One Young Father tells his story
"DARREN" didn't set out to become an unwed dad.
He met the mother of his children on Facebook. It was just a sexual thing at first. But despite serious misgivings about his girlfriend's hard-partying lifestyle, Darren fell hard. The young couple used condoms, but then became lax.
"I did tell her, 'I don't want kids,' and she was whispering in my ears, 'I'll change,' " the 20-year-old dad recalled.one
One thing led to another and about a month ago - Darren doesn't know the exact date - his now-ex gave birth to twins.
Luckily for him and the future of his young daughter and son, Darren (not his real name), found Young Fathers. He's been attending the Wednesday night sessions since January.
"It made me man-up, to some extent," he said of the classes. "We talk about everything. It's open in there. You can express yourself. When I leave out of there, I feel good."
Most Young Fathers are unemployed and don't live with their children. Some even live on the streets and come, at least initially, for the $20 and two SEPTA tokens given out to each attendee at the end of class.
"These guys are just surviving - they're going from place to place," said Archye Leacock, who founded Young Fathers in 2001.
Darren said that his mother put him out of their Willingboro, N.J., home when he was still a teenager. His father is in jail.
Darren moved to Philly to live with grandparents, but chafed under their strict rules. After a stint in the Job Corps out of state, Darren returned to this area, only to get caught up in Camden's street life. Then his girlfriend announced that she was pregnant.
"I told her, 'You didn't have to do that. Wow, now you have to deal with me for 18 years,' " Darren recalled. "She was, like, 'I know.' "
Feeling stuck, he moved out of her place and into a rowhouse in North Philly's Fairhill neighborhood and set about trying to find legitimate work.
A friend pointed him in the direction of Young Fathers. Since enrolling in January, Darren also has availed himself of other help that the Institute offers, such as assistance in getting a driver's license.
Last week, Darren got good news: He'd landed a customer-service job at a company in the Northeast.
But he still has a lot to learn about what it means to be a dad and how to support his children. Darren's reluctant to give his ex cash, saying, "She lost my trust."
He tries to stay in touch by phone, but his ex often doesn't take his calls. He's missing out on precious bonding time with his twins.
"I'm thinking about them right now," Darren said sadly. "I only seen them one time."
- Jenice Armstrong