I Became a Single Dad at 19 and Here's My Advice to Others
I started raising my two kids on my own after their mom began using drugs. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I knew I never wanted my kids to grow up without a dad the way I did.
In the '80s, having babies was like a teenage fad. It seemed everybody had a kid by the time they graduated high school. I made a pact with my then girlfriend to have a baby, and a year later my daughter Tiffany was born. She was named after the infamous Fifth Avenue New York City jewelry store. I vowed that my Tiffany would always have the best.
At the time, high school co-op programs (where you worked a week and attended school another week) were big in New York City. Created to end truancy and teach working skills, I participated.
The realities of living in an urban area, hustling to make money as a young Black teenager led to a one- to three-year prison sentence on a gun charge. I served six months and was released with five years of probation under the condition I attend Job Corps. When I went home, I was determined to be better.
One weekend while home on furlough, I started hearing rumors that my girlfriend was hanging out with the neighbors who did drugs; the crack cocaine epidemic swept inner city neighborhoods during the Reagan administration. Around that same time, she told me she was pregnant again. I was 19.
Home another weekend, I heard this sucking noise while putting my daughter to sleep. As I walked closer to the noise it got louder, and on the other end was my girlfriend smoking from a crack pipe. Until that moment I was in denial and ignored what I'd heard, but this truth was undeniable. She was so beautiful, and at four months pregnant it was too much to wrap my mind around. I threatened to take my daughter and the cops showed up.
A young officer, seeing tears in my eyes, must have felt empathy and pulled me aside explaining how I could fight for custody in court. My girlfriend was awarded an order of protection. We didn't speak for months. Lucky for me, Job Corps kept my focus and I was determined to graduate and be the father I never had. My father died suddenly when I was 2 years old leaving my mom to raise my older sister and unborn baby brother alone.
My girlfriend wasn't on drugs for several months and our son was born healthy. I was relieved, but her sobriety was short-lived. She returned to using again and bravely signed over her parental rights. By my daughter's second birthday, I was a full-time dad of a toddler and an infant under the supervision of my mother from the court.
It wasn't easy, but I never felt like I couldn't do it. I missed my twenties and lost friends because their parents didn't want me around them once they knew I had children. Navigating and learning to be a father, I structured my life around my kids. I put them to bed every night and was back from work at the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) to get them ready for school. My mother watched them occasionally and helped by providing us a place to live.
After nine years of school, I graduated and became an engineer. I'm currently working in the sheet metal trade and I'm also a co-owner of Edgedout Enterprises LLC, a company specializing in contracting, merchandising, and publishing.
I'm now 52 and my kids are all grown. I'm enjoying being "pop pop" to my grandkids. My high school sweetheart served 13 years in prison but returned home sober and has formed a bond with our two children. We recently reunited for a quick family photo at our daughter Tiffany's college graduation.
Having kids is hard at any age but being a single male parent, in those days, was even harder. As a parent you have the fear of the world on your shoulders. You worry about your kids' safety with things like drugs, guns, rape, and how to prepare them to be productive members of society.
No one ever prepares or tells you once you have a child: You will never sleep the same. Being a single parent was one of the hardest things I've ever endured, but I did it and my family is proud of me for it.
That's why I tell young men that, regardless of their circumstances, they can always do better. Remain diligent in your responsibilities, by any means necessary. And remember the void you felt not having a father around and never make your kids feel that way. More than anything, children need your time; make sure you give it to them.