At three-years old, I overheard my parents talking about one of my uncles. Chatterbox that I was, I promptly found that uncle after their conversation ended and apparently repeated much of what they said. It was not that my uncle—who did not appreciate what he heard from me at all—had done anything wrong. In fact, he had not done anything at all. And that, at least for my parents, was really the crux of the matter.
It was early 1970. My uncle, a life-long New Yorker, had just become a first-time father. And, to their chagrin, he had not married the child’s mother. As it happens, his partner was no more interested in getting married than he. For my parents, however, that was almost beside the point. Like my uncle, they had grown up in poor, single-female headed households. And they recalled all too well the difficulties, to include the stigma, that they had faced growing up in some of New York City’s poorest communities of color. To them, nonmarriage was not something one elected. If it became your reality for some reason beyond your control, that was one thing. But to choose it— as several of my aunts and uncles, and even my grandmother had—was quite another.