When Father's Day Comes Early

June 19, 1994|By STEVEN DICKENSON JR.

Kiersten Wise's morning schedule resembles that of many school girls her age. She wakes, showers, dresses and gets ready to leave for school. However, before going into the car, she kisses her 1-year-old son goodbye. Kiersten, like hundreds of thousands of other girls in the United States, is a teen-age mother.

Kiersten, a Broadneck High School senior, gave birth to her son, Nicholas, over a year ago. Since then, her life has changed tremendously. There is now a stronger push to finish school and go to college, and now that there is a child to provide for, that's not quite so easy.

At one time, Kiersten had a part-time job, but had to quit because of the stress school, work and having a baby put on her. With her boyfriend working and her parents helping with expenses, it wasn't too much of a problem. In case you were wondering, the father of the baby did not leave her.

, How could I do such a thing?

Fatherhood, the big myth

Contrary to popular belief, my decision to stay involved in the life of my child is not an unusual thing.

"The myth is that this guy is cold and callous," said Dr. Mark Kiselica, an adolescent psychologist at Ball State University who is writing a book on teen-age fathers. "He gets this girl pregnant to prove his manhood and then dumps her. That is very atypical. There is a small percentage of males that actually do that.

"What is typical is that the teen father tries to the best of his ability to financially and emotionally support the mother and child."

Fathers do drop out of the picture, but not as often as is publicly believed. They may be rebuffed by the girl's family and blamed for the pregnancy. Others deny paternity, becoming involved only if they are taken to court and made to pay child support, Dr. Kiselica said.

Whatever the case may be, there will always be teen-age fathers who disappear from the scene, and they will continue to give fathers who stay with their child a "bad name." Yet, fathers like myself will also be around, and we will always be fighting to give teen-age fathers their good name back. . . .

This is the (non-existent) life

Some of you may be reading this and thinking that teen-age parents really have it made, at least easier than you thought.

Think again. See that subheading up there. It's not just for humor, it's true.

While sometimes it may seem that a teen-age parent has it made financially, with all the aid programs out there, that's not always the case. A lot of teen-agers get turned down for the programs.

Certain programs like WIC (Special supplemental food program for Woman, Infants and Children) are easier to get into than others; most of the truly helpful ones, such as medical assistance, are not so easy.

I knew a girl I used to work with, who now works at Sam's Club, who was turned down for medical assistance on the basis that she could financially handle her child's medical expenses. She works approximately 30 hours a week, makes $8 an hour with little or no benefits and the state of Maryland rejected her. Eight dollars an hour! Wow, that's a lot! Maybe to you, but not to a single teen-age mother. That's only about $200 a week after taxes, and she has other bills to pay, such as diapers, food that WIC doesn't provide, rent and insurance. It's not easy.

While some teens may be financially provided for, not all are emotionally provided for. Many mothers want to have a normal family environment for their child, one that doesn't require the baby to be shuttled between baby-sitters, mommy going to school during the day and going to work at night.

A mother also has to face the fact that she might lose most of her friends during her pregnancy. This has happened to almost every teen-age mother I have talked to. While they may regain their friendships later, and they will make new friends, it's still not the same. All the kids you grew up with, all the friends you promised to be friends with to the end, have left you. . . .

There are so many things an adult mother has to worry about. Now, pile those worries on a teen-ager's grand list of worries, and you have a teen-age mother, stressed out beyond belief.

The future

If you ask the teen-age mothers of Broadneck what they plan to do with their future, you won't find a lot of them willing to simply give up.

Kiersten plans to go on to college and become a music teacher, while another plans on going to nursing school. Propaganda which tries to discourage teen-age sex, while well-meaning, is at the same time very insulting to current teen-age mothers and fathers. I saw one that said having a child at a young age will kill your life and your dreams. That's not entirely true.

While I do not condone teen-age sex with this article, I do not believe that a teen-age mother should simply give up and become like the girl portrayed in that poster.

A little word of advice to any teen-age mother or mother-to-be: Please don't give up and don't let it kill your dreams. If you try hard enough, you'll achieve them.

Steven Dickenson Jr. and Kiersten Wise both recently graduated from Broadneck High and plan to attend college. They were the subjects of a June 5 feature article in The Sun for Anne Arundel County. Mr. Dickenson's name was misstated in that article. This commentary by Mr. Dickenson was excerpted from the Tribruin, the Broadneck student newspaper.

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