When I read the familiar Nativity stories in the Bible, I find myself connecting with Joseph.
Because if I take those stories literally, Joseph was a step-father. His son bore none of his DNA. None. Jesus was an adopted child.
And I wonder how Joseph felt about that.
I don’t have adopted children. I have adopted grandchildren. They come from Ethiopia. Neither of them will ever remotely resemble me — an Irish-Scots Canadian with fair skin, blue eyes, and what used to be blonde hair.
I love them dearly. They are gradually overcoming the trauma of that first year to eighteen months in which they were unloved, neglected, possibly abused.
My heart melts as I watch them bond with their adoptive mother, our daughter. Sharon has proved to be a superb parent – patient and understanding, gentle and nurturing…
But we have no idea how that first year or so will affect them as they grow to maturity, or what genetic traits may eventually surface.
And so I have some fears – partly for them, but even more for me.
They run to me with their arms extended. “Grandpa!” they cry gleefully. They give me enormous hugs.
Sometimes they compare their dark hands with Sharon’s lighter ones, their curly black hair with Sharon’s long straight hair. The difference doesn’t bother them, yet. But it may, someday.
Someday, I’m sure, they will wonder why they’re different. Why they were taken away from their home country. What their biological mothers were like. Even if it doesn’t occur to them, their schoolmates will almost certainly draw attention to the differences. School children can be cruel that way.
Sharon has never hidden their origins. Pictures of Ethiopia flicker on Sharon’s computer screen-saver. For a while, their bedrooms were painted with African scenes.
I hope, I trust, I believe that they will survive the adjustments that challenge all adopted children. So much will depend on the friends they choose, as they progress toward adulthood.
And there I discover a streak of prejudice within myself that I hadn’t known I had. Because I picture them gathering in a cluster of high school youth, who are black like them. In that context, I become the outsider. And despite my efforts to banish any racial prejudices, a shadowy corner of my mind still seems to harbour unflattering stereotypes of rebellious black youths, school dropouts, gang members, Rastas…
I don’t want my grandchildren hanging out with that kind of person. I want them to associate with – well, with educated, intelligent, purposeful kids. Whom I tend to visualize as white. Like me.
I hope – dear God, how I hope! – that as they grow, as they test their limits (and ours!), that I never Never NEVER yield to the temptation to blame their genetic ancestry. If they carried my own DNA, I couldn’t. But they don’t. Somehow, I have to wipe that awareness out of my mind, to see only two delightful children whom I love with all my heart.
And I wonder if Joseph ever had similar thoughts about his adopted son.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; firstname.lastname@example.org.