On July 4, 1996, my oldest daughter was born. I was less than a month away from my nineteenth birthday, and my then girlfriend – and now wife – was seventeen.
We’ve come a long way and have truly beaten the odds, considering the circumstances, and I wouldn’t change a thing about our life.
When my wife tells people that we have a 23-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old daughter, and a 5-year-old son, she typically gets asked, in a whisper and with a conspiratorial tone, “From the same father?”
And, she answers “yes, of course.”
Frankly, it’s an insulting question, but I understand why it’s asked.
We are an outlier in many ways.
Teenage pregnancies happen. It’s a reality of life. When it does, typically there are few resources available for the boy, no one to talk to, nowhere to turn. They are often blamed for what happened, as if he was some kind of predator that created the problem on his own.
The girl has resources she can access, and it is made clear to her that whatever happens next is her choice.
Whether the boy stays with the baby’s mother or not, he will be affected for the rest of his life.
I’ve written the below letter to encourage and provide practical advice to soon-to-be teenage fathers:
Dear Soon To Be Dad:
I know you are experiencing a whole host of emotions right now. After all, you are still a teenager, and you have hopes and dreams for the future.
Perhaps, like me when I was in your position, you have no experience taking care of an infant. You might still think of yourself as a kid. You might just know you aren’t ready for this.
You want to pursue your dreams, and you are trying to figure out how you will accomplish them when you will have to financially support and co-parent a child. You realize that your freedom of movement and to do what you want will be affected.
Perhaps you just aren’t ready to settle down. You don’t want to stop going out. You don’t want to tell your friends “no” when they ask you to do things.
Perhaps you are worrying where you will get the money you need to help raise a child when you don’t have any skills or the right education yet.
Perhaps you and the mother simply don’t get along. It may have been a hookup with a girl you have no intention of ever marrying. Shit happened and here you are.
Perhaps you are depressed, sad, anxious, angry, fearful, or a combination of all these emotions.
This was not part of your plans. I’m sure, like most, you’ve dreamt of having a family; but certainly not like this when you weren’t ready emotionally, financially, or professionally.
And, I understand that you have nowhere to turn for guidance or assistance or to just talk about the feelings you are experiencing.
Society tells you that every major decision about that child is the choice of the mother, and that you are superfluous, except for the financial support you will be legally required to contribute.
I’m here to tell you that your life, while it may change, is not over.
I’m here to tell you that you can have a future.
I’m here to urge you, regardless of how you and the mother get along, to be a major part of that child’s life.
Children desperately need their fathers in their lives.
When fathers are involved and invested our society is better off and the child has a better shot at having a good future.
No matter what happens between you and the mother, be a Dad.
Take that job incredibly seriously.
I won’t lie to you. Life will be difficult. You may miss things that other guys your age are doing. You may have to work a second job to help provide support. You will have no clue what you are doing. Good luck changing that first diaper, getting peed on, and having projectile spit-up sent your way.
And, I have a secret, though society tries to suppress this truth from you. Men and women are different. Their maternal instincts kick in very quickly, really while the baby is growing inside them, and they just seem to know what to do. For us, it can take a little more work. Don’t blame yourself for that. Blame evolution. Despite that strive to be as good of a father as possible.
Here are four suggestions to any soon to be father who is still a teenager and is scared and confused.
Always remain in your child’s life.
You and the mother might want nothing to do with each other.
No one is telling you to run out to marry someone you are not compatible with. In fact, please don’t do that. Don’t get married just because your family expects you to, her family demands it, or you feel it is the honorable thing to do. Stay with the girl if you have a deep bond with her, and you believe based on your experience together you are compatible and can make your relationship work.
This is so important. So many people in your position rush into a marriage situation that neither party was ready for, if you do this you will likely create a negative situation for all three of you.
Whether there is a future relationship or not, keep the child separate from that. That child did not choose to be born.
Your son or daughter needs his or her father.
Only you can provide the masculine leader in that child’s life that all the research shows is so crucial for the child’s future development. Don’t cede that role to the child’s mother who is ill-equipped to provide such leadership.
Do what you need to do to be in that child’s life, and don’t let yourself be bullied into sacrificing any of your rights. In fact, you know you will be on the hook for money but know that is the bare minimum of your responsibilities. Be fully and unreservedly in your child’s life. Be a Dad.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I know there are few resources out there for you. It sucks, but it is the way it is. Talk with men who have children who you respect. Seek them out. Even if your own father is not in your life, or isn’t worthy of emulation, find a father-mentor who will listen to you and help you through your struggles.
Depending on your particular situation, you may need legal guidance to protect your rights to be in that child’s life. Do whatever must be done to ensure you have the ability to be an involved Dad.
Make time for yourself and create your own identity.
Just like marriage, fatherhood is one aspect of your identity.
It is one aspect, but it isn’t your entire identity.
This is so important. You have to discover and develop a sense of who you are, what your values are, and define and implement your mission in life. This can only be done by you on your own.
Enjoy your hobbies. Read and engage in self-improvement activities. Do activities alone or with male friends. Pour yourself into making money and building a career or business.
This will make you a better father and man.
Ultimately, you must make necessary sacrifices for your new family, but you must not self-sacrifice your entire independent existence away.
Don’t give up on your dreams. Continue to pursue whatever career path you have in mind. Get the training you need. Make it happen. If you don’t do these things, you might carry a sense of resentment around with you, and always wonder “what if?”.
Keep your good friends close, and let any toxic ones go.
You will likely lose friends.
Let them go.
If any of your friends can’t handle the fact that you have a new set of responsibilities and try to convince you to shirk them, get rid of them.
With that said, it is so important that you have male friends. Figure out which of them are worth keeping around because they will be supportive of you and your mission and allow you to lean on them for support.
You may need to vent. Maintain friendships where you can do that with trusted males who have your best interest at heart.
The fact is many men have been in your situation and have thrived. It is possible.
View your current situation as a gift that you have been entrusted with. That child will change your life for the better if you embrace – truly embrace – your role as Dad.
While you now have a great deal of responsibility at a young age, never, ever forget that you are not alone.
Someone who knows how you feel and cares
To join a private online community of men of men who can help you, The Fraternity of Excellence can help.