BUCKING STEREOTYPE, SOME TEEN DADS TAKE TO PARENTING

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On a sidewalk in Pioneer City, Miles Dixon holds two of the things he loves best: his basketball and his baby.

The baby, Yolanda Laneice, is 9 months old. Miles is 19. In his last year at Meade Senior High School, he has virtually no idea what the rest of his life will hold, except Yolanda.

He puts the baby down, gently, and dribbles his basketball. Yolanda, wearing a little denim jumper and pink-and-white tennis shoes, laughs and scampers at his feet, grabbing her daddy's knees, which is as high as she can reach.

This past Christmas, Miles bought Yolandaher favorite toy, a pink basketball. "Sometimes if there's a basketball game on, she'll sit down in front of me and watch it," he says.

Miles is an anomaly among teen-age fathers, many of whom have little if anything to do with the day-to-day business of raising their children.

Every weekday, he gets up at 6 a.m. to take Yolanda, who lives in nearby Lake Village with her mother and maternal grandmother, to Meade's in-school day-care center. Two other boys also regularly visit their babies in the day-care center and take parenting classes at Meade, but Miles is the only one with total responsibility for his baby during the school day.

He devotes most of his lunch period tovisiting Yolanda. At the end of the day, he picks her up and takes her home with him on the "baby bus," a special school bus for studentswith children.

Taking Yolanda to the day-care center was Miles' idea, "so I could be with her more," he says.

Yolanda's mother, 18-year-old Yolanda Denise Coates, known as Denise, goes to Old Mill High, and her mother works. Miles refuses to discuss his relationship with Denise. But they get along amicably and have agreed to share in Yolanda's care, as have their mothers. When Yolanda was born April 2, 1990, all four were in the delivery room.

"It's common to have a baby and not want to take care of it," Miles says. "But I feel like I am taking care of mine. They ain't never asked to be brought into the world. So it's wrong (not to take care of them). If we both love her and take care of her, I hope she'll be all right."

In many ways, Miles remains a typical teen-ager -- immature in his lack of ambition and direction, a trifle sensitive to peers who tease him about having"a little crumb-snatcher." Alyson Graybeal, director of the teen infant center at Meade, said it took several months for Miles to work upthe courage to visit the center at lunchtime, because he was so embarrassed at being the only boy.

Miles recently got an after-school job as a kitchen patrol worker at Fort Meade. He cringes at the thought of settling down, says he still likes "running the streets at night." Shooting pool, bowling, basketball -- he especially enjoys those.

Whatever growing up he has yet to do, "he is doing more than mostteen fathers who aren't married to the girl or living with the child," Graybeal says. "He's involved with Yolanda and concerned about herfuture."

Miles' mother, Dietrich Proctor, a 37-year-old mother ofthree and a clerk for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, has been pleasantly surprised at how seriously he has taken his responsibility. "He has her spoiled rotten, that's for sure," she says.

"He seems to me more of a father . . . than somebody who has a child and is 35," says Frances Hutchinson, Yolanda's maternal grandmother. "He's attentive with her, patient with her, it doesn't bother himhow much time he has to spend with her. He shows her love the way a dad needs to show love.

"To be honest," she says, "I wish my children were shown the love, and I was shown the love, that he shows Yolanda."

*

Until now, virtually every article written about adolescent pregnancy, every poster designed to draw attention to it and every program created to help teens cope has focused on the mother. The teen-age father has been virtually forgotten.

That is not surprising, since most teen-age mothers do end up caring for the child themselves, sometimes with the help of parents or the father.

A national survey showed 64 percent of 18-year-old fathers do not live with thechild. Child-development teachers in Anne Arundel say even boys who are supportive in the beginning often leave once the child is born. Teens who marry because of pregnancy have a 20 percent chance of divorcing within the first year and 60 percent by the time the child is age 6, statistics show.

Of 27 teen-age mothers she taught last year,only four are still dating the father, says Sue O'Connell, a child development teacher at Meade for the last 10 years.

Because of his invisibility, the teen-age father has become stereotyped as a cad wholeft his girl in the lurch after taking advantage of her. But those who work with teens are starting to realize that if a boy isn't around to take care of his baby, it isn't always because he wants it that way.

"If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have said that typically teen fathers were out the door," O'Connell says. "But I am noticing that some of them try to be involved. Some of them are scared off. Some of them are pushed out by the parents, some of them by the girl. She starts acting like she owns him."

At Severna Park HighSchool, an upper-middle-class school where pregnancy carries a stigma that does not exist at Meade, many girls do not want the boy involved, says Gerry Stone, who teaches parenting classes. "They don't wantto marry him, so they don't recognize who the father is. I couldn't tell you one kid in this high school who is a teen-age father," she says.

About 40 percent of boys who become fathers before age 18 drop out of school, statistics from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy Show. But because twice as many teen-age mothers drop out,"we've always focused on that and ignored . . . these boys," O'Connell says.

Except for the option of taking parenting classes offeredin some Arundel schools, teen-age fathers "are left on their own," O'Connell says. "There's no kind of support or anything for them. There's no real program for fathers. Maybe that's why we think they're not interested. We push them away."

When 17-year-old Kenny Edwards asked if he could take Meade's prenatal course last semester, O'Connell was taken aback. Kenny's girlfriend, Danielle, had a baby due in December, but no boy had ever taken that class.

"I said, 'We're going to talk about labor and delivery and how your body changes.' He said, 'Oh yeah,' and he and Danielle took the class together. When I would say things about bonding with the baby, he was very interested."

Happily, the tendency to ignore teen fathers seems to be ending.

In conjunction with the Governor's Council, the non-profit Campaign for Our Children is targeting teen fathers with a mass media campaignfocusing on male responsibility.

One poster that has been sent toschools across Maryland shows a chicken wearing a pair of tennis shoes, with the slogan, "What do you call a guy who flies the coop?"

Since 1988, the Adolescent Fathers Achievement Program, sponsored by the private, non-profit Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, has offered counseling to Baltimore city boys, encouraging them to help raise their child and stay in school. In Baltimore city andPrince George's and Anne Arundel counties, the new Healthy Teens program, sponsored through local health departments, teaches both girls and boys pregnancy prevention.

Operation Bootstrap, sponsored by the local Department of Social Services, provides counseling for teen-age fathers. And tomorrow, the Anne Arundel Teen Pregnancy Coalition is sponsoring a workshop at Anne Arundel Community College that will include a segment on pregnancy prevention for boys.

* When the doctor shouted, "It's a girl!" Miles Dixon was perplexed.

"They saidit was a girl, and I was trying to figure out how it was a girl," herecalls. "I didn't know how they knew. I asked my mom, and she showed me."

Miles has learned a lot since then. He's gotten better at changing diapers -- a chore he initially refused to tackle and that still gives him trouble. More importantly, he's learned that taking care of a baby is more than "changing diapers and playing with her," as he once thought. He's decided teen-agers should either "not have sex at all or use a condom or something."

He's also decided that, if he ever has another baby, he doesn't want to be in the delivery room. "A nasty scene" is how he recalls the birth process.

Yolanda's mother went into labor at 9:15 a.m.; Yolanda was born 12:57 the next morning -- 16 hours later. "It was a long time. Long," Miles recalls.

On the way to Harbor Hospital Center in Baltimore, "(Denise) was squirming," he says. "It tripped me out. I was getting scared, I didn't know what was going on. The mothers were telling her to 'Breathe! Breathe!' She was grabbing my hand and squeezing it to death."

Kenny Edwards remembers his delivery room experience as "the best feeling Iever had." His baby, Anthony Vaughn, was born last Christmas Eve.

"It was real messy. But it was real interesting. At first I didn't want to be in there. I thought I was going to faint. But it was worth it. It felt good . . . knowing I was the father. I could tell he was mine because his nose looked just like mine. He resembled me so much."

Today, Kenny works at a Denny's restaurant as a cook. He visits Anthony, who lives nearby with his 16-year-old mother, Danielle Rhames, and her family, several times a week and takes care of him on weekends.

Danielle will start bringing Anthony to the Meade day-care center in March. "With most girls I know, the guys have stuck around and helped," Danielle says.

Miles' mother says, "I don't know what's made him hang in there."

A devout member of the Antioch Apostolic Church in Arnold, Proctor says she taught her children "about morality, about abstaining from sex and fornication. That's why I was disappointed. I thought they knew better."

Though pleased with how Miles cares for Yolanda, Proctor worries about what will happen this June, when he graduates from high school. Miles says he'd like to go to computer school, but Proctor says she has never heard him mention this goal, or any other.

"He takes care of his baby, and that's aboutit," she says. "The only thing he was interested in was basketball. He thought he could go and make a career out of that."

O'Connell, the Meade parenting teacher, says the aimlessness of the boys she sees looms as a larger and more complicated problem than teaching them to change diapers or heat a bottle. "They can't picture themselves next year, let alone five years down the road," she says.

Ask Kenny and Miles how they see their future, and they seem bemused that the possibilities include anything other than what they know right now --living near their babies, seeing them when they want, supporting them with what they earn at whatever job they happen to find.

They're still only boys, of course. But as Kenny says, "You grow up real fast when you have somebody depending on you."

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