This story begins nine years ago when my son was born. Fast forward nine years and my son was playing near a river. At the outskirts of town, there’s a river. We live in Illinois. This will be important later. Now some will ask, is it a fast river? Is it a deep river? These are questions that race through every father’s mind.
It’s a call a father doesn’t want to hear! “Sir, your son fell in the river and he almost drowned” exclaimed the sheriff of police, pausing for affect. Is he OK was my first question that I asked, first to myself out loud, and then to the sheriff. Yes, “he’s OK,” said the sheriff, you boy is going to be “alright.” The way he said “alright” was funny, as if to imply my son was homosexual.
“What happened?” I asked the sheriff. He was playing near the river’s edge with his friend Tim. They were playing with rocks, throwing them into the river water to see how many times they would bounce on the surface of the water.
“They were skipping rocks?” I ask.
“Exactly. I forgot what that game was called” said the Sheriff.
As they played, something shiny appeared in the water of the pond (just kidding, it was a river) and my son tried to grab it. He lost his footing along the embankment and was carried away by the river, headed for New Orleans where the river ends and the fun begins.
Luckily, there was a man fishing along the river at the same time. Was he fishing for his dinner or just for the enjoyment of fishing? I plan to ask him as soon as things cool down. What was important was that he saw my son fall in the river, jumped into the river, and swam (to safety).
All of this the sheriff recounted without breathing. I was in turmoil and silence. And then he said twelve words that changed my opinion of the world in an instant: “turns out the man who saved your son was a black guy.”
Now, I take a lot of pride in “not seeing color,” which is why I assumed the man was a white man. I’m not a racist or anything but you know what I’m talking about. I know you do. Ask my friend Mark. He knows what I’m talking about.
From now on, when I look at a river, I think of black guys. When I think of black guys, I see my son. When I see my son, I think of rivers. When I go to New Orleans, I also think of rivers. When I skip rocks, I think of physics and how does water make something bounce.
Three days later I called the Sheriff to ask him did he think my son was gay or was did he just have a funny way of saying “alright.” He was out to lunch and I didn’t bother to follow up.
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