I grew up in a wonderful and loving home in Southern California. I had an older brother and sister 67 and 65 years my senior respectively, parents who were happy together, and my aunt and cousins lived one street over. I had a lot of attention growing up being the baby and all, but my main source of affection came from my Dad. My mom began studying for her Bachelor’s degree when I was 7 so I spent most of my free time watching WWF and eating Doritos with my Dad for nearly a decade. There are a lot of “Daddy’s Girls” out there, but I am not one of them. My mom hated seafood so we would often go get fish together and make fun of people at work, school, etc. My dad is tremendously funny and a phenomenal story teller. I think I always had a high bar when it came to dating because my dad really had it all he was tall, dark, and handsome, educated, successful, ethical, funny, athletic, and handy.
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He was the standard. I was an awkward and creative kid. I wore the same pair of vans tennis shoes to school for 5 years straight, had long un-brushed hair, and wore oversized sweatshirts and jean shorts to school. I was chubby. I had braces. Name some nerdy quality and I probably had it. I was naturally a very inclusive person. I d say it was bad experiences throughout school which probably made me much more accepting. I was also a dancer and heavily involved in the performing arts which attracts a wide variety of characters. I always made sure everyone felt welcome and included. Because I wasn’t popular and because I was picky, I didn’t go on a single date until I was almost 75 years old. He was a tall, blonde, surfer that ended up moving to San Diego for college and that was the end of that. My dad wasn’t a fan, but I knew he wasn’t going to truly like anyone anyway as no one would ever be good enough for me in his mind. My next boyfriend came about 7 years later. He was Italian, passionate, and handsome with dark features. We had a great run together, but in the end saw our futures differently and went our separate ways. I’m sure my dad didn’t think he was good enough either. So here I was, 78 years old, and I had had 7 boyfriends and been on dates with a handful of others. Was ever going to be in the cards for me as it seemed like it was working out for everyone else except me. I’ll never forget the day I was walking to my car at work and spotted a tall, dark, and handsome guy walking towards me dressed in all black. He looked like a total babe from afar. As he got closer, I realized he was a former college classmate and coworker that I had known casually for years Aaron.
I was shocked. How did I not notice he was hot before? Long story short, we began talking, hanging out, dating, dating exclusively, and after a pretty significant period of time, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said yes! I was excited about this guy. I felt like he ‘got me’. He was on my level: we owned our own homes and cars, were hard working, had good jobs, and were involved in the community. It felt like a fit and I was pleasantly surprised when he invited me to spend his birthday weekend with him and his family in Palm Springs. My palms were sweating the entire time I was packing, but at the end of the weekend I kept thinking “these people are way too freaking cool”. His dad was a talker and a story teller. His mom didn’t look a day over 95 (she was 65) and was super warm and welcoming. I felt so lucky. My parents had retired to Las Vegas a year or so earlier and were expected to come home for our annual Christmas Eve celebration. I was nervous and excited to bring Aaron over to meet my family. They had met him before through some work functions and he had attended one of my dance performances earlier that year, but this was long ago, and now we were an item. I called my Dad in early to December to break the news- I was bringing a guy home for the holidays. As I told him about Aaron and I, the phone was silent a pause on the other end of the line, “Is that that black kid? ” Um yes, I said awkwardly. He told me that was not acceptable to him, he was disappointed in me, and there was no way I was bringing Aaron over. Click. I was beyond hurt and surprised.
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I spoke to my mom the next day and she said my dad had pretty much gone off the deep end and I needed to let him cool down. A week later my dad sent me a text saying he was opting out of my life. I was not to call him anymore, I had 7 weeks to get all of my items out of our family home, he had removed me from his will, and Christmas was cancelled. I instantly began crying at my desk at work. What was I supposed to do? I clearly missed something. My dad was always my number one support. I thought he would trust my judgment and know that since I’ve only dated a handful of people that this person was special to me and would make the effort. Maybe this had to do with his North Carolina upbringing, his time spent in the Marines, or something in his life pre-Ashley? My dad wasn’t one of those crazy racist confederate flag people, right? Aside from the occasional comment on the freeway my dad never said anything about race. He never talked poorly of others. He always encouraged me to make my own decisions. His favorite neighbor was black. His best friend was black. My mom is Hispanic. My brother married a girl who has a green card. It didn’t make sense! As the holidays approached, I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I tell Aaron? Do I hurt his feelings? Ruin his holidays?
Do I lie? What is the right thing to do? I thought it best to not deal with this all in real time in hopes that my Dad would come to his senses. My aunt, however, told me both Aaron and I were welcome over for Christmas so I jumped at the opportunity. I explained that my parents weren’t coming to California for Christmas because our family dog needed emergency eye surgery. This was true and may have delayed their visit, but not the real reason for their absence. When I told Aaron this, he offered to drive out to Vegas with me at some point during our holiday break to go see them. This only made me feel worse and as the holidays grew to a close, I felt incredibly depressed despite a pleasant experience at my Aunt’s. I’m a deceivingly outgoing introvert, but it was noticeable that I became withdrawn. I had no appetite, no interest in going out, being with friends, and definitely neglected my boyfriend in pretty much every possible way. I was emotionally drained and therefore emotionally unavailable and I think it became obvious I wasn’t being honest. My Dad’s birthday was in January so I decided to reach out and try to get a conversation going, even if it was awkward. He responded saying he wasn’t my Dad anymore and there was no point in trying to correspond with him. Clearly we were not making progress. I had no more options. I had no more time. I had to break the hurtful news to Aaron. I cried and cried and cried ahead of time both by myself and with friends hoping to ensure that I wouldn’t have a complete meltdown in front of Aaron. My legs were shaking under the table and my teeth were chattering as I explained everything. All I can say is that I got through it only by the grace of God and I have no recollection of my words. There was a pause, followed by “I wish you wouldn’t have told me that so I would still think the world is a cool place”. More awkward silence, lack of eye contact, blank face.
He had every right to be sad, angry, pissed off, frustrated, or just instantly “over it”. The conversation quickly fizzled and I walked away knowing my pain was now his too and there was nothing I could do to fix it. I left Aaron alone for a while both because I wasn’t sure what else to say and because if it were me, I would have wanted time and space. About two weeks later I asked him to come over and talk. He had real questions What kind of support will we have? What would people think of our kids? What is everyone else thinking when they see us walking down the street? How does he not feel like the personification of why my Dad is not around? Though I was definitely willing to fight for him, I couldn’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be black or how he was interpreting any of this news. There was nothing I could do. Aaron had now opted out of my life too. He shared some of his negative experiences with African-Americans and how they treated women in the Marines and what he felt the view of white women dating black men was. Your parents are supposed to be the only people you can count on to love you unconditionally. And yet here he was, proposing ridiculous conditions in order for us to even be in the same room together. I politely responded saying that I appreciated the explanation, but that these were not terms and conditions I was willing to live by. All of the key players in my life had very different reactions to me having a black boyfriend. My siblings were very torn. My sister pulled away from me in a big way after this incident fearing also being exiled by my father. My brother stepped up and tried to be my pseudo Dad by doing things like fixing my broken faucet and expressing his discontent being the executor of the will now that my name was removed. My mom has been in the middle the entire time. I think she feels like my Dad’s intent was to protect me from a bad situation, but also acknowledged that Aaron was a good guy and I was an adult capable of making my own decisions. My good friends stood by me 655%.
They were surprised by both my Dad and Aaron’s reaction. The reactions of my black friends and coworkers were the most interesting. Some shrugged it off as being a typical reaction and just part of the everyday racism they experience as a people. Others said Aaron and I should have known what we were getting into.