Apparently, no one told him he is a white Episcopalian from New England.
I toss James Brown’s Greatest Hits onto the CD player and “I Feel Good” shuffles onto the speakers. I turn to see Brendan, my blonde six-year-old, instinctively knows something about funk. He props his hands on his hips and nods his head, coolly, in time to the music. He struts slowly around the room, chanting the lyric, and I can practically see the glittery cape flowing behind him, the invisible entourage of backup singers. His face forms a mug that announces he is in charge. And he dances.
This boy has never seen James Brown on television. I have to remind myself he knows nothing of what James Brown looks like, because it fully seems as if the white Episcopalian New Englander is channeling him, for a few minutes, as well as any six-year-old can. The track switches to “Make it Funky.”
And then it’s back to Brendan, the Question Man. I believe he asks a question every three seconds for every waking hour, and most of the time he genuinely is curious about the answer. He is not the kind of kid who forgets the question he just asked—he’s the kind of kid who will ask the same question twenty times in twenty different ways if he feels he is not being satisfactorily answered. He also chants questions in the manner that we chant Psalms in our church, if he feels we have not heard him adequately. It’s a question trance, relentless quest of information. And I see the strut end, so I know the questions will start.
“Why does he yell to his baby so much? Does the baby like to be yelled at?”
“Some people call people that they love ‘baby,’ even when those people are grownups, like I call you ‘honey.’ Does that make sense?”
“So he’s calling out to his honey, calling her a baby! That’s so funny! Why is he so loud?”
“I think he’s a lot like you—he’s loud when he’s happy, when he’s upset, when he feels strongly.” The next song comes on.
“Why is he saying ‘I’m black and I’m proud?’ How can he be black and why is he proud?”
“You know Boris? And Marjorie. Their skin is dark. Sometimes dark-skinned people call themselves black people, and black people have a long history in this country, all their own.”
“That’s so funny! Boris is not black! He’s brown.”
“It’s sometimes important to call people what they want to be called. And that sometimes changes.”
We cover pride a little bit, too, with Brendan wishing to be something and be proud, but it’s a tough subject, and he really just wants to dance, so I’m lucky today. There will be so much more to unwind, over time.
I jump at the CD player to skip the next track which is called “Sex Machine”—there have been enough questions for the day! We move on to “On the Good Foot,” and “Night Train,” blissful nonsense, and all our feet are the good foot, this time.