“No, not everyone has a father,” proclaimed the six year old girl.
Since my conception my identity has been influenced by an unusual circumstance, which is my definition of family: my mother and myself. My being is credited to an anonymous male donor. Despite popular belief, donor is not synonymous with father. I have shared this fact frequently, most often to correct people’s assumptions about the idea of “family.” As I have grown and continually faced and responded to assumptions in regards to myself and my family, I have acquired the confidence to embrace my difference as an asset.
Kindergarten and first-grade were magnificently ordinary at my private and diverse elementary school. It was just as common for a student to have two dads or two moms as it was to have one dad and one mom. No one questioned why I only had one parent as the school welcomed many blended families.
But when I enrolled in public school in a traditional middle class community where Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day were celebrated like national holidays, perceptions shifted. I began receiving questions: “Why is your family tree only half completed?” “Did your dad die?” “Why weren’t you at the father-daughter dance?” Tentative and fearful of rejection, I avoided answering. As time progressed and the questions persisted, my six year old self hesitantly confronted curiosity and conjectures by sharing my truth. To my surprise, some people refused to accept my definition of family.
I was met with support and understanding as well as disbelief. Although it didn’t keep me up at night, I began to realize that my situation made some people uncomfortable. I interpreted the visible discomfort of some adults as distaste, and wondered if their judgement of what was natural and normal excluded me. Surrounded by a majority of “traditional” mom-dad families, I knew my world was different. I was uncharacteristically silent and awkward in new situations. I wasn’t sure how to respond to commonplace phrases (“take this home to your mom and dad”) or outright assumptions (“everybody has a father”).
The environment of middle school encouraged and fostered conformity. Normality was embraced and differences hidden. Although few comments were directed at me, I was aware and terrified that my difference would be exposed in certain environments, especially in Spanish class, which required partners to create a presentation about a classmates’ family. When I was partnered with my good friend, I was beyond relieved. I wouldn’t have to explain that I didn’t have a father as he already knew! My anxiety emerged again when the projects were presented in class. Head down, I listened to my partner’s quick presentation where no dad was mentioned. As I stared at the floor listening to the description of my mom in Spanish, I realized that my silence out of fear of rejection showed shame and ignominy.
High school opened doors of acceptance. Now it was Gender and Sexuality Alliance Day that was celebrated like a national holiday. As people started embracing their differences, I began to feel more comfortable sharing mine. When my basketball coach inquired about my family junior year, I confidently stated, “My family is my mom, who is a single mother by choice.” My coach responded “Is your father in the picture?” After explaining that I had a donor rather than a father, my coach apologized profuselyfor “asking too much.” With Anita Hill’s words in mind–“speaking truth to power”–my internal thoughts, experiences, and responses that had been brewing ever since I entered public school finally came to fruition. With pride, I expressed my love for my family and insisted that my coach should not apologize for inquiring about it. At this moment I finally realized that differences are an empowering asset. My social anxiety transformed to personal acceptance and social advocacy for others. I embrace the freedom.
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