By William K. Alcorn
Two young black men talked candidly, and with humor, about their initial shock upon learning their girlfriends were pregnant and the changes they went through in learning to be dads.
The fathers, Myke “Tatman” Parker and Andre Williams, were featured in a new, locally produced video, “Dads Do Matter,” which debuted Tuesday during a forum sponsored by the Greater Youngstown Community Dialogue On Racism and the Mahoning Youngstown Infant Mortality Coalition in Hitchcock Auditorium at Renaissance Place.
“When I was informed I was going to be a father, I was shocked and angry at first. I had big plans to go to college. As I watched the birth of my child, I was disgusted. But after I got to hold her, I got all teary-eyed. Being a father has made me more humble and a little more patient,” Parker said.
“I didn’t see myself having a baby. I was definitely surprised,” said Williams, who described watching the birth of his daughter as a “little weird” at first but “pretty cool” as the process continued.
One piece of advice Williams offered to men planning to watch a birth for the first time: “Make sure you eat something or you will pass out,” which drew a laugh from the audience made up primarily of women.
“Life revolves around my daughter now. It costs money, and it is time-consuming. A lot of people in Youngstown, men especially, don’t take care of their kids. That’s my main thing now,” Williams said.
Both men say they have good support systems with grandparents and other family members to help out when needed. However, they said they would rather succeed on their own.
“I’d much rather stand on my own, but if it comes down to it, I’ll ask for help,” Williams said.
In the video, Williams and Parker, who did not attend the forum, gave their definitions of a good father.
“Basically, it is spending time with them. At the end of the day, kids don’t see material things. They just see you are there,” said Parker, who said his father is his biggest role model.
“When I support or reprimand my daughter, I can hear his words coming through me,” Parker said.
“When I first really thought I could be a good father was the first time I got her to go to sleep. That was a big moment,” Williams said. But, he said to other young men: “If you aren’t ready to be a father, don’t have a baby, because once it’s here, it’s on you.”
The “Dads Do Matter” video and the panel discussion were responses of the sponsoring groups to the dismal infant mortality rate in the Mahoning Valley, especially among black infants.
The infant mortality rate, which in Mahoning County is among the highest in Ohio, represents the number of babies that do not survive to their first birthday.
Several factors contribute to that dismal rate, said the panel of experts.
When women are “bed surfing” because they don’t have a permanent place to live, the stress has a negative effect on pregnancies, leading to poor birth outcomes, said Dr. Elena M. Rossi, medical director for special projects and an Akron Children’s Hospital neonatologist.
Also, said Dr. Rossi, three children a week are dying in Ohio because of unsafe sleep environments. Children need skin-to-skin contact, but when they sleep, they need to be on their backs in a crib without toys, blankets or bumper rails, she said.