Tools of the Trade A Father's Day Story by Nicholas
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Martin first knew there was
going to be trouble when his adopted son Lionel refused to eat
"It's not halal," he said.
"Yes, I know," Martin said with a quick look
at his wife Deborah. "It's not kosher, either."
"Then why do we eat it?"
"We don't keep kosher."
"Well, I keep halal."
"Now we know," Martin said
For a moment there was an embarrassed
Lionel was fifteen, just beginning to kick
hard against the door of his stall. Martin and Deborah had adopted him in
their late forties, and now, in their early sixties, were finding him a
little hard to handle.
He was black, already a hefty six-footer, with
big feet still to grow into.
"If you don't mind," he finally
"Not at all," Martin said. "If that's what you
He and Deborah exchanged a
"Can I buy kosher meat for you?" Deborah
asked. "It's halal, too."
"It is?" Lionel said.
"Yes," Martin said. "It's killed the same way.
The only difference is the rabbi says 'Adonoi' over it instead of
"I'll have to ask," Lionel
"Who's Kabili?" Deborah
"From around school."
"You'll have to introduce him to us," Martin
"I don't think he'll want to meet
"Well, first you're white and then you're
It was as though a 14-foot snake had just
slithered into the room. Martin and Deborah again exchanged a glance, and
this time neither of them was smiling.
"We're your parents," Martin pointed
"I can't help that," Lionel shot back, his
voice high, like fists held up to protect his face.
"We love you," Deborah pointed
Lionel had no answer to
Later that night, Martin and Deborah discussed
what to do.
"It's a phase," Martin said. "The main thing
"Patience!" Deborah said. "Give him another
two weeks and he'll hate us as much as Kabili does."
"And another year or two and he'll be a
Buddhist and love everybody. He's just starting his spiritual
"I don't like the first stop," Deborah
"I don't like it either. But we're not driving
the train. Believe me, he's still just a kid. All we've got to do is hang
in and love him."
"That's all?" Deborah said. And began to
So Martin and Deborah found a halal butcher
shop and began to read the Koran.
"I like what it says about food," Martin said.
"It wants people not to eat too much."
"Don't you go Muslim on me," Deborah
"Who knows?" Martin laughed. "He's already got
me reading the Koran."
The next step for Lionel was changing his
name. He wanted to be called Kobe.
"A person should be called whatever he wants
to be called," Martin said. "But you know we didn't name you
"No?" Lionel said.
"It was the name you had been given before we
adopted you. We wanted to retain that tie to your past. Are you sure you
want to sever it?"
"Who gave me that name?"
Martin shrugged. "I don't know. Your mother.
Your father. It's what they called you in foster
"You're sure you want to give it
Martin saw tears welling up in Lionel's eyes.
A sign of hope.
"Well, think about it," Martin said. "It's a
Soon a prayer rug appeared, and Lionel began
to attend Friday services at the local Nation of Islam mosque. The good
effect of all this was that he became much more intent on his schoolwork
and began to volunteer on Sundays to tutor younger children in math. His
room became military clean, and he took care of his personal hygiene with
almost fanatical discipline.
The bad effects were more
Except for an opening prayer thanking Allah
for the meal, supper became silent, and in between meals there was nothing
left of what had been a joking and gentle interplay between parents and
child. It was as though they had rented a room to a Muslim boarder who
considered them unclean and stayed away from them as much as
And then there were the pamphlets Lionel
started leaving around the house -- not carelessly, since he was anything
but careless these days, and not to proselytize, since they were white and
therefore beyond redemption.
Some were the most simplistic of religious
instruction, often in comic-book form: when, where, and how to pray, what
to eat, what to wear, and so on. But some were the most crude, racist,
anti-white and anti-Jewish propaganda Martin and Deborah had ever
Whites were born devils who had dragged an
almost saintly black population out of an Africa that sounded like Eden.
Jews were parasites who ruled the world behind the scenes through their
control of finance and the media. Israel was an outpost in a
Judeo-Christian plot to take over the Muslim world.
"At least he's reading," Martin
Deborah wasn't laughing.
"Come on," Martin said. "It's a good sign he's
leaving this stuff around. It shows he wants us to know what he's going
"He's shoving it in our faces!" Deborah said.
"He hates us! When we adopted a black child, we always knew this was a
possibility. But I never believed it would happen."
"Don't believe it now," Martin
One night, when Lionel wanted to go out
without telling them where he was going, Martin sat him down in his
"We're still your parents," he
"I don't recognize you as such," Lionel
Martin heard the bravado beneath the
antagonism, something natural, something to be expected in a 15-year-old
looking for excuses not to do what he is told, and breathed a long inner
"We're responsible for you," he insisted. "We
have to know where you're going."
"To a session."
"Where's the session?"
"At the mosque."
"Lionel, you can always go to the mosque.
Whenever you like. You just have to tell us truthfully where you're going
and when you expect to be back."
"It's more like a class."
"Don't be afraid to tell me things," Martin
said. "I'm a big boy. I can take it."
"We learn about what white people do to black
people. What Jews do to Muslims."
There was a punch in the old abs! Martin
thought. Good, good! Now there was an opening for a
"Lionel," he said. "I want you to know that we
love you, no matter what you think or who you become. You go where you
want to go and think what you want to think. We want you to become your
"Then why did you adopt me?" Lionel asked
angrily, fighting tears. "Didn't you know you were robbing me of who I
"When we saw you come back from foster care
for the third time, it broke our hearts," Martin said. "You were already
over two years old. You had been addicted to cocaine in the womb. No one
wanted you but us."
"Why did you want me? I was black. You were
white. What sense does that make?"
"A white child would have had no problem
finding a home. We wanted to give a home to someone who needed
"Needed it?" Lionel cried out. "Needed it?
Didn't you know you would mess me all up? I didn't know who I was. I
didn't know where I belonged. Thanks be to Allah, now I know. I don't want
you! I don't want you anywhere near me! A white man! A Jew! What do you
have to do with me?"
"I'm your father," Martin said. "And I love
He kissed his sobbing son on the
"I know you've got a lot to deal with. We've
given you a lot to deal with. Life has given you a lot to deal with. We
want you to know that we love you and we want you to be happy. Whoever you
turn out to be. Whatever you think of us. That's it. That's the whole
He kissed him again.
"Just let us know where you're going and when
you're coming back," he said, straightening up to leave. "Until you're
older, we're still responsible for you."
He waited for a nod that didn't
Only so much at one time, he thought as he
left the room. He was grateful that Lionel had gotten to say what he had
wanted to say, which had given him in turn an opportunity to open up his
heart. Now he would just have to trust Lionel and the years of love he and
Deborah had put into him.
After all, what else had he to work with but
patience, trust, and love?