Carolyn Hax: A boyfriend and a father’s bigotry

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 14, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My boyfriend of 2½ years recently proposed. What I had expected to be a happy and exciting time has become discouraging and stressful due to an e-mail from my father. He told me we didn’t have the “right to pollute the gene pool with our biracial children,” and that, though he knew I was a grown woman and could do as I pleased, it should be understood that he didn’t approve.

During the entirety of my relationship, my father had never once stated his feelings on this issue — so I was somewhat shocked by his statement, though, not entirely surprised.

I want to respond by making it clear that while I’ve heard what he has to say, it changes nothing. I will marry this amazing man and, beyond this one e-mail, I will not hear or respond to anything on the topic ever again. Right now my anger makes the calm demeanor needed to write these words rather hard to come by. Any suggestions?


Papa Don’t Preach

I’m so sorry for your loss. I know this implies a death, but in a way there has been one. Your relationship with your father now has a “before” and an “after,” and the “before” father is gone. That’s a loss you’re no doubt grieving.

As for your response, you’ve got the first part written: “I’ve heard what you have to say. I will marry this amazing man and . . . will not hear or respond to anything on the topic ever again.”

You’ll notice “this changes nothing” is missing. It may not change your plans, but it profoundly changes your opinion of your dad, no?

If so, that’s fair to say. “Sadly, this changes my opinion of you. I am ashamed of/disappointed in/[your words here] you. I never thought I’d have to say that.” Use your own words, but make it clear what his bigotry cost him.

Re: Papa:

My folks took exception to my girlfriend-of-another-race. They were too refined to speak rudely, but made their non-acceptance crystal clear via arch comments about how they’d always hoped they’d have a lot in common with their daughter-in-law and (their idea of a zinger) “you have to think about the children.”

I ignored them and eventually married the girl, who became their favorite daughter-in-law and the mom of the grandkids of whom they are most proud. Within a few years of our marriage the folks came forth, shamefaced, with apologies — but I’ve always felt less of them for their racism. Such a shame.

Anonymous

Yes, a shame, even in the best case. Thanks for writing in.

Re: Papa:

Wow, “pollute the gene pool.” As the wife of one biracial person and (in an astonishing coincidence) the mother of another one, I’m shocked that anyone still thinks that. She might also mention that, barring a complete change of heart, he’s ruined any chance he has of having a relationship with his future grandchildren.

Anonymous 2

Agreed, although taking a hard line would also take away the surest path to redemption. The most powerful weapon against bigotry is love. His getting to know any grandkids is, see above, the best way to make him eat his words, and the ugliness that prompted them.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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