WE ADOPTED A NEGRO
So far the Huyckes and their colored son, Ricky, have found bigotry less common than good will, but there are warning signs of harsher ordeals yet to come. This is Joy Huycke's story of the pleasures and pains of mothering a child of mixed blood
LAST MAY, Hank and I adopted a Negro son. And we have been answering questions ever since. Or trying to. We’re not tilting at any windmills. We wanted a baby boy and we’ve got one. Hank adores Ricky and so do I of course and so do our own two girls. But everyone who adopts a child of mixed race goes into it blindfolded and so all of us who have done it agree that we’ll just have to learn as we go along. I think we have one thing in common — w'e believe that every child has the right to a home — and that was how' we came to get Ricky.
We had been thinking about adopting for some time. I have two little girls and had them by Caesarean. Gaye is eight and Candace — Candy for short — is just turning six. My husband naturally wanted a boy and so did I, but we’d never got round to entering our names with the agency. As you know, there is a shortage of children available for adoption in Montreal, Protestant children that is, and five homes waiting for every child that comes up for adoption. Protestants aren’t allowed to adopt Roman Catholic children.
And then we heard about the Open Door Society. They are a group of people in Montreal who have
adopted children of mixed race and are encouraging others to do the same. I read about them first and the article said that homes can be found for children who are blind, spastic, or badly retarded, but homes are hard to find for those with mixed blood. The Open Door was trying to find homes for them. Shortly after that we saw some of these couples on TV. And that was when we began thinking about it ourselves.
1 saw' that one of the families lived quite near here, in Pointe Claire. I phoned and spoke to Cynthia Cowan and she asked me to come round to see her. She is En^jish and her husband is a chemical engineer, like mine. The Cowans have one son of their own, Nigel, and they had adopted two other children, Bobby, who is three, and Kathy, just two. The adopted children are both part Negro.
I came home and talked things over with Hank and we finally decided to attend a meeting at the Children’s Service Centre. Muriel McCrea is in charge there and she is a wonderful person. In 35 years she says she has seen adoption go up from 13 in her first year to 536 last year. Those are white children. But in the other CONTINUED ON PAGE 54
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At first we thought we'd get an Oriental child from the agency. But they offered us Ricky
group, those of mixed race, placement has hardly moved forward at all. In 1957 ten were placed, in 1958 ten. and last year eighteen. Betty Lavers MacLeod was the worker particularly interested in these children and she spoke to us about them. Those with dual heritage are the hardest to settle because they don't fit in either society. Mrs. MacLeod said that many of the cutest and brightest children in the agency’s care belonged in this mixed-race group. Most of them get sent from foster home to foster home, and although many of them are good homes the changing upsets the children, who never get much security and often end up on the street, angry and bitter or else completely defeated.
At that meeting. Hank and I met other members of the Open Door Society. Besides the Cowans there were two other English couples. The Edgars have adopted three white children, one part - Oriental girl named Tacey and a part-Negro baby boy, Matthew. The Parents have one son of their own, Paul, as well as an adopted boy of Puerto Rican parentage, Ricky, and a Eurasian foster child, Ellen.
Hank and I spent a lot of time discussing things with them, and made our decision. The next step tfas a private interview with the social worker. She told us that the agency has found that infant adoptions are more successful than placement of older children. We had thought of taking a youngster of about five or six. Then she came out and made what they call a home study to see if we would be suitable parents. It was quite nerve-racking because I could see that her experienced eyes were missing nothing. When it was over, though, it was reassuring to know that we had passed muster as a suitable home. Well, then we said we'd like to have an Oriental child, and we
wanted a boy. We were thinking of my mother, who is a South African and might find it easier to accept an Oriental than a Negro.
It was May then, and I said I thought August would be a good time for the baby, after I got the kids back from camp and so on. Just two days after that the agency rang up and said they had our baby.
Hank and I went down and saw Ricky for the first time. Instead of Oriental he was part Negro, and instead of six years old he was a baby of ten months. Hank took to him right away and when we took him home in the taxi it was funny how those two seemed to make friends right from the start. We brought him home on May 13, and I guess that will always be a big day for us. His birthday came two months later, but it didn’t seem anything like the day we got him.
He had no toys, nothing
Our girls liked him right from the start. It is better that he should have been a baby, instead of an older child. We have come round to agreeing completely with the agency about this. Neither of the girls is the least jealous and both of them love looking after him, especially Gaye. He was showered with gifts, more than either of my girls ever got. He had no toys, nothing, when we got him, except the clothes he was wearing, and Hank wouldn’t let me put those on him.
He is strong and good-natured and I would say medium dark-skinned — about the color all of us knock ourselves out all summer trying to get, someone said. He does seem happier now than when we got -him. He had a sad little look then, probably from going from one home to another. He used to clutch his bottle as if
it was the only thing that had any permanence for him. He’s stopped doing that now. Also he used to eat terribly slowly, almost listlessly. The girls eat much faster, of course, and now he is rushing through mealtimes to keep up with them. I have him on baby foods and some of our food. Soon he will be eating what we do. The only one in our house who does seem a bit neurotic about his arrival is Ike, the cat. He has broken out in an awful rash and mopes around feeling sorry for himself.
We have been very lucky with our
neighbors. Most of them have gone out of their way to be kind to Ricky. Those that don’t agree with us have said nothing. The first day I took him shopping was an ordeal. I have to admit it. I braced myself for stares but it was not as bad as I had thought. In fact, a number of people in Steinberg’s stopped me and said what a beautiful baby.
This is real suburbia here and I must say I love it. There are about a hundred families living in these three apartment courts and we all belong to the Dorval Gardens Club—that big clubhouse down
by the water. It's marvelous. We have swimming and boating for the children in the summer and skating in the winter and bridge and chess for us in the evening. My husband was president last year and I’m secretary for the coming year. We have a good group here, no troublemakers. Hank is a Polar Bear — you know, they go in swimming all year round. We’re both a bit crazy, I guess. I’m an outdoors girl and have always been an avid Guider. I’m a leader and teach swimming at the Guide camps here in the summer. I took Ricky with me in
July and wondered how he’d get on. I needn’t have worried. I had more than enough offers for baby-sitting and at last someone suggested I tell the campers his story and they were fascinated. Later Hank joined us and we went to our private camp and Ricky was wonderful and adjusted perfectly to camp life. Funny, I don’t very often try to picture him when he grows up but when I do I can see him in a bright green Cub’s uniform. In the Scouts he’ll be right at home.
I’m not a very churchy person. We go to the Anglican church down the road but not very regularly I’m afraid. So many of our Sundays arc taken up with camping and so on. But at least I haven’t had the experience of one of the families in the Open Door whose minister told them he thought they were doing an unwise thing.t
I am an only child. Hank’s mother and brothers are living in Ontario. Both our fathers are dead. My mother was a little upset when we got Ricky — it’s understandable. But as Hank says, people’s attitudes are bound to change when the Negroes in Africa start taking more responsibility. White people who have seen them doing only menial work will see them in a new light. I don’t know. I think the trend is certainly going that way. But the funny thing is that I don’t notice Ricky’s color. He just seems a person to me. As far as race goes, he is really pretty mixed — part Portuguese, part West Indian, part Anglo-Saxon. People ask funny questions though. Someone said: “Can he speak Portuguese?” and somebody else: “Will he fade?”
We’ll let him choose
As for being accepted by the white community, he stands just as good a chance here as with the Negro community, who have their own views on mixed race. The head of the Negro Community Centre here is Buster Clyke, a fine man with his MA in social work from McGill. He has endorsed the Open Door Society even though 1 know he thinks we are taking on trouble. He and his wife have both said they think the kids arc lucky and stand a better chance than those who are sent from one foster home to another. Right now that is the only alternative open to them. It seems worth giving it a chance.
Negroes in this city don’t go in much for adoption. They have a sort of fear of it, the way whites did twenty years ago, according to Mrs. McCrea. Also they feel it may hold them back, financially, while they are struggling to raise their standard of living.
We plan to tell Ricky all about his ancestry and how we got him. As for meeting other Negro children, if it comes naturally, fine. We will not go out of our way to force this. I know that at least one couple who have adopted a child of mixed race, the Parents, believe differently, and a McGill professor who has adopted Negro children makes a point of taking them to the Negro Centre so they can meet people of their own color.
When it comes to dating, what will happen? This is what everyone asks. Ricky will have to choose his own friends. Buster Clyke believes these things work themselves out. Mrs. McCrea has seen children grow up and deny their color and others live with it and marry within it. It seems to depend on the individual.
Montreal is a fairly good cit1/ about discrimination, in some ways, a, though when it comes to employment it tvuld be a lot better. As my husband says, this is the town that first accepted Jackie Robinson and now Negro ballplayers have become famous. Ricky looks more like a football player though. Hank says he
In the east, parents balk at adopting Negro babies; in the west, at Orientals
might some day be a second Herbie Trawick on the Alouette line.
We had good friends at the University of Toronto, Cathy and Lee, who were Negroes. Hank and I went to their wedding in Toronto and we were among the twenty or so white people in a crowd of about four hundred. I remember thinking it was the first time I knew how it felt to be a minority. Lee is a dentist and we felt so upset when he had to leave the country to get his degree. They’re in Glasgow now. Both Hank and I would love to see them and if they were here we'd have a lot of questions to ask them about situations and problems that Ricky will have to face.
But I sometimes think that everyone has a problem of some sort and it always seems enormous to the person concerned.
I used to worry terribly about my height. I'm 5 foot 1 1 — over 6 feet in heels. When I was in my teens it was an awful problem. In Toronto they had something called the Tip Top club when 1 was at college. I don't know if it's still there.
I met Hank there. He is 6 foot 3. You can't imagine what a relief it was to go into a room where you could look up to people, especially for dancing.
Ricky's problems of course will be much greater. He probably won't have trouble where he’s known but he will always be an oddity when he goes to new places. The Open Door Society believes it is even more important for children of mixed race to have happiness and security at home to help them face the frustrations they are bound to meet in later life.
For our own girls there will also be •.ome adjusting. But they shouldn't get any more teasing at school than they might for a brother or sister of their own that was different in some way. I hope we can help put them in the right frame of mind to handle it. Part of it will be in not being too touchy about quite ordinary remarks. For instance Cynthia Cowan told me that one day tw'o little boys in her block came and told her they didn t like Kathy, her part - Negro adopted daughter. She immediately thought it was because of her color and had to stop and figure that maybe it was just that they didn't like her anyway. And another day she heard the children chanting: “Bobby is an Indian, Bobby is an Indian” — well he looks a bit like a Red Indian child with his straight dark hair and dark skin. But he didn’t mind the teasing and so she forgot it.
I think we were the first Canadian-born couple to take a child of mixed race since the Open Door started. But since then a lot of children have been placed. In 1959 only eighteen were adopted during the entire year. This year there were twentythree up to the end of June. But it still leaves almost 100 children without homes -in a part of the country where children ire in demand.
The Open Door influence seems to be spreading though. There is even one German woman in Montreal who has written back to Germany to a magazine there, telling what the Open Door is doing and urging something of the kind for the homeless children of mixed race over
there. I know we have been in touch with families in British Columbia and Alberta, and one in Ottawa, who have taken children of mixed race. The problem varies from place to place. In Montreal and the Maritimes, it is the part-Negro children who are hard to place. On the Prairies it is Indian children and on the west coast. Orientals. Some agencies don’t believe in placing children of mixed race. Some-
times such children are adopted and, if they’re fair-skinned, allowed to pass for white. We don’t agree with this at all. But if prejudice is such a regional thing, some people have suggested moving the children from the area in which prejudice exists to one in which it doesn’t — in other words move some of the Oriental children east and the Negroes west. Expensive maybe — but maybe no more so
in the long run than having a lot of unhappy kids grow up into delinquents.
It is true that the agency in Montreal is giving out its most sparkling babies first. It is only natural — just as in the old days only the prettiest white babies got adopted. But these children are such an unknown quantity. No one can tell how things will turn out. All we feel is that giving them a home is better than the alternatives at present open to them. And in the meantime we have Ricky. We wouldn't change him for anything in the world. ■A'