012 – Shanne Sowards, a Former Teen Father, Steps up to Raise His Daughter & Mentor Teen Fathers
Dad To Dad 12 – Shanne Sowards, a Former Teen Father, Steps up to Raise His Daughter & Mentor Teen Fathers
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Father’s Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org that’s 21stcentury dads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch.
This is the Special Fathers Network podcast stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. Today David talks to a special father who’s making a difference in Portland, Oregon. His name is Shane Sowards, who at the age of 15 became a father to his daughter, Kendra.
Shanne Sowards: Two 15 year old kids alone. Most of the time that adds up to a baby.
Tom Couch: While their relationship with the mother didn’t work out and against the odds. Shane stuck by Kendra.
Shanne Sowards: My promise because my mom left Zoe when I was so young was I was never going to leave my child
Tom Couch: with the help of a mentor named Ben. Shane was able to make more of the right decisions
Shanne Sowards: and it was great.
Before Ben even encouraged me to make any changes. I think it was the first time in a long time. I actually had support.
Tom Couch: Now at the age of 40 Shane is happily married and as the father of three daughters,
Shanne Sowards: and this billboard had been there for months and months and months when it just said mentoring and red and white letters on it.
Tom Couch: Not so long ago, and with very limited resources, Shane felt the calling to inspire young dads and started Squires, a mentoring program for teen fathers. Today he’s mentored dozens of teen fathers in and around Portland, Oregon.
Shanne Sowards: If you. Put the best interest of your child first. You’re never wrong.
Tom Couch: Today, Savid will also be talking with one of Shane’s mentees, Kwame, who is 16 became a teen father to his son, King.
Kwame: I started taking my son out for the first time by myself, maybe a medical condition, all the equipment and felt so. So proud of myself. So like a fuss. So like, this is what it feels like. You know,
Tom Couch: King has had some serious health issues and it’s inspiring to hear this young father’s devotion to his child.
So let’s get to it. Here’s David Hirsch’s interview with Shane Sowards and Kwame.
David Hirsch: So I’m with Shane’s Soward’s and Kwame Assuman, and, um, we’re going to talk about the squares program. Shane, thanks for doing a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Shanne Sowards: My pleasure.
David Hirsch: So it was a little background. Uh, Shane is 40 years old. He has three children. Three daughters. The oldest is 25, so I became a father at age 15, and he started a program four or five years ago called the Squires program, which has a program for super young dads, teen dads. So, uh, let’s, uh, start with some background. Uh, where did you grow up?
Shanne Sowards: I grew up here in Portland, Oregon, actually a small town called Canby, um, bounced around back and forth between. My, between Milwaukee and Kamia, actually, I live with my grandma and I live with my dad and I live with her dad, grandma and dad, just back and forth a lot. Mom, my mom left when I was 17 months old, so it was just me and my dad most of the time.
And then, um, we would live in Canby and then things would get, well, he just couldn’t provide, so he would send me to my grandma’s house and I would live there. And then, um.
David Hirsch: And this would have been his mom,
Shanne Sowards: actually, it was my mom’s mom. Really? Yeah.
David Hirsch: Tell me something about that.
Shanne Sowards: It was, my grandma was, it was, uh, the greatest woman I’ve ever met in my life.
Like. Um, I can’t even put into words.
And she understands. She understands. So my grandma was my mom, but I didn’t know that’s what moms did. I thought that what’s her, what grandma’s did. And she just, I mean, she took me to school clothes shopping.
She’d volunteer PTA. She would just do all of those things. She would always fill that gap. But I just thought that’s what grandma’s did. And it wasn’t until much later that I realized, you know, and that she’s gone and I look back and see my wife do what my grandmother did. I’m like, Oh. That’s what moms do.
David Hirsch: Well, you didn’t know your mom because when you were 17, did you have any contact with your mom subsequently or not?
Shanne Sowards: I saw my mom about once to twice a year, um, growing up, um, and, um, it was this really weird conversation. You know, we didn’t really know each other very well, and she had this guy that she married, um, and they had a bunch of kids.
So in my mind, she’d actually run away. Um. To go have another family. She had two sons and a daughter with this other guy, and I spend most of, I always tell people, I have mommy issues. I’m like, why didn’t she want me? Why did she choose that family over me? So I was super wounded by that. I actually feel like that is part of my story of being a teen father is because I was so hungry for the affection of.
A woman that I was trying to replace that.
David Hirsch: Got it. So how would you characterize your relationship with your dad? When you think about your dad, what stands out? What are some of your. Strongest memories.
Shanne Sowards: It’s a weird kind of calm conversation because my father is manic depressive and hypoglycemic, so he would have sugar and they would crash, and then we’d have a manic episode where he would just rage.
So there’s a lot of weird pieces to our relationship. And it wasn’t until I was like 17 that that all came to light. That’s what was going on. So it was just these weird things. However, I also just thought that was normal. I thought that’s, that’s how dads were. What stands out to me about my father though, is that he stayed, like even even when he, he couldn’t provide for me, he made sure I was provided for.
He would swallow that pill that I know it killed him to do and take me to, I mean, it wasn’t even his mom. Right? So the woman who left him high and dry, he would take me to her and allow me to live there for six months to a year, and then he would get on his feet and he would come and get me. And so those are the things that really stand out to me, is that he just, he did the best he could.
David Hirsch: You’re an only child?
Shanne Sowards: No, actually I, I don’t know. I have to think about that. So my, between my parents, yes. But then he remarried. He married, uh, a woman that has had a son.
David Hirsch: So you have a half brother?
Shanne Sowards: I have a half brother, and then I have, while he’s a stepbrother, and then I have half brother and sister from that man.
David Hirsch: Sorry. So, uh, just one more question about your, uh, grandmother relationship because, um, it, it does seem a little. Uh, that, uh, your dad chose to take you to your mom’s mom as opposed to his own mom? Was there a reason for that? Um,
Shanne Sowards: I don’t exactly know. Well, there’s, there’s some legendary stories in my family.
Um, but I think it started just because that’s how my mom did it. My, my mom and dad, this legend goes, is my mom and dad took a nap. And then when the three of us took a nap and then she snuck up, woke up, brought me over to my grandmother’s house and said, mom, can you watch Shane? And grandma was like, of course.
Um. And, uh, and she didn’t say for how long or anything. Um, and then she disappeared and nobody heard from her for like three, four weeks, something like that. She just disappeared off the face of the earth. Um, and, um, my dad, while he would, he went, he’s looking for her. Uh, he let me stay there. And that just kind of built that relationship and my grandmother, there was no way she was going to allow me not to be in her life.
You know, I was a second grandchild. I think that’s kind of what started it. And there’s also a legend that my mother actually told my dad’s mom. That a stay away. He has a grandma. You don’t need to be around whether or not that’s true. I have no idea. But that’s the legendary story.
David Hirsch: Okay. So let’s talk about grandpa’s for a moment.
Your dad’s dad and your mom’s dad. What type of relationship, if any, do you have with those two?
Shanne Sowards: So my dad’s dad, um, we had a relationship. I mean, I saw him like two, three times a year maybe. Um, you know, they were. They were, they were steady. Um, they were just kind of there. I didn’t see him much where my grandfather, my mom’s mom, dad, Tom, he, I mean, we went fishing.
Like I would like, instead of going to church, we went fishing. It took me hunting and he taught me all these things. You live with them. When I lived with them and even when they didn’t, cause even when I didn’t live with them, he used to go over probably if I didn’t live with them for six months, I was probably there.
10 to 15 weekends. Okay. So that was where I w I was, I was like every other weekend at grandma and grandpa’s, cause that’s where I want it to be.
David Hirsch: Okay. So you had a strong relationship with not only your grandmother, but your grandfather and your mom’s side.
Shanne Sowards: Yeah. Yeah. They just, they loved me as if I was their child, not just their grandchild.
I think grandpa, grandpa had kind of Kevin st Brit, you know, he didn’t try to play a role of a father or anything. And me. He was grandpa and he was great. He was awesome.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So let’s just wrap up the part about your dad and your grandpas. If you had to identify one thing, the thing that your dad and your each of your grandpa’s taught you, what would it be for each of them?
Shanne Sowards: My mom’s dad. This is Tom. Yeah. Tom. He loved his country. Is it a veteran? Yes. Yes. He fought in the Korean war. Uh, I can hear him like when he get up, was upset with people. He, he loved to use the word feller. Listen to feller, and I just love it.
Talking down to somebody you listen to feller, he was just steady.
He was solid. You, you knew where you stood with grandpa. At all times. I think everyone knew, even if he didn’t like it, he never turned his family away. And like, my mom would roll into town and they would stay for a few days and I would get to see her and you know, they would give her some money and then she’d be off to do whatever.
But, um, he was just steady, solid. I don’t know if I can remember him saying, I love you, but I knew it. If that makes any sense.
David Hirsch: So by his example, as opposed to his word.
Shanne Sowards: Yeah.
David Hirsch: That’s excellent. So you had to identify one thing that you learned from your dad, either by as example, or by his word. What was the best takeaway?
Shanne Sowards: I think, uh, it’s really hard. He is loyal to a fault, and that’s the hard part. Like, he’s so loyal, but he can’t. It would go too far. So to a fault that’s from his wives to, um, his employers, like he just, he worked on it. And his chivalry towards women is some of the most outstanding I’ve ever seen. Like I’ve never seen a man defend a woman who is so wrong, so deeply.
Like the whole world could see that she was wrong and there was no way. Like, that’s a discussion that she and I will have later at a different time, or you do not even look cross-eyed at my wife.
David Hirsch: Wow. That’s impressive.
Shanne Sowards: It’s cool. But like I said, it was to a fault.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, there’s a, uh, one of the ethical dilemmas, paradigms is this concept of truth versus loyalty.
And it’s not a right or wrong. There is right or wrong in the world, but when somebody has so one sided. Sometimes I can’t say the truth, or they don’t want to acknowledge the truth because they’re so loyal and sometimes the truth hurts and it’s not the right thing to emphasize. Loyalty is more important, and it’s not right or wrong, but that’s the point you’re making, which is, you know, he was loyal to a fault.
He was on that spectrum of truth versed as well to always over to the oil side.
Shanne Sowards: Exactly.
David Hirsch: Okay, good. So. We’re going to talk about teen parenting and, uh, initially on a personal level, you becoming a teen father, and then we’ll talk about the Squires program, the program that you started five years ago. So, uh, tell me what the circumstances were that, uh. Led to you becoming a father at age 15 ?
Shanne Sowards: So my girlfriend,
David Hirsch: you’re in high school together.
Shanne Sowards: We’re in high school together and she runs away from her parents, her mom’s house. And so I asked my dad if she can stay and he says yes. So she lives with us for the summer and well, two 15 year old kids alone, most of the time, you know.
That adds up to a baby. Got him. It was a fun summer and the summer with results.
David Hirsch: Documentation, if you will.
Shanne Sowards: Yeah. Documentation. Uh, so we, um, I mean, that’s, that’s the gist of it. That’s what led up to it. I believe that she, the reason why she left her mom’s house is because her mom. Her mom found out that her daughter and I were being intimate and that caused a big blow up, and Wendy said, Nope, I’m out.
David Hirsch: So her parents were probably trying to show her some tough love and it just didn’t work. And she’s like, I’m out of here. Yeah. So you became parents at 15 what was the next year or next two years? Like?
Shanne Sowards: Uh, well, you know, while she was pregnant and just kind of. Was there. I was 15. I couldn’t get a job. Even though everyone’s telling me you need to work, you need to work, you need to work.
I couldn’t get a job cause I was only 15. And the pregnancy, I mean, I went to appointments and everything. Um, she had ended up moving out, moving with living with her dad, and then living with another agency and then moving back in with her mom. No, you make this promise to yourself when you’re very young, like, I’m never going to use drugs, I’m never going to abuse women or whatever. My promise because my mom left so eat when I was so young was I was never going to leave my child. So I was going through the motions and not really knowing how to do this and nobody’s really coaching me up. And then Connor was born, she was born in April at a job and it’s a lie cause I turned 16 a few months later.
I think it was after school started. I actually broke up with Wendy because, well, if I’m honest, because I was selfish. I was having a normal high school experience when it was not, she was going to alternative schools and things like that, and I was just having a normal high school experience and girls thought it was great that I was an involved dad and I was getting all this attention and there was this girl at work.
It was a little bit old or. I ended my relationship with her for selfish reasons, um, which was really, really hard for me because growing up in the poor neighborhoods that I grew up in, um, when I lived with my dad, I never saw like dads being involved. Like my friends never went away to their dad’s house for the weekend.
Because they were all just seeing my mom’s and my dad was only single dad in the neighborhood, but, and once in a while they would go away, but not very often. So I just really didn’t know what that looked like. So Felica is breaking up with my daughter, which was like, it was weird.
David Hirsch: So who, who had the baby then when he broke up,
Shanne Sowards: Wendy had the baby.
She lived with her mom at the time, and then I would see her, and I don’t. I don’t even remember a lot of the things how things transpired. Eventually she ended up getting a house. Her dad bought a house or something. She was living in a house that her dad was kind of renting back to her. During this time, my parents had become homeless, so I was, um, I was couch surfing myself and I was working 40 hours a week and I was paying child support.
Um, I’d pay whoever I was staying with. Some money so I can sleep on their couch. Um, but most of those places that I’d stay wasn’t a safe place to bring Kendra. So I was literally, you know, I would see her, why I’d see her like every two weeks on payday, that that was consistent. And then. Maybe a little bit more, you know, if time permitted or if I was, I mean, I can make up all sorts of excuses.
I didn’t see her enough.
David Hirsch: So how many years was that that you were working in supporting her that weren’t really actively involved with her life?
Shanne Sowards: Uh, I would say the first year and a half.
David Hirsch: And then what happened at a year and a half that was different,
Shanne Sowards: and a year and a half I met this guy named, well, a couple things happened.
The place I was staying, I got kicked out of and so call kind of went out to the football team and said, Hey, she needs a place to stay. So the girl I had actually taken to my junior prom, her family offered to let me stay there, and so I lived with them. They had a camping trailer in the backyard and they let me stay there.
They wanted me to stay in the house, but I was like, I was homeless, but I was proud, like I didn’t, I didn’t want a handout, so I slept in this trailer in the backyard. Not that’s because they didn’t want me there, but that’s, I had like five offers and that was the one I chose. So
David Hirsch: Maintain some independence by staying there versus living in somebody .Else’s house.
Shanne Sowards: Yeah. And that was paying them a little bit of rent and they didn’t want it, but I was like, no, I can’t do that. And then during this time I met this guy named Ben who was running a mentoring program for homeless teens, and my high school guidance counselor introduced me to him and I was just like, Oh, I didn’t even know what mentoring was.
Right? Guy told me he was going to buy me soda once a week, and I was like, hell, I like soda, especially free soda.
David Hirsch: So you’re probably 15.
Shanne Sowards: I have 17 yeah, so I’m 17 and once I started living there and they also said I could bring Kendra there, which was great. So I was getting her every other weekend and I would stay inside the house when I had her.
I don’t remember how long I stayed out the backyard. I don’t think it was too long. It was cold out there. Plus I was using a little electric space heater. I’m sure it was backing up their electric bill, but. My other mentor kind of did some paradigm shifts, talked about the benefits of you sleeping inside the house, blah, blah, blah.
And so I started living inside the house and kind of becoming a part of the family. And it was great. I had the support. They would even give me rides to work like it was the first time in a long time that I actually had support because I’ve been going siloed before. Ben knows, and even no one was even encouraging me to make any changes in my life.
You know, they’re just like. Good job. You pay child support and that was it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That the bar was set very low.
Shanne Sowards: Very, very low. Just pay child support. Well, you’re a good dad. Oh, you see her in a little bit. Yep. Great job.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s great that Ben stepped into your life and, uh, gave you some insights that you might not have been able to pick up on your own or from others that were involved.
So, um, let’s segue to the squares program because it was because of that relationship that you had with Ben. And the insights that he provided you that, you know, really shed some light on what it means to be a dad. And it’s not just about paying child support. Right? So flash forward to five years ago or so, um, Kendra would have been probably 20 years.
35 then what was it that you experienced? You said, I want to do something about this. I’ve got 20 years of experience being a dad, starting as a teenager. What was it that motivated you to create this choirs program?
Shanne Sowards: There’s, there’s a couple of pieces to the story. It’s kind of long, but it’s, it’s valuable stuff.
So I was kindred, moved out. And our relationship is, it’s good, but it’s not where I’d love it to be. And I was really paying attention to like, why is that? And because I worked hard, I always was working, and if I wasn’t working, I was volunteering at the church, doing youth ministry, and I had been looking at man, my other two children are growing up and I don’t want it.
That’s a happen, continue to happen. I need to make some changes.
David Hirsch: So let’s backtrack. There was a 20 year period of time from Kendra’s birth until the squares program started, but in the interim. You got married? Yes. And you have,
Shanne Sowards: I have two children. Uh, Kendra, uh, went to college. Um, she graduated. Um, she actually has lived with us for her first year of college.
It’s not a bad relationship, it’s just she just, you know, she was leaving the nest and then kinda is fine. Um,
David Hirsch: so you and Beth were married when.
Shanne Sowards: And Beth and I were married in 2002.
David Hirsch: Okay. And you started another family, or you had some more kids?
Shanne Sowards: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s a story there. Beth and I had Chelsea, um, when I was 21, we weren’t married.
It took me a few years. I think Chelsea was, wow. She was four. Before we actually got married. Um, I always joke about the brain science that we know today is that you’re 20, about 25 when you break, before your brain is fully developed. And about the time I turned 25, I looked at this woman who had been standing by my side through thick and thin, loving me no matter what.
And I did some awful things. I’m like, what am I doing? Like, this woman is perfect, this is who I need to be with. Um, and fortunately I hadn’t burned the bridge to bed. Um, and we figured it out and, you know, got married, got married,
David Hirsch: and then you had another child.
Shanne Sowards: Actually, you know, Emily is not biologically my child.
So we had Chelsea in 98, and then I said I was immature and I was like, I walked away from that relationship too. Uh, and then she had a child with another man. Um, you know, um, but there was always something between us. There’s always been something between us and I figured my stuff out, man, it took me a while, but, and fortunately, she was that relationship.
Well, I kind of bulldoze my way into that relationship. She was sort of in the relationship with that guy and I was like, no, no, we’re meant to be together. So I’m not, I would apologize to him, but I’m not sorry.
David Hirsch: Well, that is quite a story. Thank you for sharing it. So that gets us up to speed. As far as the family, your family, uh, the three daughters, uh.
Kendra, Chelsea and Emily, and now you’re 35 and what was it that motivated you to do something with other teen fathers and call it the choirs program?
Shanne Sowards: So I’d taken a new job. I had been in sales and customer service and it was a work hard, play hard. My mind was always somewhere else. I was volunteering at the church all the time and I got tired of being last month hero as far as sales go at work.
And, uh, things were changing a little bit at church and, and, and my, my role, I didn’t need to be as heavily focused and I took this job at a chemical plant to be what I call worker bee. I just wanted to show up and work well. Turns out I’m a hard worker, but I’m not just a worker bee. I’m going to ask why five times.
When I really invest in myself, I really wanted to be a part of what I’m doing. That’s not what I sold them. It didn’t work out during the same time. When I first started this job, I was at a Bible study on Saturday morning and we were going through one of the Eldridges books during their Bible study and when the question was.
If you have no hurdles, no obstacles, nothing was going to stop you and you were going to succeed, what would you be doing with your life? Well, I had kind of shared this about the story about Ben and my life and how I, if I want a million dollars, that’s what I’d do. I’d start a program for teen dads and everyone’s like, Oh, you should do that.
And I’d be like, yeah, well, who am I? I didn’t go to college. I’m just a dad. I’m nobody. Like, I’m not the guy. Well, this day comes, we have this, that question, I don’t even share. I already know where this is going, and I thought I got away with it and then like, wait, Shane, you didn’t share. What would you do?
I was like, Oh. So I told him about Ben. I told him about this idea of what it would look like sort of. Next thing I know it’s not a Bible study. It is a business planning meeting. There’s a flow chart and there’s all this stuff and you need a website and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I was just like, I let them go on for about 20 minutes.
And then I finally said, okay, stop. The question was, if, if this, if that, you know, I have hurdles, I have obstacles. I just started a new job. I can’t do this. I’m not your guy. And they were like, but you should do it. I’m like, no, I’m not your guy. I drove home. From that Bible say that day, and I’m driving down the road, and this billboard had been there for months and months and months when it just said mentoring in red and white letters on it, and I literally looked Skyward.
I’m like, leave me alone. I’m not your look stop. And I get home and my wife like she often does. This is how was steady, and I was like, it happened again. She’s like the mentoring thing. I’m like, yeah. She’s like, well, what are we waiting for? I was like, no, it’s better. And I told her about the sign and she was like, let’s do this.
I’m like, no one’s listening to the question. No. So I tabled it. This job that wasn’t working out, I get fired. So I get fired from this job and I get a letter from unemployment saying, we don’t think you’re going to get into the job in the chemical plant industry. But there is a national program called SCA, self-employment assistance, where you get to collect unemployment benefits for six months, not look for work and start your own small business.
And I stood in my kitchen and I cried. Cause God had said, I’ve removed your hurdles, removed your obstacles and your excuse. Just go love people.
David Hirsch: It’s pretty powerful.
Shanne Sowards: That’s why I got to tell the whole story.
It was just like all of those things fell into place. To make that happen.
David Hirsch: So that gave you the opportunity to do that for six months income coming in and you got the green light to start this program. So what did you do? How did it start?
Shanne Sowards: Uh, I tell you one of the hardest things was just to come up with a name and then I had to write a plan, write a business plan.
And so, so then I started interviewing nonprofits. Like, how do you start a nonprofit? I don’t know anything about this. Like. And in the youth group that I, I served as junior high youth group leader for 14 and a half years, some 15 years, something like that. And one of the youth and the church actually happened because I’m a teen parent.
And so I had my first dad, what was his name? His name is John. I started hanging out with him and then the youth believed in what I was doing so much that they did a fundraiser and they raised a bunch of funds. So then I have a little bit of money to like. Some mentor, this guy, like I gotta take him to go get a soda or a coffee or whatever, you know, not knowing what I was doing, you know, I was just like, I’m just going to love this kid and let him know that he matters.
And I just started making it up on the fly. I picked the name Squires because the idea of mentoring has been around for ages, right, and meaningful times. First you were a page and then the Squire. And then you finally became a Knight and you didn’t become a night until you understood, honor, country, love, you know, Valor, all of those things.
And you knew that because you were trained by honorable men before you. So that was the reason why I chose that name. So I have that money and I put on a teen father workshop.
David Hirsch: How many people showed up?
Shanne Sowards: The last one, we had 27 people register and we had 19 people there. It was pretty, it’s pretty amazing.
And a lot of the guys that you met today actually were in that, that workshop.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So there’s no formal curriculum for the squares program currently, but that’s something you’re giving some thought to.
Shanne Sowards: Yes, it is something I’m totally giving some thought to. I pick some stuff, like it’s kind of funny because one of the things I focus on is rather than focusing on being a dad, I focus on being a man.
Because what happens when you become a teen father is a lot of times you lose some of those rites of passage that allow you to become a man. And so we have some little things loosely in place. I think longterm what it’s going to look like. It’s almost like a, some benchmarks that you have to do. Like you have to do so many hours of continuous improvement as a father, whether, you know, part of it would be like you’ve completed 20 hours of reading to your child.
Um, you’ve participated in, you know, some sort of class to help you be a better father and maybe some mindfulness and just since critically thinking about how to be a better dad.
David Hirsch: What I admire most about you is that, um, you’re totally dialed into what your children’s needs are. You’re in a meaningful relationship from a marital standpoint, so you have a strong base and some stability that you can offer your daughters.
And then beyond that, you feel compelled to do something in the lives of other people. And while anybody could mentor a teen father. I think the fact that you were a teen father yourself qualifies you in a way that others wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to mentor a teen father as successfully as you are because you’re speaking from your personal experience.
I would just be speaking generically about what it means to be a dad, and there would be this disconnect, like what is that wealthy white guy from the suburbs just know about teen fathering. So what if he has five kids? So. We need to find more guys like yourself who are willing to get involved with the Squires program, or just deputize them somewhere somehow to be available to these young teen fathers.
So if there’s one piece of advice you could give to a teen father who’s listening, what would it be? A shame
Shanne Sowards: if you put the best interest of your child first. You’re never wrong. Always put what’s best for your child. First in my relationship with my kiddo, what was, how we, what that looked like is, I mean, we fought dirty with our young adolescent brains.
We did. We did not fight fair. We had a lot of fights. However, we did birthdays together. We spent Christmas together. We put that aside because it was important. For our daughter. We didn’t talk bad about one another in front of our daughter, and we certainly didn’t allow others to talk bad about the other parent in front of her.
For us, that’s what putting our child’s best interests first looked like. That may not look the same for everyone, but that’s what it looked like for me. And that’s, that’s my best advice for anyone. It’s just if you’re doing it for your child’s best interest, you’re not wrong.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So we’re very fortunate to have.
One of the fellows who’s in your program in the squares program with us. Uh, Kwame. Um, so, uh, call me. Tell me briefly about your background. Um, where did you grow up? Uh, what type of relationship do you have with your own dad for that matter?
Kwame: I grew up here in Portland, Oregon, in the North side. My st shots, uh, grew up there well for a while.
Uh. Moved around a lot. I would say that I, before I was born, my dad and my mom, which they’d been together for 25 years, had my older brother named quad Joe. He’s 26 now and had my sister who’s 24 before they had me and my little brother, which is sick. He’s 16 right now.
David Hirsch: And you were holding him.
Kwame: Now maintain.
Okay. So, uh, yeah, so we moved around. Why we came at the end of all of, I would say the financial flow of my parents. So, you know, going from house to house, doing a lot of movement, I have to, I grew up. To learn how to, uh, adapt really quick, really fast situations. And I think that was just a skill I had just from going house to house and going from different schools at different schools and happened to figure out how my gonna fit in here with this.
David Hirsch: So if I can paraphrase what you’ve said. Um, your parents have been married for 25 years. There’s four of you, you’re number three out of the four children and you’ve moved around a lot. So you’ve been in and out of different schools, so you’ve had to leave one school and your friends to go to another school.
And, um, it’s been challenging from that.
Kwame: Yes, most definitely. And with all through all those challenges, I had my dad with me and I would say, I would say that my dad sacrificed everything he had going for himself, for his kids.
David Hirsch: All four of them. So you’ve had an excellent role model as far as father and seeing that.
Kwame: It made me want to be that figure. But then again, not make those types of sacrifices. Cause then, you know, as of right now, he, if he could have went forward with this, maybe he could have helped us more financially in ways rather than go to a hotel from hotel house to house, you know. Uh, but I wanted to have.
His abilities, but still be able to stay strong with my plan and at least support them financially and having this cure foundation more than he did would make me a plus would be an a plus.
Okay. So you’re how old now? 18 and how old were you when you became a father?
So I found out she was pregnant. At age 15 so I came a father on July 6th, 2015 and I was 16 at the age.
David Hirsch: So your son is three years old now.
Kwame: Yes, he is. And uh, the mom water broke early so. That was very early. And I remember that situation. The water broke. And immediately after that day, you know, she went to the hospital and she stayed six weeks in the, uh, hospital waiting for the baby and all that. And every day I sit up there, every day I went up to the hospital, I’ll go to school.
Uh, her dad or her mom would come to the. For me and substitute, but after school I’ll get back on the seventh and to go from this area to get, wait for the reading of the red line or the blue line and take my way up, sit downtown from downtown and go take the bus all the way though. It’s just you and I was everyday process and every day it was a habit and I felt I loved it because it gave her somebody to feel comfortable with.
And it gave, it gave me to have a purpose, you know, and, and to feel like somebody needs me and me and the mom has been through a lot, and this is where I stepped up. This is why I show my loyalty. This is why I show, you know, we both made mistakes, but Hey, we’re with each other on this one. So I kept on with my routine with that.
And you know. Consistently made sure my name was signing the book July 16 and my baby boy King was there. He’s posted, his due date was actually in September. Oh my God. So he was too much. Pretty much, yeah.
David Hirsch: How much did he weigh when he was born?
David Hirsch: Holy moly.
Kwame: So that was a, it’s kinda crazy cause I didn’t, we, we didn’t even get to see him coming from the first day.
He went straight to the, uh, incubator and the mother had a C-section. She couldn’t have it regularly. So that took a bit tool. And I was, me as a father and as the mom and young, just knowing the situation, how it is and knowing that me and her, I’m going to have to be more, uh, order one and one, that kind of stuff.
Kind of gets the vision, maybe clarifies it, but so you’re not stayed there with her. And she’s kind of bummed out that she couldn’t see the baby right after too. So, but, uh, so I stayed, when’s the incubator stayed? We didn’t see him for another day. So the next day she went in there, saw him and couldn’t open his eyes or didn’t get to see us for the week or so.
And we just saw his little. Face and movements and, Oh yeah. He was just so small.
David Hirsch: So how long was King in the hospital after he was born? Six months. Holy Mellon. Who covered that from a financial perspective?
Kwame: A OHP.
David Hirsch: So you didn’t have to pay for that individually. Do you know what the hospital bills were.
Do you have any idea how much it cost?
Kwame: But I know that to sell off probably off roofs cause he,
David Hirsch: I’m going to guess it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not maybe pushing a million dollars just because that’s six months in the ICU and then beyond.
Kwame: Wow. Yeah. He asked slowly a premature lung disease and that was around. Four months, me and my mom noticed his breathing, his chest, just in the origin, enlarge. And I kind of felt disturbed by that and knew that it wasn’t normal. And the babies next to him was, it had that big chest and the mom wanted to buy it, but scared to ask the doctor to, I said something and it was kind of spoke up and it was just staying with, found out they had premature lung disease and he had it.
Two options for that.
David Hirsch: Did he have an operation?
Kwame: Yes, he did. He had a tracheostomy surgery right after that. He was actually on the C-PAP for a long time, you know, for about three months, two months, and we wanted him home. You know, it’s Christmas. Just come in and they kept telling us, Oh, Thanksgiving, he’s going to be on Thanksgiving.
What’s a home thing for, you know, he’s going to be home in December, coming for Christmas.
So when you say coming home. Um, are you and your girlfriend you were living together at the time after the baby was born?
No, I was actually wasn’t living at her house, but we were so close that kind of coming home to her house.
Well, it’s my home. I call her a home, my home, and I feel like so one, so yeah, coming home and I will always want my baby with his mom at all times. I just feel more comfortable like
that. So, and are you still together?
No, we’re not.
David Hirsch: Okay.
Kwame: And you know, that’s kind of slowly determined down. Uh. So yes, something so I don’t see pap and me and him went home and we got him checked out, see me surgeon that came with a lot cause he was actually going to lose his ability to eat and swallow.
So we have to do another surgery, which is a G tube, which insert a circle in your stomach for his feedings. So he had a certain in his throat. We are. So two, 3.5 millimeter to two trig. We’ll go insert down into this for airflow and air pressure. And then we had a long tube and a ventilator, which I call Vinny.
Now, Vinny, uh, is an air pressurizer. So my son will take the initial breath, if any helps them. Close it out. So,
David Hirsch: so is he still on the ventilator?
Kwame: Yes. He is still on the ventilator?
David Hirsch: Now is there a plan to take him off the ventilator?
Kwame: There hasn’t been a plan. We talked to his Dr. Shaw, we talked to judge Shaw numerous times, but seeing him when the window famous and he gave us five feet, five years, so he’ll be probably five when he’s totally done with this.
And lately there’s been a slow down and kind of on the weaning process, which is just getting him. From a sentence low on the lower lower settings because, uh, uh, his feet in his feedings that he was doing what caused him to, you know, to throw up a lot and have all these aspirations and all that. So we had to slow down on the vendor lady or settings and focus more on the feeding schedule.
David Hirsch: Okay. So you’ve been involved with King’s life from the time has been born a new cm. How often now?
Kwame: I see him now, often every day on a week day, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from eight o’clock to five o’clock 5:30 , you know, and I used to see him, I’ll say even every day before then, Saturday and Sunday before.
Me and the mom had established some rules and boundaries every day because as you said, that home was considered my home and I would go to school and come straight there and everything. She used to be at that house and now I kind of found out I was pushing myself maybe doing more than what I’m capable of.
Do me, even though he loved my boy, loved it, but you know, I knew a half like my dad had. I don’t want him to, I want to make that sacrifice on, you know, Hey, I still have a beautiful future, beautiful career. I have a beautiful vision in front of me and I’ve been here for my son. You know, and you got like your daddy and might have to make that sacrifice.
We want to be there like your dang. Make that sacrifice. If not, yeah, he got balanced, but I want to find a good balance. So I gave up. Going to California for football, and I thought that was
David Hirsch: a full ride scholarship.
Kwame: Yeah. I thought that was one of my biggest, biggest achievements in that that sacrifice is when I says, you know what, he can call me assuming it’s me.
You know? He was born on a Monday like me. You know, he’s born around the same time I was two hours. I came two hours beforehand. But yeah. That’s who I do it for. That’s my purpose. That’s what I was playing out on the football field for, you know? So most definitely took down that scholarship and said, you know, I’m a swole with set a plan B, go to full time for PCC and this music, and I’m doing absolutely just started my grades and nowhere near was, wasn’t a high school.
I’m learning like I’m excited to go to school and I never been. I’m excited to go to school.
David Hirsch: Well, that’s great to hear that. Thanks for sharing, Kwame. So how did you meet? Uh. Shane and the Squires program
Kwame: I’ve seen on a, uh, met Shane on one of those. His, uh, what was he saying? Like the teen father workshop team, father workshop.
David Hirsch: Was it the third one?
Shanne Sowards: Uh, it was the fourth one. Okay.
Kwame: Yeah. And, uh, I was in my counselor’s room and we would have lunches. She just had this paper on there about teen fathers and you know. Couple of days, two years, me and my dad had a conversation just about fatherhood in general. So I was open and I looked at, I didn’t even look at the paper.
She just said food was going to be there. She knows how to get my attention.
David Hirsch: How old would have King been, when you learn about the Squires program, uh,
Kwame: one I would say probably
David Hirsch: two years ago.
Kwame: Yeah. So, uh. I heard food. I said it one time and I said, well that’s kinda kind of far. It was in, uh, I believe Louis is in Milwaukee, Milwaukee now in Portland.
David Hirsch: So how far was that? How did you have to travel to get there?
Kwame: 30 minutes in the car with my dad. It’s 30 minutes in the car. So, so
David Hirsch: What was it that you heard? Cause you were there for the food. Um, but what was it that you heard that said, I want, I
Kwame: Heard it was just the experience. What I found around me, the room, the people, the environment, the, the, the opportunities.
The. The difference, the difference in my life to the change. Something could happen and you know, obviously God’s gets set up a piece of paper on the thing and said, Hey, there’s going to be food there. Quantity. That’s just get there. I’ll make it worth it. Just get there.
David Hirsch: Okay, so you went, you had a good experience then.
What was your second interaction with the Squires program?
Kwame: Ah, it was actually the Thursday. Every Thursday grade went to the Squire site that following Thursday and it had pizza.
David Hirsch: So Shane, note to self food’s important
Shanne Sowards: Oh I know.
Kwame: Seeing that and all the other dads that probably do the same thing I did and showed up the next day and after that, it was the next Thursday and next Thursday, and she didn’t say, Hey, you know, I don’t, I see that you’re always going to a mom’s house to see her son. Here’s another dad’s group, Dan. I started taking my son out for the first time by myself, and then with all the medical condition, all the equipment, and felt so. So proud of myself. So like a fall soul, like this is what it feels like. You know? It just made me come here and cry in a way, just in a happily way, like it finally happens. There’s baby steps, the small steps that is gonna happen, and then it got then. To see my boy play with the kids and just then be like, Oh, he’s a little bit different.
But then see that he’s just like everybody else in a way. He not playing interested and he wants to build the blocks and fighting around two and Matt wins to best one. His two friends there named Shane and John and, uh, they’re about like five, 16 away older than him. My boy. He’s just, he just loves them.
And anytime we go home after Tuesday, dad’s repeat. Just, yeah, he’s just, yeah. Talking about them all the time.
David Hirsch: So if you had to identify one thing or maybe two things. What’s the one or two things that you’ve learned from the Squires? Program that are the most important to you?
Kwame: That I make a difference. Make a difference, and to make an difference can make a difference. The person, the other person can make a difference. Well, it should make one person and make a difference in the home.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. Well, Kwame, thank you for sharing some insights
Kwame: Thank you so much this is so wonderful. Changed my life.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you, gentlemen. This was fabulous.
Tom Couch: The Special Father’s Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support. Or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org that’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Podcast stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio, and again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org 21stcenturydads.org.