The following chapter is excerpted from the autobiographical book, "The Gift." We will be sharing a new chapter in each issue.
You came along and changed everything.
Sara Fawkes ~ American author
So, begins the story of the rest my life. I was at the Union 76 gas station in Gilbert filling my 1971 orange Volkswagen bug. I was minding my own business when a beautiful Mexican girl pulled up in a 1957 turquoise Chevrolet. Gilbert was a small town back in 1971 when we met. I knew of her, but not well. One thing lead to another and the following Friday I was on my way to her home to take her to a movie.
I couldn’t believe I conjured up the nerve to ask out such a beautiful girl. Even more surprising, she said yes. Just as I knocked on their front door, a big goose came around the corner of their house and began biting my leg. Not only did the goose bite me, he was making one heck of a racket while doing so. Jeannie came out to save my life from this despicable creature followed by the rest of her family.
That was forty-three years ago. Today we have two beautiful daughters, and five wonderful grandchildren. We’ve had our moments along the way but she’s always been my true north.
I was a white kid and a not so faithful Methodist. Jeannie was a Mexican-American gal and not so faithful Catholic. Although there were a few interracial couples dating, it was still frowned upon in our small conservative town.
My parents were caring loving people whose values, for the most part, I hold to this day. Like most white Americans of that era, they believed minorities had their place in our society. Black people or Mexicans were never supposed to live in our neighborhood, much less start dating our children.
Most of the white adults I knew growing up in Arizona subscribed to the soft bigotry of low expectations toward Mexicans. The primary and secondary education of the time in large part reflected those same values. My parent’s generation view of the world was different than today, although bigotry is far from a thing of the past.
I suspect you're wondering why I'm going on about American social issues that took place fifty years ago. That’s all behind us, isn’t it? What does this brief history lesson have to do with a story about my disfigured face? The answer is, everything! The attitudes toward minorities, women’s groups and other groups also apply to people who look like me. My worldview began to change since the incident at the movie theater four years before. I still had a long way to go. Jeannie helped me complete the long hard journey of understanding life from her point of view.
A parable ~ The Boy and the Goldfish
One day a little boy walked by a fish bowl and noticed a Goldfish.
“How are you today,” asked the little boy.
“I’m fine,” answered the Goldfish. “How are you young man?”
“I’m doing fine as well, thank you,” responded the little boy. “How’s the water today?”
The Goldfish gave the little boy a perplexed look, “What water?”
We are no different than the goldfish in the water. Perhaps we’re so immersed in bigotry we are completely unaware there’s any bigotry at all.
The truth was simple: not only did I have a facial difference, but I also happened to be a racist. I didn’t think of myself as a racist, in fact I thought I was rather enlightened. Yet the reality was I was a young, self-absorbed racist! I would tell ethnic jokes and couldn’t understand why Jeannie failed to see the humor. She would ask me again and again to not tell those jokes. I told her many times she was entirely too sensitive. I suggested she needed to lighten up a bit. After all, it's just a joke! What harm?
Once at a party a relative of mine told a harelip joke. I didn't see the humor. I also noticed she kept looking at me out of the corner of her eye as she told the joke. On the way home that evening Jeannie asked me how it felt being the brunt of a joke. She told me that it’s exactly the type of no class crude jokes I’d told about her ethnicity. There is no more awful taste than having to swallow a bit of my own medicine. These are crude tasteless stories meant only to belittle people. In reality the stories say more about the crude person telling the joke. The truth is these stories come from people who are insensitive and cruel. There is no other way to describe them! It doesn't matter much if the people who tell these stories are ignorant or they just don't give a damn. Stories that demean people are wrong; there is no place for them in today’s world.
We are all raised with ideas about all sorts of things. We learn things from our parents while other stuff we pick up along the way. Some beliefs were good and some not so much. I had all kinds of stereotypical ideas about Mexican Americans when I first met Jeannie. I didn't feel prejudice, but I was. Everything I thought I knew about Mexicans I learned through a filter of bigotry. The truth is that we are more like other humans on this planet than we care to admit.
It wasn’t easy looking at myself in the mirror. Discovering my self-image was a distortion of myself pretending to be a regular person. There was no way I could be one of those people. In reality I wasn’t a lot different from the guy who hit me at the movie theater. What I turned out to be was a fraud.
I began to wonder what others thought of people like me. Yet deep down in the dark places where reality resides I already knew the answer to the question. My desire to be a ‘normal’ looking person was so delusional I ignored the almost daily reminders. I began to question how I developed this notion I was somehow better than some other people. Somehow I realized I was one of those crude repulsive bastards I despised. I was in essence, no different than those who gawk at me when I’m out in public? I had to change. I made it the goal of my life to change how I viewed others, the world and myself. This all happened because of Jeannie.
I get annoyed when I hear people complain about always having to be politically correct. They complain that some people will be offended. We need to be more aware of how our words and actions affect others. If it means being politically correct then so be it! We can't complain about the way people respond to our faces and yet turn around and belittle others for their differences.
Jeannie and I got married and before long our daughter Maria was born. Three years later another daughter, Lisa, was born. They were, and still are, the most perfect daughters anyone could ask for. Young people have asked me several times how my wife and I got together. The truth is we found each other. We learned there were significant gaps in our views of the world but managed to come to terms with our differences. I have to admit I came to our marriage with a lot more baggage than she imagined. I'm grateful for her patience, her understanding, and especially her love.
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