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Father’s Day won’t greet him with breakfast in bed, a horrendously colored tie, loud aftershave or a fake watch. Robert Brackeen is still struggling, he said, to take care of children he doesn’t live with. In fact, he has just gone from being a homeless father who lived from place to place to finally settling down in one, where he shares living expenses with a roommate.
So far, it’s been a very slow process and a long road back to forming a relationship with his children with two different mothers, a nine-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. And, there have been many roadblocks... financially but more so, adversity between him and the two women. He’s determined to do it though and break the cycle of whatever effects absentee fatherhood would have on his offspring.
“There [have been] a lot of problems because me and their mothers didn’t have a friendship or a bond...I didn’t really know them that well,” said Robert, who is now 35.
“[With] my first child’s mother I wasn’t working. I was a lot younger. At that time it was rough. I didn’t have a job. I was living place to place. I was with friends. I had just got out of jail. That’s why everything was rough because when I got out it didn’t go like I planned it...[for example] what I knew and the skills I had in construction.
“I knew how to do the work but I was not certified. So, it wasn’t like I could just go to someone’s job and... I could tell them I got the experience but if it’s not on paper then it seems like its just talk. So, it breaks you down mentally.”
It doesn’t only break him down. Statistics from a University of California Riverside study released in 2000 found that boys raised with a single mother run a higher risk of developing low self-esteem than those with two parents at home. Long-term studies have also suggested that daughters who grow up without a father’s guidance are more likely to engage in early sexual activity and become teenage mothers. That family dynamic can describe a large percentage of the black community according to statistics, and may explain a myriad of problems-turned-crises including domestic violence, drug abuse, a rising juvenile homicide rate and the pervasiveness of HIV/ AIDS among young Black women.
Robert’s first relationship eventually ended but by then, he had a steady job and had met someone new. The relationship was short lived however, but not before another pregnancy got underway.
“She got into a confrontation with my first child’s mother,” he recalled.
“She left. She was gone and the baby was already born and had been here a whole year before I met her.
“When I get back in contact with [the mother], I’m staring at this baby and she looks just like me. That just overwhelmed me. I missed out on the birth and the baby years.”
Robert, along with two brothers, was raised mainly by his grandmother, his own father giving intermittent appearances mostly to “straighten the boys out” when they had done something wrong. He never felt strong support from his father, he said, and doesn’t want the same thing for his children.
“I want to be there to support my children when they go through their own struggles. I didn’t have anybody to run to but I want them to be able to run to me.”
“Don’t take things for granted,” he continued.
“Work hard and try not to let disappointment break your spirit and take focus away from whatever you want to do in life. Those are the things I want to instill in my children. Pay attention- you’ll miss a lot of things in life being self-absorbed.
“That wasn’t instilled in me. I had to learn the hard way. I had to make so many mistakes before I learned it.”
Now, in the midst of getting his life together, he hopes to cultivate friendly enough relationships with the two mothers to be able to play an active role in raising his son and daughter.
“I don’t feel hopeless about it,” he said.
“But some days I do feel lost without my children. There are a lot of things (when it comes to raising them) that are out of my hands and out of my control. The only thing I can do right now is to keep myself up (and wait)... I love them whether I’m with them or not. I feel that the spirit within them is a part of my spirit. I believe that where you come from, you’re going to go back to. And my children will remember me and come back to me when its time.”