Bucking Stereotype, Some Teen Dads Take To Parenting

February 17, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

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.

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