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April 25, 2000

On Being Father of a Millennium Baby

by Edmund Tsang

With this issue The Harbinger will break for the summer. In past years I used the summer to attend to activities associated with being a university professor. This summer, I'll play a new role -- that of a first-time daddy. The arrival of my son two weeks ago brought immediacy and made concrete the joy and responsibility of fatherhood, which, in the last few months, had only been speculation. It also has a tendency to make you become more observant, perhaps because I am now looking at situations from a new perspective. I want to share a few of these episodes. They may seem naive to you, but for this first-time dad, it's because of my innocence in such matters. So Shelly, here's that big write-up you've been expecting:

We Are Not There Yet

Because my son was born pre-term, he needed a little help to begin his life journey. The technology now available to nurture and monitor pre-term babies is amazing. My hat is off to the staff of the USA Women's and Children's Hospital. They did a wonderful job, and they are most supportive and family-friendly.

Even with all these high-tech tools at their disposal, the users are human. A day after my son's birth, I had to provide data about him to the birth-registry staff. All went well until it came to the part about his race. Being a product of an interracial marriage, a practice that is increasing in America, there is not yet an official category to identify my son's race. After a bit of fumbling with the forms and the laptop computer by the staff from birth registry, I suggested to her that we write "human" under the race category, she replied: "The computer wouldn't accept that."

Public Education in Mobile

Based on where I live in the mid-town area of Mobile, my son will be assigned to an elementary school in the Mobile County Public School System that could be taken over by the State because of the low SAT scores of its students (20ís and 30ís) Indeed, my step-son, who will begin kindergarten in the coming fall, is assigned to this school. If I had lived several blocks further east, they would be assigned to a school that last year improved the scores of its students and moved from an Alert to a Clear status under the State's legislation on school accountability (but the SAT scores are still only in the 40's and 50's).

Reading the history of the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow laws of the South is one thing. Your child being assigned to a poor school because of the place of residence is quite another matter. What had gone wrong with our community that allowed, and continues to allow, children to be placed in poor performing schools because of where they live?

Keeping Madison Avenue At Arm's Length

It is quite jarring to witness how children react to the cues designed by Madison Avenue, with help from child psychologists. These children would shout, "I want that!" every few seconds during commercial breaks of their favorite television programs, just like Ivan Pavlov's dogs salivating when prompted. Though my stepson and his friends at the day-care center may not know it, they are being conditioned to a life of acquisitiveness. It is easy to say, "turn off the television," but you can't totally isolate a child, and other children he or she comes into contact at school also exert influences.

The Harbinger