Teen parents acknowledge the importance of a father figure

Maddie Colbert, Staff writer

Six months ago, senior Devantey Kearney’s life changed. His daughter Ciara was born.”I love my daughter,” said Kearney. “I love to make sure she grows up with everything. I want to spoil her.”

When Kearney’s girlfriend first told him she was pregnant, his mind went straight to money. “I was already thinking that I would have to get a job.”

“I just got two jobs,” said Kearney. “Luckily, they are after school is over.” Kearney doesn’t have a first hour, so he is able to finish homework or make up assignments that he misses when he visits Ciara or has to leave school early.

While Kearney and his girlfriend are at school, Ciara is in childcare in the Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program (TAPPP). It saves them money that they can spend on diapers, and gives them a chance to see her anytime throughout the day.

TAPPP is available as a support to teen parents at South. TAPPP offers childcare throughout the day so parents are able to visit their child while going to school. TAPPP also offers parenting classes, as well as a Minnesota Visiting Nurse, who checks in weekly with mothers, and is there for parenting questions, like if bedtimes are difficult.

“We support [parents] through the chaos that comes along with having a child and being in high school,” said Kirstin Johnson-Nixon, the case manager for TAPPP.

“I make sure I’m there everyday to see her,” said Kearney. There are nine mothers involved in TAPPP. Kearney is the only father.

Johnson-Nixon has been a part of the TAPPP program for five years. Throughout those five years, there have only been two dads involved in the program. “Often times dad’s are older and no longer in high school, or they go to different schools. Sometimes I think that they don’t always come forward because they don’t think there are services for them. [In TAPPP,] we try and embrace dads. We tell them to come down to the daycare as much as possible,” said Johnson-Nixon.

There are many stereotypes constructed by society that are associated with teen dads, and most of them are negative. Johnson-Nixon has noticed some of these stereotypes in her work with teen parents.

“They don’t stay, that they don’t care for their children, that there is no way for them to be a part of their child’s life.” But Johnson-Nixon added that the dads are just kids too. “They might not have had the best role models to know what it means to be a good parent or what it means to be supportive.”

By being an involved teen dad, Kearney faces these stereotypes. “Everyone thinks you’re gonna run,” said Kearney. “Sometimes, with how everything gets, I wonder, should I not be here? Because everyone is looking at me like I shouldn’t be here. And I prove and prove everyday how much I want to be in her life. I’ve got to keep fighting the barriers.”

But not all dads are as willing to fight the barriers. Junior Gabriele Jaime, a mother involved in TAPPP, has a two year old son named Yandell. When she first found out she was pregnant, she was surprised by the news, but Yandell’s father was pretty happy.

Yandell’s father is no longer in Yandell or Jaime’s life. “He’s a really bad influence for him. I’d rather he did not have interactions with Yandell,” said Jaime. By not having his father around, Jaime gets to make all the decisions about Yandell. “It’s better for me to be the mother and the father.”

For Yandell’s dad, the door is always open to come back into Yandell’s life. “If he gets himself together. It’s up to him whether he wants to be in Yandell’s life,” said Jaime. If he were to come back, Jaime would hope he would be there for her and their son.

“Basically, just be a father,” said Jaime. “Be a role model, and be there economically.”

“Dad’s should be involved. They should care, and actually show they care,” said Jaime. “They don’t have to be with the mother of their child, if they are there for the child, that’s more than enough.”

Kearney won’t deny that leaving his family did cross his mind at one point though. “I just tell myself that was something really idiotic to think. There’s no point in me leaving, because then she’s going to grow up how I grew up. That’s my little girl, when she came out, it was just like I have to be here,” said Kearney. “Not enough dad’s [stay]. I feel as that you have to be there for your child. You just have to do it.”

“Fathers are important,” said Johnson-Nixon. “They bring a different view, a different way of parenting to babies and kids.” But she finds that for many mothers, family and friends also play a strong, supportive role.

“There are so many mothers that go on and live a happy life,” said Jaime.

Kearney and his girlfriend are still together. “We argue more, but we’re working. We weren’t ready for it, but we are learning to cope,” said Kearney. Right now, Ciara lives primarily with her mom, but stays with Kearney most weekends. After high school, Kearney plans on getting an apartment so they can all live together. “I’m going to keep working and keep saving money. I want to finish getting my education. I want to make it,” stated Kearney.

“A man that runs away from his daughter should never forget what they did,” said Kearny. “I feel there is no excuse for it. Money or no money. I started out with no money, and then I started making money. Even a bit counts. I hope dad’s pay more attention to what they are doing.”