James Davis, a father at age 19, bristles when he hears that black teen-age males are interested only in making babies.
"Ridiculous," Davis says of those assessments that teen fathers have little concern for the well-being of child and mother.
He fumes at the perceptions that few black teen-age males will commit themselves to their girlfriends after they've given birth, and that the only contact they'll have with mother and child is through child-support payments.
And, when it's brought up that some people feel that black
teen-age males are simply not good fathers, Davis cuddles Sharnice, his 10-month-old daughter, and kisses her gently on the cheek.
To Davis and a lot of other youthful black fathers, young black males are getting a bad rap when it comes to fatherhood.
"Whoever says those things is wrong," says Davis, who lives in West Baltimore. "This is just not true, especially about me. I hate being put into a box with other people because they may be like that. I'm sure there are some like that out there. But I love being a father. I love it. I'm very happy."
Davis, who works two part-time jobs to help support his daughter, says he is no different from most black fathers his age whom he knows. He says they are responsible and support their children and the mothers, emotionally and financially.
"The only thing I don't like about being a father is having to worry about when my daughter is sick or going to be sick," Davis says. "That's hard on me."
Davis and some 20 other young black fathers attended a Father's Day assembly at the Laurence G. Paquin School, a school in East Baltimore for about 300 girls and young women who either are pregnant or recently have given birth.
At the assembly, the fathers, their ages ranging from the low teens to the mid-20s, were told about the responsibility of fatherhood, about staying within the law to provide for their children. They received tips on child care for fathers left "home alone."
During interviews, many of the fathers said repeatedly the mothers won't be raising the children alone.
"This is a two-way thing, see," said Charles Wilkerson, 18, whose girlfriend, 17, is expecting their child any day.
"The myth is that black teens don't care, but that's the myth," Wilkerson said. "My woman is not going to be a statistic as a single woman raising a child."
Rosetta Stith, principal of Paquin School, said the purpose of the Father's Day event was to talk to teen-age fathers and fathers-to-be about responsibility.
"A lot of them are going to have to get their lives focused," Stith said. "They come here today on their own because they want to learn about being a father. This is not threatening. They are not coming here to get locked up. They're anxious to be involved."
Many of the young fathers said they feel they are targets for scorn and ridicule from society and the media even though they work several jobs to support their children while continuing their schooling.
"It's about being a man and being responsible for what I've created," said one father, 18, who lives in the Oliver section of East Baltimore. "I'm going to do everything I can for my child." He didn't want his name used.
"Most men, especially the black men that I know, know what they have to do when they have a child," he said. "It may not mean they're going to have a lot of fun, and it doesn't necessarily mean you have to marry the female. But a black man growing up these days does care for his child."
He said the media always focus on the young men on street corners and portray them as males who would rather hang out than support their families.
"How does the media know who's a father or not?" he said. "They just feel that every black man or boy who is old enough to make a child has a child already. Tell me the media is not stupid for saying that and spreading that."
Lloyd Ward, 17, whose girlfriend recently had a child fathered by another youth, said he is "the significant other" in her life.
"I love her a lot whether she had the baby or not," Ward said. "I don't plan to have any children until I get married. But when I do, they'll be provided for forever."
None of the males interviewed said marriage is in his immediate future. Some, however, said they live with their girlfriends or visit them regularly. One takes the bus across town every day to visit his pregnant girlfriend.
"Sometimes she's hollering at me to do things for her and that's a nuisance," said the bus-traveler, who didn't want his name used. "I'm doing the right thing for her and our child because I love her and I will [love] the baby, too."
As for Davis, his biggest booster is Chinika Jones, 19, a Paquin student and the mother of Davis' daughter. Jones said that during her pregnancy she worried whether Davis was going to be as responsible as he has demonstrated.
"I worried if he was going to be here for me, but he has been through every step," Jones said.