by Irving Kenneth Zola


"Okay, Dad, since you've been away, you can be up first," shouted Warren, my eleven-year-old jock.

"Do you want to play outfield?" I said to Amanda.

"No, I'd rather go over there to the playground."

I believed her, but still it gave me a little twinge. As she skipped towards the swings, I consoled myself with the promise that she and I would go off by ourselves later on in the afternoon when Warren was glued to the Red Sox game.

And so this sunny Sunday began. I limped up to the makeshift plate; leaning heavily on my cane with my left hand, I waved the plastic bat menacingly with my right. Warren responded in kind, growled at me and said, "O.K., Mr. Burleson here comes a big one" and threw the whiffle ball towards me. It seemed as if only a minute or two had passed when I spotted Amanda returning from the swings.

"I'm bored," she said mopingly.

"So soon," I answered incredulously, "Why you've barely been..."

But before I finished she was sobbing deeply. I dropped the bat and leaned towards her. "What's the matter?"

As I moved to sit on the nearest bench, she rushed into my arms. "Those kids over there teased me because I'm brown."

I barely could gasp a reply. All that I had feared in the eight years since she had been adopted by us, her white parents, suddenly came home to roost.

"They kept pointing at me and saying 'Look at that brown kid in the blue jump suit.'"

I was flustered. I began to ask her for details as if somehow that would reveal that she'd been mistaken. But I stopped myself. It didn't matter exactly what they had said. The only thing that was real was what she felt.

And so for what seemed like a long time we just sat there holding each other. Warren had moved closer. Visibly upset, he stood listening several steps away.

"Why did they do that, Daddy?" she asked with her accustomed directness.

"Because they're assholes," I thought to myself. But that was my anger getting in the way, so I waited until I was in better control. "Well, Mandy, look around here at this field. Do you see any black people or people with disabilities?"

Patiently she surveyed the playground and then shook her head.

"That's part of the problem. Since there aren't many of us around, we look and seem different. When people who aren't black or brown or who don't have physical disabilities meet us, often they don't know what to do. In a sense they're frightened and so sometimes they run or turn away, or sometimes they get angry, or sometimes they just tease us or call us names. Remember how you felt the first time you met my friends in wheelchairs? Remember how shy you felt?"

Still sniffing, she nodded in agreement. I wasn't sure she fully understood all I'd been saying. I felt I had to say more, only I didn't know what.

She turned toward the swings. I took that as a clue to return to the present. "You know, when something like this happens to you, it makes you feel awful. I know it makes me feel that way."

"How awful?"

"Well, you feel like crying, or getting angry, or running away, or just staying by yourself."

Amanda looked at me questioningly, so I continued, "It doesn't matter what you feel -- they're all allright feelings. The only thing you must not do is give up." And here I gulped, wondering if I'd gone too far.

"What do you mean give up?"

"Well, I mean that you can't let something like that interfere . . . get in the way." I continued, "We can leave the park. I can go back there with you or your brother can -- just to stay close -- or you can stay here or you can go back by yourself. It doesn't matter. Just do whatever's comfortable." And then I added, more for myself than for her, "You know I love you very much."

She smiled and wiped her eyes, looked around the field, and hopped off the bench. "I'm going back there, Daddy," she announced.

"Whatever you want," I added.

As she walked slowly away, Warren shook his head angrily and gave a hitch to his belt. "No one can do that to my sister," he mumbled, "I'll tell them something."

"What will you tell them?" I inquired.

"I'll tell them it isn't just their world. It's all our worlds . . . we all belong." His voice trailed off.

All this from her older brother, who two hours previously offered to trade her for three baseball cards of the last place Seattle Mariners.

I was too choked up to really say anything coherent. So I just smiled and tousled his hair, "You're up, Mr. Yaz."

As we exchanged places we both looked toward the swings. And there was Amanda astride the highest 'Jungle Jim' waving to us.

About twenty minutes later, she returned, skipping along, beaming from ear to ear. And as my children drew close, for a moment I saw them as if in trick photography -- growing taller before my eyes. As we all hugged, I said, "You know, I'm really proud to be your father."

"You mean because of my hitting?" winked Warren.

"Because of how high I swing?" asked Amanda.

"That too," I laughed, as we struggled arm in arm up the hill to the car.


copyright Irving Kenneth Zola