The Defining Generation
Life Imitating Art
I returned from
and I raised our four children to accept and love all people, regardless
of their race or their social status. Because of our roles as managers of
low-income HUD housing, our kids always joked that "We had to grow up
in the projects!" Many of the families in these communities were
Black and, when we began managing properties in
Our oldest child, Jennifer, is a very bright young lady who showed early signs of great potential for success in many fields. At the age of 3 while we were living in our converted school-bus/motor-home and performing in churches across the country, she began performing as a clown. By age 5 she was assisting me as a capable magician's assistant and box-jumper. The latter is the trade term for a person, usually a young lady, who must remain cramped inside a very small piece of magical equipment for a long time until with a flourish of music and a puff of smoke she amazingly materializes. She was VERY good at it, even at a very young age, and proved to be a veteran performer; though to this day she suffers from claustrophobia from her childhood career.
When Pam and I settled down from our itinerant life of entertainment and ministry in 1984, with our two children, Jennifer adapted well. Home schooled by Pam through the 2d grade, she adjusted to her new social environment making friends easily and earning good grades. Our son Dutch (William) was much more tentative. He loved living in the bus and traveling and hated school, struggling hard just to keep his grades at C-level. I sometimes remarked, "Jennifer will become successful in life for her intelligence, Dutch will have to succeed by his personality."
premonition remained valid until Jennifer became a teenager and entered
High School. By that time we were managing HUD apartments in
Pam and I responded to Jennifer's teenage rebellion in helpless frustration. She was a very good young lady, caught between competing influences: the values she had been taught as a young girl and the negative influences of her friends, most of whom were also in rebellion. During the summer of 1995 she worked for weeks to help us plan and then host a large group of Medal of Honor recipients and a delegation of Oklahoma City Rescue Workers for our city-wide Independence Day celebration. In the weeks that followed she was hanging out with friends and looking for trouble. In August she celebrated her 19th birthday and soon thereafter, with both my assistance and my prompting, got her own apartment in the community we managed. Returning for her last year of high school she enjoyed the personal freedom she craved but was not yet mature enough to properly manage. At the mid-point of her first semester she dropped out.
As her parents, Pam and I were devastated by Jennifer's continuing downward spiral. We tried to convince her to change her circle of friends, only to be met by defensive hostility. We hoped and we prayed that something would happen to turn her life around while blaming ourselves for not having done a better job as parents. Then, in December, she came to visit us one day with a broad smile and a gleam in her eye. It was obvious when she walked in the door that something had suddenly transformed her.
"Mom, dad," she announced. "I met someone and I think I'm in love."
"Wonderful," we both announced with an enthusiasm we didn't really feel, especially in light of the fact that we knew nothing about the young man that had sparked this new outlook on life.
Then, tentatively she continued. "There's just one problem mom and dad." Pam and I imagined the worst: was he a recently released felon, was it some old man twice her age looking for his Lolita, was she in love with some divorcee who had several kids from his previous marriage? Based upon our daughter's recent track-record in selecting friends, it might even be ALL of the above.
"Mom, dad," she continued haltingly, "he's Black!"
Pam and I simultaneously released a sigh of relief that may well have shaken the pictures on the living room wall. "Is that all?" I said while Pam began probing politely to learn more about the young man.
Choi Lundin was a recent graduate of The University of Southern Colorado
with a baccalaureate degree in Psychology. As a student there he had been
a star athlete on the soccer team, going on after graduation to coach
soccer for local children and also for a girls' high school team. He was
the son of a U.S. Air Force Chaplain who had found
was not really surprised at our reaction; it was what she had expected
from a mother and father that had always taught her to accept people on
the basis of character, not upon external appearances. She did however,
reflect her one concern when she asked, "How will I tell
Grandma?" Phyllis Hawk, Pam's mother, doesn't live far from our home
ethnicity had never been a problem for us, and when at last we met him any
reservations as to his character were quickly assuaged. He is a handsome
man who is frequently told he looks like golf champion Tiger Woods. He was
clean cut, polite, respectful, and all-American. Quickly his own personal
traits began to influence our daughter and, with his help and
encouragement she enrolled in a new alternative education program across
the street from her former high school to return to her education. Seeing
what positive influence Doug had on our daughter, we could have cared less
if his skin was purple or green. For us, he was a God-send.
The change in our daughter was also quite apparent to Grandma, who knew only that Jennifer had a new boyfriend who was motivating her in a positive manner. By early Spring the following year the relationship was obviously becoming more serious and Grandma was becoming increasingly curious about the boyfriend who had captured Jennifer's heart and turned her life around. Doug advised Jennifer that he wanted to take Grandma Hawk out to dinner on Mother's Day, prompting Pam to face what we had known for months must be done. With great reservation she drove to Grandma Hawk's house to break the news.
"Mom," Pam began when they were seated in the living room, "You know this new boyfriend of Jennifer's….Well, they are starting to get pretty serious. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to get married one of these days."
"That's wonderful," Grandma Hawk replied with enthusiasm.
"Well mom," Pam continued haltingly, "There's one thing that Jennifer thinks might be a problem for you…."
"Oh no!" came the gasping response. "Don't tell me he's BLACK!"
"Well mom--he's only half-black. He's also half-Korean."
Suddenly Grandma threw her head back in a loud laugh and announced, "You know, all these months I've been praying that God would send along the right guy to be a positive influence on Jenny and help her turn her life around. I guess I just forgot to tell God what color I wanted." Soon thereafter the happy couple treated Grandma to dinner, Doug giving her roses. It was a day Grandma Hawk still remembers with great fondness.
The following month after day and night classes Jennifer had completed a year's worth of study and academic work in six months. She graduated in cap and gown with the rest of her original high school class in Pueblo Central's Class of 1996. It was a proud moment for Pam and I, second only to what occurred over two days in August four years later.
August 2000, at Maxwell Air Force Base in
Exactly nine months later Dante Choi Lundin, our first grandchild was born. Every grandmother and grandfather IS prejudiced…we all think our grandkids are the cutest in the world. Few can match Pam's and my two grandchildren, which now includes Dante's sister Skye. Their half-white, quarter-black, quarter-Korean ethnic mix is a combination that draws ooohs and aaaahs wherever they go. (Once, during the winter when Pam took our grandson to a local mall, passers-by even stopped to comment on what a beautiful tan her infant grandson had for that time of year.)
the day in 1995 when our daughter came home with news that she was in love
but "there is just one problem," I can't help but flash back in
time to a movie I saw in my own teen years that had addressed social
The Defining Generation: Copyright © 2006 by Doug and Pam Sterner
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