"Why is your daughter black?"
It was an innocent enough question asked of me on a recent Saturday at Collins Park in Crown Point. A little girl -- about 7 or 8 years old, I'm guessing -- licked an ice cream cone and asked me about my daughter, Izzy, as we headed toward a kingdom of play equipment.
But the innocence of the inquiry didn't keep this pushing-40 white guy -- usually not short on things to say -- from staring speechless for a few seconds. A bead of sweat began forming just below my hairline. I had never faced such a question before.
When I regained verbal balance, I tried to keep the answer simple.
"Because she was born that way," I said. "Isn't she beautiful?"
Without missing a beat, the inquisitive little girl then asked, "So her mom must be black then?"
My wife, with her Irish heritage, is whiter than me, I said to myself, finding it difficult to repress a chuckle.
"No, her mommy is white too," I actually said. "We adopted her. She's our daughter."
The concept of adoption must have been foreign because I could see confusion set in on the girl's face just before she ran off to another section of the park.
Izzy is only 16 months old, just discovering she too can run, so she didn't leave me much time to ponder the dialogue I just had with the other little girl.
But later that day, in a rare quiet moment, I realized the answers to the little girl's questions might be more complicated than what I could coherently provide to a child. I shouldn't have felt uncomfortable earlier in the day, but I did.
Someday, I'll have to provide these answers to Izzy when the differences in our complexion become more apparent to her. They're answers that force me to stop and think about the diversity issues in our entire region, not just my own family.
Our daughter is black because she was born that way. We have a black daughter because I proudly have a wife who agreed skin color makes no difference in the ability to love and be loved.
We have a black daughter because a black birth mother chose a white couple from a diverse set of potential adoptive parent profiles.
Most importantly, we have a black daughter because the child truly born of our hearts happens to be black.
I've come to learn when you truly love a person, you forget about skin hue.
More than a year into being a daddy to a wonderful little girl with an infectious smile, hilarious faux-evil laugh and a budding vocabulary, I realize more now than ever that skin color makes zero difference when considering matters of the heart.
It doesn't make a difference in other matters either -- not in determining intelligence, ignorance, propriety or human decency. It's a shame how important skin color remains to so many people of all colors -- how uncomfortable the issue can make us feel.
The little girl who asked me why my daughter was black was indeed white. But does it matter?
I hope if I'm ever asked such a question again, I remember to say I have a black daughter -- not just because she was born that way -- but because skin color truly doesn't matter.