As part-time coordinator of the Healthy Start Fatherhood Program, Pitts works to connect fathers with needed resources
Q: What did it feel like when you became a father?
A: The first time it was crazy. I was in college, and I was really uncertain about how I would be able to provide for a child. I had a lot of anxiety … trying to help the mother as best I could while being out of town.
Q: How did you get through that?
A: With my support system. Speaking to my grandmothers, my dad and my mom. My dad gave me a lot of advice and told me what was expected out of me as a provider.
Q: What was your relationship like with your father?
A: It was rough growing up. He was in jail for a lot of my childhood, and I grew up a momma’s boy. He remarried and had another family. Me and my siblings are close, but my mother was a teenage mother, so we kind of grew up together. I was always very sensitive and protective of her, so I held a grudge against my dad for a while. It never stopped us from interacting or loving each other, but there were some resentments. Today, my father and I have a great relationship. If I ever have a problem, I go straight to him, and we talk it out.
Q: What advice did he give you?
A: One thing he told me was that the challenges that I had with him, to not repeat those same mistakes with my own children. Of course, I did. We always make the same mistakes more or less. Resentments I had with my dad, my oldest son ghts with those same resentments with me because his younger brother has a different mother than the other four. That became a wedge in the family. The kids are all still very close, but just like me, he is supportive of his mom, being his mom’s only son. As he becomes a man and enters into the world and relationships, he sees now the challenges I was faced with and the decisions that you have to make that are never really just clear-cut.
Q: What can you share about your children?
A: My oldest is Fuquan, 25. He works for First Student. Next is Naja. She is 22 and is a supervisor at MAS, a non-emergency Medicaid transportation management company, and a part-time student. Inayah, 19, is also a part-time student and works at MAS. Aneisha, 18, is a student, and my youngest, Amarri, just turned 13. All of them are very strong-willed. My girls are real goal setters. When they set out to meet a goal, they do it.
Q: And how was it becoming a grandfather?
A: That’s the highlight. I enjoy that. I have two grandkids — a grandson, Marcel, 10 months (child of Aneisha) and a grand- daughter, Laila, 3 (child of Naja). It’s like you get a second chance at being a parent, except you can take them home when they get on your nerves.
Q: What is your opinion about commonly held stereotypes about black fathers?
A: While there’s a perception or stereotype that fathers don’t want to help … that fathers don’t want to be held accountable, every father that I’ve come across since I’ve started working in this program is eager to be involved in their child’s life and to be financially supportive. And solid — to be accountable at all times — it’s just that they are faced with certain situations at times that makes that hard to navigate.
Q: How does this program help fathers navigate those situations?
A: The group discussions that we have each month are helpful. In them, you find that you’re not the only person in that situation, and you can kind of draw from the group the different challenges they face and how they handled it. Then use what you will from them to try and solve your own problems.
Q: What has been a success in your first six months on the job?
A: The first success I had was with a client that was homeless. We were able to find him housing. To some that may not sound like much, but to him it was everything. He’s not on anybody else’s whim on when he can be comfortable. And that means everything because now he can entertain his kids whenever he chooses. When you’re couch surfing and surviving like that, you really can’t bring your kids to that situation. So just helping him get stability is huge.
Q: How does that make you feel?
A: It makes me feel good because there’s a void in the community when it comes to resources for dads — not that there is a lack of resources, but dads often don’t have a clue as to how to find them. There’s always an agency or organization attempting to help women, and a lot of times fathers are forgotten in the equation when it is statistically proven time and time again that when there is a present father, the family is stronger. I think that’s why there is such a push to sustain this program. And that’s why I point my clients at the poster there (on the wall): “A healthy baby begins with you.”
Q: How can fathers in need connect with you?
A: They can reach out by emailing APitts@smnfswcc.org or calling (315) 317-4189. My office is located on the second floor of Syracuse Community Connections, 401 South Ave. Hours are set by appointment, so best to reach out by email or phone first.
Q: Any advice for first-time dads?
A: Don’t stress yourself out about your financial situation because that can change with work, but you have to be present. If you’re not working and the mother is, then you watch the baby while the mother works so she doesn’t have to pay child care. At the end of the day, help her road to be easier. As long as you’re doing that, everything will be fine.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: I’m just trying to make sure as many fathers as possible take the opportunity to enjoy fatherhood. It’s a challenge, but it’s a beautiful thing. My relationship with my youngest son, because I’m a single dad with him, we’re together all the time, it shows me what I missed out on with my other four kids. I was actively involved in their lives, but I was doing a lot of ripping and running. Now I make sure to take the time to enjoy it — enjoy every milestone. There’s nothing like seeing your child succeed in something he’s trying to accomplish. And when your assistance is needed — it makes you feel great.
— Interview by Ashley Kang, The Stand director