Let’s talk about Alex.
Alex is a 16 year old father. His girlfriend became pregnant after they had sex one time without a condom, which they didn't usually do.
Alex was scared and didn’t know where to turn. When he told his parents, they were angry and disappointed, but said they would support him no matter what happened. Alex’s girlfriend decided to have the baby. Alex was there throughout the pregnancy, but the relationship eventually fell apart, although he tried hard to keep it together as he wanted his child to have both parents around.
Once baby Jade was born, Alex’s girlfriend’s parents had to take a lot of responsibility as she was not in a position to do so. Eventually they decided they would not be able to look after the baby anymore. Baby’s mom then decided she did not want to do it anymore and so dropped baby at Alex’s house saying it was his responsibility.
Alex was in shock but did not want his child to grow up in foster care or another family so he and his family said they would take baby Jade in. How was Alex going to manage going to school and being a parent? He didn’t know anything about looking after a newborn baby! Surely he was too young to learn how to change nappies or put her to sleep? What did he know about bottles and formula and baby development?
Dropping out of school was not an option for him. He also didn’t want all the responsibility for raising the child to fall on to his parents’ shoulders, even though he would, for a while, have to rely on them for financial support. He wanted to be Jade’s dad. Fortunately, his parents were there to teach him the basics of baby care. He read a lot about it, took her to the clinic religiously and asked the nurses when he was worried. He made a lot of mistakes at first but soon got the hang of it.
He found a way to stay in school after talking to his teachers, sometimes taking work home when Jade was sick or he was unable to find childcare for her that day. He got up in the middle of the night to feed her. He worried when she was sick. He got a part time job on the weekends to help pay for her food, nappies and formula – plus the extra childcare costs being away from her entailed.
Many of his friends were no longer interested in being around him – his priorities were different. He was not interested in drinking or partying, or even girls. Today, he’s sometimes lonely as he has little in common with any of his peers. He sometimes thinks about getting back together with Jade’s mom, but he knows that she’s not good for him or Jade. She comes around to visit Jade sometimes, but not reliably and although she’s said she will contribute financially, somehow that’s never happened. He doesn’t want to stop Jade from seeing her mom, because he knows that relationship is important. But he wishes that she would take more interest in Jade, even if she doesn’t want to be involved in the day to day raising of her. Even if she doesn’t pay any maintenance for Jade – Alex just wants his daughter to know her mother loves her. This worries him a lot, because Jade’s mother is not getting any better.
He tries hard to focus on his schoolwork because he knows how important his education was to both him AND Jade. He wants to be an engineer after school and is talking to his teachers about how to fund his studies.
Every morning he gets up at 5am, packs Jade’s bag for the day, makes her breakfast, tidies up the house, does a load of Jade’s washing then prepares for school. At 6am he wakes her, feeds her, dresses her and leaves home at 7 to drop her off at daycare. He then makes his way to school until 3pm. After school, he fetches her at 4pm and takes her home. He spends time with her playing and bonding – he knows how important it is to be the one special person in her life, and he worries sometimes that he doesn’t spend enough time with her. He wants to make their time together count. His parents do offer to help, but he is afraid to accept too much help because he doesn’t want them to think he’s taking advantage, and he has so little time with Jade he doesn’t want to share it, even if he feels exhausted.
Then it’s suppertime, bathtime and bedtime. Sometime around 8pm he can settle down to do his homework and study. Jade doesn’t really sleep well right now as she’s teething so he’s up with her a few times a night, and she usually ends up sleeping in his bed with him.
Next morning he gets up and does it all over again.
Alex is very young to have all this responsibility, and he knows it. However, he knows he’s doing his best. He knows Jade could not have a better father than him. He would not change it for anything, even though it’s hard sometimes. The challenges of being a parent are worth the reward to him and he’s happy. Tired, worried, stressed, but happy.
Other parents discuss Alex with their own sons – “If only you could be more like him! He’s a serious boy, with serious responsibilities and he’s doing so well! He’s not wasting time on drinking and getting into trouble!”
Alex knows that not all teenage dads are like him. He knows there are many who don’t do a good job and their children suffer. He doesn’t want that for Jade. He wants her to have a good life and he’s doing everything he can to give her that.
When Alex goes out to the mall with Jade, people smile at him. They are impressed with this young dad taking responsibility and obviously being a great father. You can see it in the way Jade is with him. Other mothers come up to talk to him and ask about Jade. He feels good being able to show her to the world. He is proud of her, and yes, he is proud of himself.
So that’s Alex’s story. There are many Alex’s in the world, doing their best against great odds. There are many Jades in the world, lucky to have parents who are as committed and responsible as he is.
Aren’t you proud of Alex? Don’t you think he’s awesome? Don’t you think we should hear more about people like him? To encourage them and to show other dads what they too can achieve? I think so.
Imagine Alex was a girl.
What do you think now?
Would she also be getting those smiles in the mall? Do YOU still feel the same way about Alex? Do you still feel that girl-Alex deserves the respect and admiration you extended to boy-Alex?
If not, ask yourself why.
Then we can start to have a real conversation.