According to a December 2014 Pew research report, fewer than half of today’s American children under the age of 18 live in traditional families. With the percentage of single mothers never marrying at about 49 percent and many families without a father because of divorce, separation, or the death of the father, this presents an interesting sense of Father’s Day. Who is celebrating and what are we celebrating?
Some fathers in their 20’s and 30’s are still growing up: some engaging in serial relationships, some looking for a perfect partner who only exists in their imagination, some jumping into fatherhood with no sense of the responsibilities, and others being tricked into fatherhood by a partner who indicates she is protected from pregnancy when she isn’t.
The subjects of my Father’s Day column in 2014 were Thomas Martinez and his son, Chantz. Martinez’s mother was married six times and Martinez is the surname of husband No. 2, whom Tom refers to as Dad. His biological father was less than what one would want in a father for a host of reasons, and Tom did not know how to be a father when his son Chantz was born (For the backstory, Google “Fathers: Are they important? Harlan Daily Enterprise”).
Three years ago, Tom divorced his second wife. His explanation, “She was pulling mine and Chantz’s relationship apart. Chantz didn’t feel welcome in his own home. He felt like an outsider, and I rectified the situation.”
On Monday, I scheduled an interview with Dr. Martinez ( a chiropractor, professor of anatomy and physiology and head baseball coach at Edison Community College and coach of Greenville American Legion Post 140 baseball team) and his son. I was eager to learn if they had resolved the challenges that they reported last year and if they had advice for readers.
My sense was that they were in a good place, and that was affirmed as I talked with them. Tom reports that Chantz, who graduated from high school last month, is “learning to be more self-sufficient. We created an apartment for him upstairs in the house, and he now does yard work, laundry and most important, his home work. He had his best G.P.A. this year in his four years of high school — a 3.5. He’s learned that Dad is not just a bank. He works at landscaping when his baseball schedule allows and has applied for work at a sporting goods store. He’s signed to play baseball at Edison — even got a scholarship — and has his own bank account.”
Tom’s advice to fathers is to be patient, to realize they’re kids. With patience, he advocates respect, talking to sons in the same way fathers want to be talked to, and unconditional love.
In terms of his priorities, Tom puts family first and a part of family is a relationship with God. Second on his list is work, which means school work for Chantz and his work as a professor. Baseball comes third, and if the women he dates can’t “fit into our lifestyle, they can’t fit into our world.”
Chantz is much more articulate and open in 2015. Of his relationship with his father, he reports, “We’re getting along better now, don’t argue as much. There was an issue with a girl I was dating who was disrespectful, needy, and controlling. I came to understand that Dad was right.”
Recently, one of Chantz’s friends who was driving without a seat belt was in a crash in which a sixteen year-old girl was killed , and that has been sobering for Chantz. He finds himself “not excited about driving now.”
And there’s the challenge of playing on teams where his dad is the coach, “The stats show I deserve to play, to be second baseman.”
This fall he begins college and plans a double major, criminal justice and business. With the criminal justice major, Chantz likes the idea of “giving back and making the world safer.” The business major ties in with Uncle Joseph DeLorenzo who builds houses on Maui and other islands and is considering him as a business partner. This has come about because DeLorenzo has no sons and views Chantz as a young man who is “eager to learn the trade and is willing to work.”
Chantz’s advice to sons who need an improved relationship with their fathers is as follows: “When fathers complain, say, ‘Yes, sir,’ walk away, and process the complaint. Spend as much time as you can with your father; get him in your life. Find something you have in common. Have each other’s back. Understand that your dad is there for you no matter what.”
Chantz’s final words of the interview should resonate with all sons and fathers: “Don’t hang on to the past.”
In this chaotic world where so many fathers are absent, physically and/or emotionally, I’d say Chantz has hit a home run. Fathers and sons, create a future with your son even if it’s the toughest job you’ve ever faced. Know that for some of these relationships, it’s never too late.
Note: I have another Father’s Day story for next week, and it will be about a little girl who brought a man and his son together after decades of absence and resentment.