By Parfait Bassale
It is Tuesday night, all is finally quiet. My two-year-old son is asleep. I silently go down the staircase, cautious the squeaky steps will not wake him. After 14 long steps, I make it downstairs, sit, recline my legs on a dark brown ottoman and take a deep sigh. In front of me a changing table neatly dressed with wipes, diapers, towels and newborn clothes. The room looks pristine, awaiting its newest tenant: baby Nouri. I am joyous and excited at the prospect of meeting, holding and staring at this gift from God.
The overwhelming feeling of joy has undertones of worry. I will be a father to two sons: Brown, mixed, First generation African descent, with Arab blood and raised as orthodox Christians.
Recent domestic and international news do not paint nor project a welcoming and thriving world for them. They will have to learn very quickly that aspects of who they are and where they come from are threats to many and causes of ridicule for some. My task as a father is to prepare them to safely walk in all these uncomfortable shoes.
As I ponder the age appropriateness of various topics we must discuss one day, I cringe and wish I did not have to. I run through how I must teach them to keep their composure and take the high road when without fail they are repeatedly “randomly” selected for additional control at airports. How because of the fears and stereotypes associated with brown men, their conduct must be without reproach; the way they dress, walk, talk and stand must take into account others’ fears and biases. How despite their best efforts, their Christian values will often run counter cultural and will face antagonism. And how, though disconnected from Africa, their names and the way they are raised will echo traditions and customs of the mother land.
Overwhelmed by these thoughts, I take a brief mental break to a world that knows no racial prejudice, no religious intolerance and no ethno-phobia. I dwell there a minute or two and speculate about the secret of its success. I conclude that all its inhabitants have abandoned reductionist notions of identity and embraced a more complex but yet inclusive one: that of sonship with the creator which then extends brotherhood to everyone.
I wake from this mental exercise and stare at the white wall in front of me. One thought is on my mind now: my sons’ identity. Who are they? Where are they from? How will they identify?
With the confluence of so many generations of individual stories and heritages, a simplistic label would be inaccurate and too myopic. Suddenly, three words come to mind: Sons Of God.
The undertone of worry now subsides to a feeling of hope. My task as a father is much simpler. I must teach them to see themselves as Sons of God and others the same way. I grab my guitar and paint the words of this song:
Should I let it go?
Finally take it slow?
Should this be my very last song?
Something for the next generation?
A song from my soul, before I go home?
I think I’ll say it all
Tell my sons that God is Love
And despite the pain in this world
There is one thing that can heal human hearts:
When we answer the call
To be the face of love.
This one last song
I am singing for my sons
These words are for you
I am counting on you
Shine wisdom in the storm
Be gods in human form in this world
You, Could make this world new.
Benin-born artist, educator and author Parfait Bassalé specializes in the use of storytelling, music and reflective inquiry as methods for teaching empathy. When he is not performing his original music in cafés and pubs in Portland, you can catch him in classrooms facilitating empathy workshops using his invention: The Story and Song Centered Pedagogy.
Editor’s note: I met Parfait in 2008 through my work at The Oregonian. At the time, he was pursuing a master’s in international conflict resolution at Portland State University. For a time, he and his wife lived on the same block as us in Northeast Portland. They later moved to another neighborhood but I was delighted to reconnect with Parfait, who is a gentle soul, a fine musician and a terrific father.
Tomorrow: “Respect the workplace” by Monique Gonzales