“It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.” – Anne Sexton
After eleven years of being involved with Year Up, Father’s Day takes on a different meaning – or perhaps more accurately – an expanded meaning. I often find at Year Up that the emotional range that we experience at work is much wider than what I was used to in the for-profit sector.
Back then, a great day was making money, and a really tough day was managing an employee who had a personal problem. Now, the joy felt when one of our young adults succeeds on their terms and according to their expectations is beyond description - satisfying to the core of my being. Sadly, the pain felt when one of our students finds themselves in harm’s way is palpable and all-consuming.
I am reminded each Father’s Day of the joy and the pain of our work. It is joyful to awake to a slew of thoughtful text messages from young men and women who I have known, cared for and mentored over the past decade. It is an honor and a blessing to be trusted by them and to play a small part in their journeys. As Lydia Child said in 1836, “Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!” Every Fathers Day – without fail – I get a call from my little brother David Heredia, the inspiration for Year Up who today is a loving father and husband. David’s voice never seems to change; he is always upbeat, warm and appreciative of the relationship we have crafted together.
However joyful these messages and calls are, it is painful to think that in almost every case, the person on the other side of that text message or phone call grew up without the presence of a father. This gives me great pause, stops my breath for a moment, and puts a lump deep in my throat. It is so very unfair that this is the reality for so many of the young adults that we serve.
Please do not take my observation as one based in pity – it is not. Our young adults are stronger as a result of the adversity that they have faced, and so many want nothing more than to be the parents they never had. However, it is impossible to deny the importance of having a father to care for you, encourage you, love you, and to provide as a role model.
The absence of a father cuts across racial and socio-economic lines. As James Q. Wilson, professor and senior fellow at the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy at Boston College, writes, “After holding income constant, boys in father-absent families were twice as likely as those in two-parent ones to go to jail and girls in father-absent families were twice as likely as those in married families to have an out-of-wedlock birth….These differences are as great for white families as for black and Hispanic ones and as large for advantaged children as for disadvantaged ones.”
At Year Up, we are fortunate to work with a wonderful organization called the Family Center, which has developed a course which we teach to all of our students who have children. This 14-session curriculum, known as the Parenting Journey, was created for parents whose own childhood did not provide them with a solid foundation for nurturing themselves or their children. I often hear how much students enjoy this class, and am pleased that we can support our students in this way. They deserve it.
As Father’s Day draws to a close, and a new week begins, I am heartened and humbled to reflect on the day’s conversations, and thankful to know that so many other caring males at Year Up had a very similar Sunday.