'They love their daddy'

June 14, 1997


Staff Writer

On a typical evening at the Parker household, father and son might watch professional wrestling on television. Sometimes that leads to a play wrestling match of their own.

And the winner?

Ricky, 3, sprouts a devious smile and points his thumb to his chest.

Rick Parker, 23, hugs him and laughs.

"You're something else, kid," Parker tells him.

Parker and his son weren't always this close. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Parker was in trouble for not paying child support.


But Parker said he has turned his life around. He credits the help of Ricky's mother and a Washington County Department of Social Services program.

Rick and Angie Parker have been through a lot during their six years together. Their relationship has produced two children, Ricky and 18-month-old Kelsey.

There were times when Rick Parker had trouble holding a job. He worked at Duvinage and the Tortuga Restaurant. He got certified in welding but had to give up the trade because of eye problems.

He was getting in trouble a lot. His tattoos give a glimpse into his past. One of them, on his arm, says, "mandatory suicide."

"I was just young and stupid, I guess," he says. "I guess having kids kind of inspired me to change the way I was."

But the change didn't come easily or quickly. He had to work for it.

"In the beginning, I sort of felt a little left out" of his children's lives, he said.

Parker said he didn't know how to be a father.

Raised by an adoptive mother, Parker never knew his biological parents until about four years ago.

Ricky was about a year old when Parker started becoming more involved in his son's life.

"Angie helped me out a lot," he said.

When Angie Parker got pregnant, she did a lot of research on parenting, he said.

Still, Rick and Angie's relationship was rocky.

Then, Rick Parker ended up in the Young Father's Program.

His original motivation for signing up was to avoid jail for not paying child support.

But now he's glad he went because he wound up learning a lot from the program. Last month, he was one of two men who received the Outstanding Young Fathers Award.

Part of the program included a 15-week course on fatherhood development that gave him a chance to talk to other fathers under 28 who are in similar situations.

One of the best group discussions came out of the simple topic, "fatherhood," he said.

"To me, it's a gift from God," he said.

Parker figures he has learned more from his children than they have learned from him.

They have taught him how to be patient - a lesson reinforced as young Ricky asks again and again for his dad to tie his shoes.

"In a minute, baby," he says calmly.

They also have taught him maturity.

"I guess having kids kind of inspired me to change the way I was," he said.

Although fatherhood can be difficult, the rewards are endless, he said.

"I would never trade being a father. It's just too much fun," he said. "Just waking up every morning and watching him smile or feeding him. It's something nobody ever done with me."

Parker looks forward to teaching Ricky his favorite hobby, fishing, and watching both his children grow.

Rick and Angie got married early this year, he said.

The couple lives in Hagerstown with both of their children.

Rick Parker has quit drinking, and he rarely goes out. When he and Angie do go out for dinner, like they did on Mother's Day and plan to today for Father's Day, they take the children along.

He works the night shift at Pro-Vent, a Salem Avenue company that cleans kitchen exhaust systems. Angie Parker stays at home with the children.

"He's made a big change," Angie Parker said. "He used to be gone a lot, and now he's around a lot more. The children? They love their daddy."

Melissa Doyle, coordinator of the three-year-old program, said it was a result of welfare reform in Maryland.

The idea is that non-custodial fathers are more likely to pay child support when they are involved in their children's lives, she said.

About 110 fathers have gone through the program in the past year.

"If you can get these dads involved, the kids will grow up in a healthier environment," she said.

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