Dr. Andrew Smiler unpacks the lives of teenage dads, identifying their struggles, their emotions, and their sense of being locked out of their own lives.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Now you’re a cliché, a stereotype. The 19 year old dad who isn’t there for his baby girl. The guy who is only as helpful as his last paycheck. It’s not what you wanted for your life, but it’s exactly where you are.
At least you’ve got a job and can help support the baby, for whatever that’s worth. Over the last year, you’ve watched Sammi become more and more stressed about taking care of the baby. When the two of you are together, you help her and take care of the kid as much as possible. But Sammi lives with her mom and that lady hates you. Blames you for ruining her daughter’s life. She won’t watch her granddaughter so Sammi can go to school for that cosmetology degree so she can do people’s hair. She won’t let you watch the baby in her house either.
You’ve tried, because you love Sammi and you certainly love the baby. You were there for most of the OB appointments and even when the baby was born. You wanted to go the parenting classes too, but Sammi’s mom said she was going and the class only allowed one coach, so you were boxed out. Sammi wanted you, but knew she couldn’t say no to her mom on that one.
You’ve check out a bunch of stuff in order to get help, but it seems like everyone is interested in helping babies and their moms. It’s like dads don’t count at all. WIC — Women, Infants, and Children — provides money to moms with young children, but not dads who don’t live with them.
That seems to be the way it goes. There are all sorts of state and federal Welfare programs, like TANF, Food Stamps, and Medicaid, but they’re not exactly designed for you. They’re all geared toward helping the household with the baby, and right now, that means grandma’s house. If Sammi and the baby moved in with you, things would be different, but with no savings, a minimum wage job, and what you give to Sammi and the baby, that’s not gonna happen. If you didn’t live with two other guys, you’d be on the street. Mom was clear that she didn’t want you at home anymore, thought you were a bad example for your younger brother.
Even if you and Sammi lived together, money would still be bad. Sure, the welfare money would come to your household, but if she started working, you might lose benefits. And who would watch the kid? How would you pay for that?
The program people weren’t much help. You and Sammi found that class on what it was like to be a new mom. When Sammi asked about dads, they said they didn’t have a class for dads. She asked if you could come with her and the lady said she wasn’t sure and she’d have to get back to Sammi. That was when Sammi lost it. She told the lady “If you don’t think my baby’s daddy is important, then I don’t know what you can teach me” and stormed out.
You did find some other programs, but they were all during the daytime. No help there — gotta work. Sammi went to a couple of them. Said some were pretty good and wished you could be there, but said the program leaders either didn’t talk about the dads or acted like the dads were sh —. Probably better that you didn’t go. Don’t need some lady treating you like crap when you’re trying to help your baby girl.
You even swallowed your pride, asked for help, and talked to a social worker. That was useless. The social worker was nice and all, but she didn’t get you at all. She didn’t know about any programs for teen dads and couldn’t help you find a job. She was willing to talk about “how hard it all is” — must have said that 25 times — but you don’t need to talk about how hard it is, you know. What good is talking about it? What you need is help doing stuff — help finding a better paying job, help getting a better place to live. You know it’s your job to support your family and all the programs out there, from WIC down to the local centers, think that’s your job too. That’s the help you need.
So here you are. Doing it on your own because it doesn’t look like any program is designed to help you. You’re trying to keep your stupid job and look for a better one and you’re hoping that someday you, Sammi, and the baby can be a “real” family that all live together.
For more, please read Teen Fathers: A Typical Day.
Author’s note: This story is based on the averages for teen fathers. The only way in which this story deviates from those average is in employment: most teen fathers are unable to find steady full time jobs.
Photo credit: Truthout.org/flickr