MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Years ago, when Jabari Gray was a teenager, he had a question for his father. Jabari is biracial, and he wanted to know how his white father felt about having a son who looked black. Gray is deputy director of our partner organization, Youth Radio. He and his dad, Gerald Gray, recalled that conversation, which first happened while they were clearing weeds out of the backyard one summer.
GERALD GRAY: As a father, I had a standing rule for myself that if the work seemed overwhelming or very difficult, I would work with you. And those are times when you can talk - when you work together.
JABARI GRAY: I can think of swinging the sickle a couple of times, and just kind of like trying to figure out exactly how to put it. I wouldn't say that I was nervous, but I wanted to ask you in a fashion that was respectful as much as I could be at that age I guess. I was about 17. So it just kind of came out probably like, hey pops, does it ever weird you out that I look like a black dude?
J. GRAY: That was the best I had.
G. GRAY: When you were born, it was clear to me that you would be perceived by whites and blacks and the rest of society as black. So I said to your mother, we need to raise this child as black, and he needs to understand why. Otherwise it will be very confusing and maybe not safe either. And she just said, I'm glad you understood that. So we started from there.
J. GRAY: The truth of the matter is that I'm as much African American as I am Scotch-Irish. You know, it's like right down the middle. But my black friends, my white friends, my Asian friends, my Latino friends - even if they do know that I'm of mixed race heritage, the end result is always - like, when we walk away, like, I'm a black kid.
So it was kind of clear to me that there was no getting away from it, and that I was proud of it. But I can remember feeling the need to settle that between us 'cause I hoisted that flag when it came down to creating an identity for myself. I latched onto that side of my heritage. What I'm wondering is was it weird? I guess my question is does it make you feel like other?
G. GRAY: No. I never doubted your love of me, and so I never had hurt feelings. The flag that you hoisted was right. And at least it gives you a community to claim and to be claimed by.
J. GRAY: I really appreciate all the little things that you've done from day one until now in this production of me. So I just want to say that and that I love you a lot.
G. GRAY: Well, once you have a child you love, you're hostage to the world. You're part of that child, and you just go where that takes you. You've been my heart, and I thank you for that.
BLOCK: Gerald Gray and his son Jabari. Their story was produced by Youth Radio for our series on men's lives. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.