From one young father of color to another, I know that times are tough. Once again racist anti-immigrant rhetoric has become the new normal. Where black and brown lives seem expendable and headlines inundate our social media feeds with our deaths or failures. Yet here we are, defiantly pushing back on this hateful discourse and affirming that we are young men of color raising our children, beating all odds, statistics, and stereotypes.
I became a young father two years after my father’s death. Despite my utter lack of experience in life, I knew this was going to be one of the most important things I ever did. Raising a child and becoming a father is a serious job no matter what age.
By the time my own father died of cancer, I had nineteen years of knowledge on how to be a loving father. My father instilled qualities in me through his actions. I am not talking about stereotypical overly macho or masculine qualities associated with Latino men, and more specifically Mexican males. My father was calm, patient, and had great respect for those around him. Like so many immigrants in this country, he was hard-working, loved, lived and breathed his family. He was the kind of father who would whip-up tacos dorados on the days our mom was working outside the home or was just plain exhausted from the daily grind that comes along with raising three kids.
When Benny, my son, was born, I was working part-time and about to start at a new school. My world changed and it could have been easy to quit school. I contemplated looking for a full-time job and moving out of my mom’s casa. I thought about bowing into the social pressures that fall on many young men of color who become fathers at an early age. Instead, I thought about my father and imagined the future I wanted for myself and my son.
Despite my own work and determination to succeed for Benny and myself, I recognize how fortunate I have been. Were it not for the love and support of my family, and more specifically my mother whose unrelenting love allowed me to continue my education, I would not be where I am today.
Let me be clear, raising a child is not easy. Everything from daily tasks to long-term goals take a little bit longer to complete. After transferring from community college, it took me another three years to obtain my bachelor’s degree. I was undeterred mainly because I had seen my immigrant parents work so hard. I understood I too needed to work hard for the sake of my child. Add to that the complications that inevitably come along with co-parenting situations like that of myself and Benny’s mom.
Co-parenting with someone you broke up with is like trying to get directions in a foreign country. You often find yourself not speaking the same language, you might have different customs, and it’s insanely easy to get lost and frustrated. Trust me, frustration comes with being a parent, although the frustrations you experience while co-parenting might seem augmented. Looking back, I also now know that this does not make you, or your child’s mother, less of a good parent, nor does it mean either one of you have less love for your child.
Most parents, no matter who they are or where they come from, want the best for their children; although, the definition of “best” is subject to personal opinion. Whether or not you’re together in a relationship with the mother of your child, you will be raising that child together. This takes understanding, patience and respect. The same lessons I learned from my own father on how to treat others, and lessons I hope to pass on to Benny through my actions.
Now that I am a grad student, fatherhood is wrapped up in schedule coordination, maintaining a home alongside my wonderful partner, sharing meals, and being fully present regardless of my own mood or buzzing phone. Fatherhood is a state of constant flux. To expect anything but change is to set yourself up for disappointment. Just as our children must learn new skills and adapt to change, so must we. As Benny’s dad I have learned that children are teachers too. It’s important to share in their joy, learn from them, and cherish those abrazos no matter what age.
I want you to know that you are valuable and that you deserve to parent with dignity and respect. I congratulate you for your tenacity and for keeping your head up despite what is often said about us. In these seven years of fatherhood I have learned that being a young father of color has little to do with how the media and society represents us. Contrary to popular belief, we love our children deeply and are invested in their future. We are incredibly resilient and capable of achieving every single goal we set up for ourselves and our families - even against the most racist anti-immigrant and anti-young parent rhetoric.
Being a young father has been an incredible journey, an exercise in flexibility and a lesson in relishing the mundane. Yes, it’s the little things. To remember my father, it’s in the tacos dorados and I hope Benny will remember me in the campfire s’mores and goodnight besitos.
For more from young fathers read: Justice for Young Families Issue Brief 3, “Young Fathers Speak Out!”