“Having [my son] saved my life,” young father Jovan told the Sentinel. “As he grows up I just want it to be safe for him. I want him to be safe and get an education.” (photo by Jennifer Bihm)
Local residents talk about the challenges of fatherhood, changing their lives and what they hope for their children’s futures.
Local resident Oscar Casanova looks carefree enough. Wearing basketball shorts and an easy smile, going for an afternoon jog seems like one of those small life details he takes for granted. But taking things for granted is something he never does anymore since becoming a father, he said.
“I had to start thinking responsibly, something I wasn't doing before,” said Casanova.
“I was thinking of myself, but now everything is about him. Every move I make is about him…”
Having a child, biological or otherwise is a life changing event. For a mother, it will mean changes to her schedule, her body perhaps or even her career choices. For a father, particularly an African American father, changes often involve their entire personality.
The Sentinel had the opportunity recently, to talk to fathers in the community. They talked about how their life changed upon becoming dads and the things they are aiming to teach their children. Most importantly perhaps, they talked about the hopes and dreams they have for their children as they become adults.
“I teach [my son] the value of life,” Casanova told the Sentinel, “the importance of getting an education.”
“I’m from Nicaragua [so] I teach him that being born in this country gives him an opportunity to be the best he can be and not to take it for granted. Where I was born there is not a lot of opportunity. So, I teach him, when you come out of high school, you go on. And you be the person you want to be. You set a goal and you go for it.”
Casanova’s sentiments seem to ring true among the other dads, who graciously took the time out to give the Sentinel their take on what fatherhood means.
“[Fatherhood] made me do a total 360,” said Anteus Clark, father of four.
“Before I had my first daughter, who is eight now, I was heavily in the streets. I was a menace to society. After her, it wasn’t about me anymore. [I started to realize] my actions could harm her whether I was around or not. It gave me a better sense of responsibility and purpose. My purpose became taking care of her and making sure that her life is better and making sure she doesn’t go through the struggles that I went through. It changed me from a boy to a man.”
As a man, Clark said, teaching his children life lessons is his first priority.
“I try to teach my children the things that aren’t taught anymore as far as parenting goes,” he said.
“It’s not about the Jordans you wear or the Gucci shirts, or how much money… [they have to have] character, honor, self respect and self awareness.
“I don’t want them to just have a formal education. I want them to know everything. I teach them that whatever they contribute to their environment, that’s what it will become. Even now, while they’re little, I show them that the way they carry themselves and the way they act, other kids follow them.
So, [for instance] if you can follow instructions and do your work, you could influence the next kid to do the same thing…”
Lonnie Smith, father of two, also said that being a father made him a man.
“The things that I thought were real to me before I had kids, weren’t really what I thought they were,” said Smith.
“By the time I had my first child, I became more responsible. Before I had my daughter, I had this… it’s almost like this don’t give a f**k attitude. Once you have a child, you have to be there for them. I was a party guy. Thursday through Sunday, I was in the streets.
“When I had my daughter, I realized that I had to start focusing more on her needs and raising her. The sh*t that I thought I was really into, I really wasn’t into. It was my time to become a real man.”
“Being a father isn’t easy,” said Antonio Jenkins, father of two teenage sons.
“We hope that we have instilled enough rules that we have installed good enough morals… good things, dignity, class respect… things that help them survive society and be responsible young adults,” said Jenkins.
“I hope I’ve given them enough butt whoopins ( he laughs) that they remember as adults, that doing wrong doesn’t pay off.
“We live in world today where they charge young kids, teenagers, as adults when mentally they are still children and when they don’t fully understand the significance of the time they can get for committing certain crimes. I hope that I do enough. My kids are still young teenagers ( 13 and 14 years old) so, I still have time to stay on them. First of all I want to lead by example with my own actions, by trying to work everyday and be a provider. It’s a lot but you have to stick to it…”
Other dads, like Lemiert Park store owners “Shaq” and “Sika” talked about how having children saved them and how it gave them a tremendous sense of pride.
“I felt empowered. I never felt that kind of power,” Shaq said of the day his son was born.
“I saw what [my wife and I created and at first it scared me…”
“I was always very proud of him. To this very day (his son is an adult now) I am proud of that child that I was proud of back then… my proudest moment is my son.”
For his part, young father Jovan also said becoming a father saved his life and how in turn he wants to save his son’s life.
“I don’t do the bad things I used to do. I can’t do them,” he said.
“As he grows up I just want it to be safe for him. I want him to be safe and get an education…”