Becoming a Father at 17

I am so honored to feature this blog article from my friend, David Schonacher. David and his beautiful family are an incredible example to all of us about accepting what life brings you. Thank you for being such an amazing testimony for life!

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Am I Pro-life? Sure. Pro- Derek? Absolutely.

When a 17-year-old boy is faced with the news that his girlfriend of less than one year is pregnant, time can stand still. In those moments, he and everyone around him find themselves reciting every moral conversation, scripture or advice they’ve ever been exposed to. Without the benefit of a sound spiritual upbringing what could one possibly use to begin to make sense of the decisions before him? Decisions need to be made, not only for himself but for the future mother, her family, his family and now this new being we know nothing of.

Where did this story begin?

I was a junior in high school, defensive captain of the varsity football team, spending most of my time in the gym, on the field and finding myself wanting nothing more than to dominate anything between the tackles. This is my ground, my turf, and I’m in control. I’m an average size, below average speed middle linebacker who has a well above average heart and desire. I make up for what I lack physically with smart decisions, efficiency and overall effort. Prior to this, I had never faced any major obstacles I would consider life changing or path altering. I did however face larger pulling guards and stronger blocking backs. After short struggles with each I found a way to create success.

Shortly after Christmas break our senior year my girlfriend and I were faced with the news that she was pregnant. All the hours of training, college prep, studies, college visits and fantasies of my future stood still. All of those moments seem to pale in comparison to the news we’d just received. None of those moments on the field seemed to any longer have significance. None of my trophies provided certainty that I was capable of handling what I had just been called to. The intimate details of the moments, hours and days shortly after are foggy at best. I’m not sure my brain has ever struggled so hard in computing the problems that just fallen before us.

I’m the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family. The pressure to succeed and the self-assumed pedestal I stood myself on was crumbling beneath me. In hindsight it would seem almost as though I was losing, in those moments, the very identity I had worked so hard to create. Every decision in front of us seemed to have little to do with where we were headed prior to this information. I can recall the individual moments in front of each of our parents, the awkwardness, the uneasiness, and the shame. My father, as he often did, made jokes of it helping us bring a smile to a seemingly hopeless moment of our path in life. His efforts were effective to a degree but could not help us escape the reality of what was to become of us.

In almost an instant the relationship became no longer about her and I; but immediately a soul we had yet to meet started to chart our course. I do not recall any specific moment in any conversation where anything other than how to move forward with this child was discussed. I don’t recall any pressure to do anything but the “right thing”. But I’m a 17 year old college bound, non-spiritual boy. I am by no means qualified to make the right decision here, or am I? The conversations are mostly a blur, faded memories of supportive family counseling us, expressing their disgust, but still opening their hearts and providing even the faintest confidence that we are capable of handling the burden we’ve brought upon ourselves. I can’t recall any specific moment where the final decision, if any, was made. I cannot recall any singular moment where aborting the child was discussed. I can only recall my desire to take the burden, the struggle before me and show them all I am capable. I subtly recall the frailty we suddenly seemed to possess. I recall the sadness, perhaps a result our own insecurities. Certainly we were not qualified for what came next. I don’t recall much in the moments following about concern of what people thought. I don’t recall any friends or extended family giving any negative thoughts towards our decision to have this child. If anything, my only memory is that of a slow fade into the ocean. We became instantly not like everyone else, we instantly became different. We became that couple that was destined for something no one around us could comprehend at such a young age.

After the initial shock and emotion of the first week or so we moved slowly towards regaining the life we had. We attended functions, studied for tests and planned out our college future. It all seemed normal and possible, yet each decision now had a different and unavoidable reality. Visiting Tulane University in New Orleans made so much sense, but the reality of leaving the support of family behind made such a dream impractical, but not impossible. Our hopes and dreams were by no means crushed, but inexplicably altered. Our future, once clear and wide-open, now seemed like patchy fog at best. Our future may involve these hopes and dreams we once desired, but they were now bound by this very concrete reality.

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Fast forward 18 years, I’m now a 35 year old father to a 17 year old man. He is talented, joyful, funny and nothing like me. He has the heart of a lion, he’s three inches taller and will never play middle linebacker. He may soon become an Engineer like his father, but he’s mechanically inclined, a talent I do not possess. He’s a mess, a burden at times, but smiles like his mother. He is imaginative, creative and produces his own version of comedy while his father is calculated, dull at times and only recently found an imagination. He speaks Spanish fluently, English poorly and can recite more science facts than many museums. He played sports most of his life, perhaps only to please his father, but he is clearly charting his own course in life. He listens, strives to be a good man, but finds himself combative in talks of morals and justice. He is his own man.

I’m now a practicing Catholic for 13 years. We have a 13-year-old daughter as well. She’s an angel, the perfect combination of her Mother and Father with her own unique beauty mixed in. Until just recently I had not studied the Church’s pro-life position in any great detail. In fact, prior to this, I studied intently John Paul II and his “Theology of the Body” discussions. I spent hours upon hours reading and reflecting on the magnificence of our creation. I spent time understanding the amazing uniqueness we were each made with. I’ve spent three years now looking out at friends and family with a new perspective. Because of these revelations I’m now able to see the beauty in each and have begun to learn finally how to love and to be loved.

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At 17 years old, with little to no spiritual direction, perhaps I was intent on having this child because I refused to fail and I saw an abortion as a failure. But now I know different. I now know our gut feelings, our conscience would never allow us to consider anything else but to meet this beautiful creation of ours and to do the best we could with what we had. We were fortunate to have family support. Everyone played a part in our journey. Parents babysat for us. Grandparents sent supplies and money when needed. Friends, albeit rarely, offered time and tender support. We even found decent assistance from the local, state and federal government.

Not a day goes by that I don’t get up and go to work and genuinely desire to succeed, but no longer for myself nor for the approval of others. I knew the second I saw Derek what my purpose was. I was a father. Every step I took from that moment forward was to provide for him and to ensure his protection and salvation. Just like I failed to make the right decisions as a teenager, I have failed at times as an adult. I have had more periods of sin than purity, more episodes of shame than exalting, and more times of struggle than success. But, with Derek around I find victory each day. He is our creation shared in God’s touch. He is beautiful, unique and has no clue yet how great he can be. I suppose I am now officially “Pro-Life”, but before that I was always Pro-Derek.

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Stop Enabling Your Kids

I was talking to a student the other day who mentioned that her mother wrote her brother’s college scholarship essay. When she confronted her family about this, she was punished.  I know another friend whose mother requested his college recommendation letters for him.  Other parents, upon recognizing that their children are engaging in drug use, still provide them with spending money.  Colleges complain about parents calling to ask about their children’s grades, evidently their kids won’t tell them. Here a free tip: If you don’t know what grades your student is getting in college… in fact, if you even have to question whether or not your child is passing, DO NOT PAY FOR THE CLASSES.  Why the heck would you pay the ridiculous costs of classes and books and living if your child is going to even think about giving a mediocre performance, and then DARE to keep you, the source of at least part (maybe all) of their income, out of the loop? It’s obnoxious.

Guys, this is a topic that gets me FIRED UP! I am so passionate about this because my generation is going to rule the world one day, and frankly, most of us are not prepared. The reason? We have not been prepared.  The following is a result of my observations of my parents throughout the years, who have raised two children, are in the process of raising two more, and the lot of us have never done anything illegal or stupid (well, we’ve never made a habit out of anything stupid). In fact, I remember one time I was asked to talk about a problem in my family- perhaps relating to drug use, alcoholism, divorce, etc. I did not have an answer. Not a single person in my close family (includes grandparents, their children, and my cousins- about 12 families total) has ever gotten a divorce. I’m not bragging, I obviously had nothing to do with this track record. I’m just saying, I’d be stupid not to take a closer look at how kids are raised ‘round here.

So lets get to it: Why do your children make bad decisions? Because they are human.

Here’s the real question, why do your children continue to make the same bad decisions?

Because they are enabled.

Parenting is hard, I get it. I am definitely no expert. Children come with no manual on their proper care and keeping. But at the very least, at the very least can we use our common sense? Whoever thought that raising kids on TV and McDonald’s and letting boyfriends sleep over and letting them wear pants below their butts and two piece bathing suits when they were 3 and thongs when they were 10 was a good idea? In what Universe does this make sense?

People, at the most basic level, make decisions based on effort exerted vs. outcome achieved. If a decision requires little effort and has a positive outcome, then people are likely to make it again, especially in lieu of exerting a lot of effort and getting the same outcome. Usually decisions that have a negative outcome, regardless of the effort, will not be repeated, unless the action has an addictive quality or an unforeseen benefit.

So here is what we are going to do.  We are going to implement a few strategies (strategies that I’ve picked up from my parents) to make bad decisions not worth it. If they’re not worth it, your kids will eventually stop making them.

  1. Stop Trying to Be Their Friend | Instead, be their Parent: Similarly, I am not my student’s friend, I am their teacher. Yes, we have fun. Yes, we laugh daily. Yes, they like me. But I do not stoop to their level. Do not try to be cool. You will never be cool. You are twice their age for Pete’s sake. I am only 22 and there is a generational gap between myself and the 16 year olds I teach. You have no chance.
  2. Stop Sparing Their Feelings | Instead, Tell them the Truth With Integrity: Part of living in this world is having a thick skin. Its learning how to give and receive criticism with integrity, tact, and kindness. When your child does something wrong, tell them. Explain why it is wrong (with integrity, tact, and kindness, model this for them). Then, tell them what and how they can do better.
  3. Establish Consequences to Match the Crime: This is where the rubber meets the road. Do not go too far and ground them for a week for rolling their eyes. The punishment should be in some way related to the crime. For example, if the child gets their phone taken away in school, take the phone away at home. If the child does not clean their room, or a does a poor job doing so, Saturday they cannot do anything until it is done. Might this mean waking up at 630 to do so before their baseball game? Perhaps. Clean your room right next time.
  4. Follow Through with the Consequences You have Established: This is how you earn respect, by keeping your word. Trust me, they will respect you. They may throw a fit, they may say they hate you, they may slam doors, and they may cry, regardless, stand strong. If you let them get away with things, you will have one heck of a time unlearning that behavior.
  5. 5.    Let Them Take Responsibility for Themselves, even if it Means they Fail to Accomplish a Goal: Good Lord, do NOT write ANY essay for them EVER. Much less a College essay! Here’s another free tip: I would wager that a grand majority of the students in college applied for it themselves. If your kid can’t manage to get an application TO ANY COLLEGE in on time, they probably shouldn’t go. They should probably work, learn responsibility, and build character. If the work could be some sort of manual labor performed outside, even better. Its good for the soul.

Parents, what are some other good strategies? I would love to hear your thoughts below!