It’s been a while, but here’s a blog post. It’s been rolling around in my head for a long while.
I read a statistic the other day that men between the ages of 20 and 29 father 40% of the children born to teen moms (teenmomnyc.com). That seems about right. I wasn’t fifteen, I was sixteen and he was twenty-two. I told him, he insisted it wasn’t his.
My mom insisted that I would “go away” and have my child in secrecy and then put her up for adoption. I was, after all, a girl “in trouble.” My dad, the policeman, was determined to have said young man put in jail for rape. I refused to give up his name.
I thought to myself; he’ll come around. But he didn’t. He brushed me off.
In order to protect me from any more harm (because motherhood is harmful), I was first confined to my house under what could be considered a suicide watch. And when I still refused to tell anyone his name, I was institutionalized. The irony is that I was put in a hospital three blocks from where this man worked. And the psychiatrist didn’t care about his name. She wanted me to be secure in who I was in order to be able to provide what was best for my child.
He has no idea what I went through so he could go on to live his life. No idea. John Prine said it best:
From a teenage lover, to an unwed mother
Kept undercover, like some bad dream
While unwed fathers, they can’t be bothered
They run like water, through a mountain stream
He was a musician (God save me from musicians and artists!). He went on to marry, have kids, be widowed, fall in love again. And so did I, in a more cynical way than he, I’m sure: fairy tales and happily-ever-afters stolen away by a man who doesn’t even know his daughter’s name.
His loss. I don’t begrudge him his life. In many ways, I owe my inner strength to him. So thank you for all I learned from you. I have been able to go on and teach others so much.
I continued to go to high school. I was a senior. Funny how crisis (because motherhood is a crisis) shows you who your friends are. And I had a few. I was lucky. They didn’t abandon me in the crowded hallways where others pointed and stared. I was That Girl, who in 1976, dared to go to school pregnant. I went to the prom, leaving a three-month old at home with my mom. I dared to graduate.
Carry on. All a girl can do is keep on keeping on.
I modeled. Well, I did that before I “got into trouble.” I was a bit of a wild child. I modeled for painters and photographers. I did runway work; I was living life in the fast lane.
Go to college. I have earned 6 and ¾ college degrees.
Have a life. I refused to let motherhood slow me down. After all, fatherhood hadn’t slowed him down, had it?
Make no mistake, I struggled. I was in a marriage that was doomed from day one (he is the only man I have ever been involved with who was neither an artist nor a musician—that should have told me something). I have had three more children. I was a single mother for a long time.
The drugs I had been dabbling with when I met that 22yr old, took a stronger hold on my life, but that is another essay, totally. Suffice to say, a gram, two, an eight-ball a day. Dealing. I always had a good connection. All that modeling had introduced me to the worst sort of men (yes, the type who walk into the dressing room unannounced to see young women naked). It’s amazing what such men will do for a young woman who bats her eyes at them. Thankfully, I found Doctor Bob and that ensured the anonymity of that young man forever. My dad died without knowing his name.
But I digress. I was already labeled a wild child in my high school. I was the first name to be called to the office every morning, just in case I had done something (jaded, cynical, former model me wonders about the real reason for that, but that would be another essay). On Facebook, I have “friended” many people with whom I went to high school. They often say I didn’t know you then, but I knew your name, you were that girl in school. Even when they don’t say it I hear, I remember you well, you were that girl always in trouble in school, and then you got in trouble.
Forty-two years later, I still hear that. Forty-two years later, young women are still being shunned, shamed while unwed fathers are like mountain streams. Somehow it’s the girl’s fault. I could have surrendered to all that. It would have been easy. I could have played a poor-pitiful-me card. Or being a fair-skinned, blue-eyed model, I could have played the damsel-in-distress. It would have been so easy. But I’m that girl. I have bootstraps that I am routinely pulling myself up by. And, like Tina Turner, I never do it easy.
Today, I can look back and be grateful to him. Today I am aware that he gave me a view of the world that my privilege would have otherwise denied me. Being pregnant, at sixteen, in the seventies, made me an ardent feminist. Sure, I was in the bra-burning crowd before I became pregnant. But afterward, I became that in-your-face-bitch who had done the research and knew the numbers. I wasn’t going to be that statistic, that girl. I was going to succeed, rise above. And I have.
So, why write this post (essay)? Because at some point, as a culture, we need to make men take responsibility for their actions. It is women (the larger bit of our population) who allow men to have the boys will be boys attitude. And as I watch the boys in Washington strip away women’s right to choose, the right to equal pay, to health care I want today’s sixteen-year-olds (who fall for that whole musician/artist thing—God save us all) to know: Success belongs to you. Take it from those who seek to keep you down. Don’t be that girl, grab your bootstraps and rise above; because the future can be female. you can be a mother, beautiful, and smart. Do it.
It is my hope that that now sixty-four-year-old has taught his sons to treat women better than he treated me. Maybe this will serve as a reminder for him.