Fortunate Mix

By Caitlin Caprice Williams


My mother often joked that she had nothing to do with my birth, that I was my father’s daughter. Indeed, I do resemble my father, with my blue eyes, fair skin, fine, straight, light-colored hair. I used to put my small hands through my mother’s dark, curly hair and wonder why mine was so straight.

I wanted her hair. I repeatedly tried to perm my own and came out with frizz.

In the San Francisco/Bay Area, where I grew up, interfaith families are not uncommon. The Bay Area is a veritable melting pot of races, origins, roots and nationalities. I was one of many combinations, and a relatively common mix; my father was raised Episcopalian, my mother in a Conservative Jewish home. My parents were married by an Episcopal priest, and my brother and sister, both of whom are older, had been baptized as infants in the Episcopal church. When I was born, my parents had me dedicated in the Unitarian church, to which we also belonged for a time when I was younger. I suspect now this was my parents’ attempt to find common ground for all of us; here, there was no old, ingrained dogma. It was religiously neutral territory.

Unitarianism wasn’t quite right, though; it was too benign, too empty. Even as a child, I felt unfed by my experiences there. I needed more of a connection to my own history, and there was nothing personally historical about Unitarian worship that allowed me to identify with either of my parents.

I wasn’t sure what it was that made one religious, exactly. Was it the culture? The liturgy? The label? The looks? In an attempt to identify with one of my halves, I tried to be “more” Jewish. Taking the above approach, I was convinced that I could tap into these roots by doing certain things that I believed would help me connect more to my mother’s side.

I learned to cook special holiday foods and recite certain short prayers in phonetic Hebrew. But I wasn’t being moved, and ultimately, I could discern no spiritual link to these actions. It felt like make-believe. I still had no sense of who I was at the core.

A large part of being an interfaith offspring means feeling, always, that you’re leaving out one-half of your life, denying or ignoring one parent in favor of another’s roots or religious history. I was afraid of denying one of my parents by embracing the religion of the other. I wondered if they’d feel jealous of the other parent, the “identified” parent. I considered this “playing favorites,” and I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

But by constantly taking what I assumed were everyone else’s needs into account, I continued to deny my own rightful religious/spiritual exploration. Being born into an interfaith family means working harder to find a path, something many people take for granted–especially those born into non-mixed families. The path they are presented with, the one they end up following, is generally assumed, and if there is any sort of struggle it has little to do with parental allegiance.

I had Mormon friends and Jewish friends and Catholic friends, and I envied them the fact that their parents were both the same, religiously. Sometimes, it seemed easier to be presented with fewer choices than too many, and I resented the work I had ahead of me.

As an interfaith offspring, my fear was that, no matter where I chose to worship, I would be treated as a guest, or worse, an outsider. Because I wasn’t born into one religion, I feared rejection, and didn’t want to be seen as a cur, a strange sort of hybrid/half-breed that belonged nowhere, neither to my mother or my father. Paradoxically, I didn’t want to be identified solely with where I chose to worship; although I would come to identify religiously with just one of my parents, I needed assurance I would still be their daughter.

Although it has taken most of my growing-up years, I have finally become more at ease with my interfaith identity. I have learned to shush the voices telling me I would be a “bad daughter” if I chose one religious path over another. Eventually, I did find my way into the Episcopal church, where I worship to this day. I am quite comfortable there, and I am grateful that my parents supported me enough to leave that journey–and that choice–up to me.

It is a fortunate mix. As an interfaith offspring, I have been afforded the insight that allows me the unique ability to float between faiths and cultures, neither of which I would give up for anything. I now know I don’t have to see myself as either/or; I am two halves. I am my parents’ daughter.

And I will never perm my hair again.


About Caitlin Caprice Williams

Caitlin Caprice Williams is a freelance writer who recently received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Humboldt State University. She currently makes her home in Portland, Oregon.