be a hotbed of racial intolerance. The second was at Grand Buffet, a Chinese food buffet restaurant always filled with multi-ethnic patrons.

At Farm and Fleet I was walking with Peterson in my arms. At age 2 he was still very young and liked being held. I knew I was being watched and got very worried. I was still uncomfortable with the thought this child would be my second son, let alone a black one. Eventually the young man who was following me approached. He was black and thanked me for doing what I was doing. He explained that he and his brothers were adopted by a white family in Harvard who loved them very much. He appreciated that I was likewise loving a child who looked very different from me. I thanked him for the compliment, even though I had seriously done nothing to deserve it.

At Grand Buffet, the racism of a world filled with insecurity and hate reared its disfigured head. Peterson and I were walking to our table when an older white man actually called my son, "nigger." I was enraged and luckily my fiance' convinced me to leave after making a simple statement about how his words were inappropriate. 

In this picture, you see my two sons, both at age 5, both in the winter, nine years apart. I see these two images, placed together, and think about my instincts as a father. I knew capturing the picture of the young boy shoveling was important in each case. These are the memories that rekindle love felt for a child. As the evidence bears out, my instincts were the same no matter the color of the skin.

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