November 9, 2008
Sometimes we're ambushed by our own emotions.
I had no idea how deeply and personally I cared about the election of Barack Obama until I found myself weeping on election night. I don't believe that I allowed myself to hope for so much. But a huge weight lifted off me – a weight I hadn't even known was there. This is a personal moment of liberation, and to understand it, you have to know something about my rainbow family.
Every week I write about things I care strongly about – but I never write about my children. For one thing, they didn't choose to have a writer for a father, and they are entitled to privacy. But just once, after Obama's astonishing triumph, I need to talk about them.
I have four sons and a daughter, and the five of them have four nationalities. They are all Canadian, but by birth, one son is American, another is Danish, and my daughter is British. They live all over the place – the West Coast, the Prairies, Ontario, the United States.
Two of my sons are adopted. The wee Dane was five months old when we met. I was courting his mother, and we used to say that all three got married together. The other adopted son is black, born in Halifax to an inter-racial teenage couple. He was nine months old when he joined my earlier family, more than 40 years ago. His partner is a white woman, but he has two adopted black children.
One of my white sons married a proud and lovely Jamaican woman, and their union gave me a delightful grandson, now 19. The colour of Barack Obama's skin reminds me of my grandson's, and my son's. My daughter-in-law is more the colour of Michelle Obama, and her excitement and joy at Obama's candidacy was inspiring.
Another white son married an enchanting Peruvian woman of Inca, Spanish and Chinese ancestry. Her parents cherish their “gringo” son-in-law, and consider us “co-parents” through the marriage of our children -- a marvellous Latin American concept. That marriage has given me an adorable olive-skinned grandson.
This rainbow family – Danish, French, Irish and Scottish, with a generous component of African and vivid highlights of native, Hispanic and Asian – this Canadian rainbow family did not come about by accident. My first wife and I were not freedom riders and civil disobedients, but we lived in California in the 1960s; we were of that generation and we shared its dreams.
Later, as students in England, we became close to an Afro-American couple from Arizona, and talked for long hours with them about the gap between our races, and how our generation might close it. Those talks gave us courage to adopt a heart-melting boy who had been born into that gap – and we did it as much for our own sakes as for his. We wanted another child, but we also wanted our white children innoculated against racism by growing up with a much-loved brother from another place in the human spectrum.
But my children and grandchildren cannot be equal while there are still places that some can go and others cannot, ambitions that some can achieve and others cannot, filters that cast aside people of colour just because they are people of colour. The unidentified weight on my shoulders is the weight of racism, and Obama's triumph liberates me, too, by affirming that there is no weight that cannot be lifted, no moat that cannot be crossed, no door so heavy that it cannot be prised open with skill and dedication and love.
Our family, like others, has known failure, sadness and loss. But we have loved and honoured the whole spectrum of humanity, and I am helplessly grateful for the experience. Our rainbow family prefigures a brighter, better world, a world we ardently wish to inhabit, a world in which everyone on earth is a part of a single, vast rainbow which is the human family.
When a black man can be President, that world I want for my kids seems immeasurably closer. And that's why I wept on election night.
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