What My Son Taught Me

Lessons learned from being a white man raising a black child in a color-struck world.

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Invited to a casserole dinner I dragged out the slow cooker and made a batch of pigs' feet (recipe follows). The table was filled with tasty tidbits, ham, ribs, baked macaroni, greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread--and my pigs' feet. Our host had the crowd vote to pick the best dish, and, yes, my pigs' feet won. When Joyce asked who cooked them, the only white guy in the room sheepishly raised his hand. High-fives all around, bear hugs; I was the first ''guy'' to win the prestigious ''best casserole'' accolade.

Perhaps, unconsciously, we passed along that same cultural fluidity to my son, who is now a school assistant principal, married with a family of his own. One day, the chef at Charlie Trotter in Chicago invites Drew into the kitchen to give him a tour and answer his technical food preparation questions, and, a few days later he's trash talking on a schoolyard basketball court.

Needless to say, I am very proud of him. I was a high-school teacher who spent three-plus decades teaching and working for the teacher's union. These days, as a consultant, I meet young, white teachers, spending a few years teaching in the ''ghetto.'' The ''ghetto'' teaching creds look good on a résumé and, oh, those stories to recount at suburban cocktail parties. They ''friend'' their students on Facebook, ''high-five,'' and try to become ''buddies'' with their students. When I remind them that their job is bring kids up to and beyond academic standards, they sigh, tell me they're building self-esteem. I tell them self-esteem will come when these inner city kids beat out their kids on the LSAT!

We are hundreds of years removed from the Dark Passage, we are 50 states, yet we are a people divided, by race and geography, by religion and by politics. Many are comfortable in their enclave, fearing the wider world. Some can navigate across the states and among the races and classes, they are the true Americans, and, hopefully the role models for us all. We are not a melting pot, but the ''tanning'' of America may make us into a better nation.

Pigs' Feet Recipe

2-3 pigs' feet cut in half lengthwise (rinse thoroughly if salted)

Diced small onion

3-4 dried hot peppers

12 peppercorns

1/2 cup or so vinegar