One of the great privileges of being the Daddy of daughters is the opportunities I have had to play Barbies. These Barbie playtimes have provided unexpected adventures, with my girls displaying amazing creativity and always discovering ways to make the Barbie experience more palatable for Daddy. I’ve been a chef for Barbie, a Barbie Body guard, a Barbie Chauffer, and this weekend, a judge for a Barbie singing contest extravaganza! All of the contestants were amazing, with performances powered by the strong vocal talents of our own Victoria! That fact, made judging the performances a bit of a challenge, since every last contestant was spot on in their presentations and absolutely equal in every way. It was apparent to Vic and to me that the only criteria I had left were criteria based on appearances. Hmmm. The Barbie contestants differed from each other in ways that were totally external: hairstyles, wardrobes, and physical features. As I thought about the choice I was being asked to make, I began to consider the message that my choice might give to my daughter. What would it say about how I viewed people and evaluate others? Was this really a teaching moment or mere child’s play? Flashes of doll experiments used to discover how children viewed themselves in terms of beauty came to mind. Perhaps this could be a teaching moment. But how?
As I pondered the decision, I thought back to my own childhood and my own experience with action figure dolls. I remember the talking Astronaut G.I. Joe my father brought back with him from a deployment to Puerto Rico. Joe was awesome! He spoke some excellent, tough guy phrases like, “Accomplish the Mission!” “Ten seconds to lift-off…and counting!” “We are entering lunar orbit!” and “Houston…we have landed!” There were a couple of problems though: he didn’t have any Army uniforms, and he wasn’t Airborne! As if they had read my mind, my parents shared some resources to bring my G.I. Joe up to speed. My mom showed me how to make uniforms I could sew from scraps of my dad’s old fatigues. Army uniforms? Check! Dad presented me with a real parachute from an illumination round with a ball-bearing attached to give it enough weight to descend at the proper speed. Airborne? Well, he was about to be!
After preparing Joe for his mission by putting him in the proper uniform, it was time for the Airborne operation to begin. First we had to get to altitude. I climbed up onto the 8-foot tall, 15-yard long carport that stood in front of our quarters. The carport gave me the running space to gain throwing momentum and to achieve the extra height needed to give Joe’s chute enough altitude to open. The chute had been carefully packed and I bound it to Joe with a special harness I had designed myself. I gathered speed, much like a javelin thrower approaching the release point, reared back and heaved! Joe went soaring through the air gaining tremendous altitude! His chute began to unfurl in textbook fashion but something wasn’t quite right. There was a twist! Joe had a Mae West! The partially opened chute slowed Joe down some, but not enough to lessen the terrible sound of Joe impacting the sidewalk with a thunderous “CRACK!!!” I jumped off of the carport, executing a perfect PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) just like Dad taught me and nothing like Joe’s impact. I picked Joe up and found him to be bent in a strange way. One great characteristic of G.I. Joe is his flexibility. I made a few bends and twists and he looked just about as good as new. I pulled his string and found that Joe only had one phrase left in him… “ACCOMPLISH MISSION!” Though he was damaged, it seemed his priorities were squared away! He was Airborne and he was mission driven! What more could I ask for?
Well, actually there was one thing. I wanted Joe to look like my dad. The life-like hair and Kung-Fu grip, were dead on…but his complexion, well… not quite! I thought about it and secured a brown magic marker. I began to color Joe’s face and exposed limbs in a brown tint almost identical to mine and my father’s. Mom saw it and said, “Beautiful!” For me, G.I. Joe now had at least a little bit of soul!
“Dad?” Victoria’s interrogative interrupted my blast to the past. “Who won?” I remained silent. Which Barbie would I choose? Before I could answer, Victoria had a most interesting solution. “I know!” She interjected. Picking up the blonde Barbie she reasoned, “This is our winner at the beginning of her time as queen.” Then, putting her down and picking up the Barbie of African decent she continued, “And this is our winner at the end of her time!” In her creative, child’s mind, there was room at the podium for both Barbies to reflect different characteristics of beauty and excellence in a single person. Upon hearing of Vic’s solution, one friend reasoned, “That doesn't surprise me at all! She [Barbie] got a new (much needed) hairdo, including color, obviously a major tan, and different outfit! Makes complete sense to me.” I guess I could see that too! From the mouths of babes…
A song from my childhood by Curtis Mayfield entitled, “Choice of Colors” asks, “If you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose, my brothers?” The games I played with Victoria took me back to a time when the idea of being comfortable in one’s skin was relatively new for people of my ethnic background. Children less than half generation before often struggled to find beauty in their own faces. Some current studies suggest the struggle persists. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to find that my child has the ability to see equal beauty not only in her own face but in many faces and many hues. The aforementioned Mayfield song also says, “People must prove to the people a better day is coming for you and for me. With just a little bit more education, and love for our nation, we’ll make a better society.” Even at play, we possess moments to educate, guide and inspire our children to make better decisions forged in the furnace of being people of more steadfast character. It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” May God grant us all the ability to behold the beauty we each possess as reflectors of His image so that we might witness at least a few rays of sunshine from “the better day”. Until next time…