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Teens learn how to be dads

April 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Three photographs taped to the inside of 17-year-old Richard Stump's high school locker are taken of Victoria, his greatest love and primary obsession.

But Victoria, just like other locker pin-ups Jade and Julian, are not just typical babes. They are the children of three North Hagerstown High School teenage fathers, who along with three expecting dads, graduated from Dads Connection, a teen parenting course, and have lived to dote about it.

Dads Connection, a Department of Social Services affiliate at 920 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown, is a program that helps adult and teen fathers to become better parents, said Paul Wolford, fatherhood educator for the program.

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"Lots of new mothers go through different programs with kids, but guys don't have anything," Wolford said.

Lee Brooks, case manager for teen parents at North High through the Maryland's Tomorrow program, had talked with Wolford about Dads Connection and identified the six students who volunteered to take the eight-week course.

Wolford said the group, which met weekly for an hour at the school, examined values, priorities, futures and their own fathers.

"There's not one of them at the table who hasn't been able to step back and say, 'OK, I'm not a little boy anymore,'" Brooks said.

Wolford said most of the six students have expressed an interest in participating in the adult version of the Dads Connection program.

North High Principal Robert "Bo" Myers said before the school knew about the program, he had done some counseling of his own with Dads Connection graduate Chris Baker, who at the time wanted to make some reckless decisions.

"Remember we left school and I told you about how you had to do the right thing because you're a father now?" Myers asked Baker, who was shaking his head in agreement.

Baker, 17, now works about 30 hours a week at McDonald's, and gets his 71/2 month old son, Julian, about three or four days a week.

"You have to put the baby before yourself," he said. "You have to put him before your friends and everything."

Baker is just friends with his son's mom, now.

Wolford said the teens learned that even though they might not be romantically involved with their child's mother, they have to make a lifetime commitment to the child, which will mean having a different kind of relationship with the mother.

Stump struggles to maintain a relationship with his daughter's mother, but said if the two did separate, he would file for custody.

"Never tell your kid you're going to be there and not show up," Stump said.

On top of saving money to buy Victoria diapers and toys, Stump, who said he wants to become a brain surgeon, also is saving up for college.

"I realized I wasn't going to school for me anymore," he said. "I was going for her sake."

Myers said Stump switched from taking lower level courses to taking harder classes.

But the harder lessons for the six teens perhaps were found in a session where they looked at their own upbringing and at their own fathers for ways their own parenting experience could be improved.

Junior Sherman Weedon, 17, said he will give his 5-month-old daughter, Jade, all the attention she needs.

"I never had it rough. I just felt I could have had a little more attention," he said.

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