Max was out for an evening walk when I ran into him. He said he’s gotten out of his exercise routine, and he wants to get back in shape. He’s a big, muscular guy, dark skinned, from Saint Martin. He speaks four languages besides English, he says—Spanish like his mother, French and Creole like his Haitian father, and Portuguese like many of his friends growing up,
He had the chance to go out walking tonight because his kids’ mother was taking care of them. Usually, he has the two boys at his place. Max said they moved in with him because their mother wasn’t able to give the kids the kind of structure they needed. They’re four and nine now, and he says they’re doing well.
Max, who asked me to use just his first name, is on a mission to encourage other fathers, particularly black fathers, to take responsibility for their children. He said young men need to get all their selfish impulses out of the way before they take any risk of getting a woman pregnant. Once they are dads, he said, they need to embrace the role.
“Stop worrying about the new pair of sneakers, whatever,” he said, and enjoy the kids. “Listen to the crazy little jokes.”
Max said two of his friends have become involved fathers thanks in part to his guidance.
While men need to step up, Max said, they also need to be given more chances to parent. For example, he thinks he wasn’t treated fairly when he went to the welfare office to try to get help for his kids. The staff said his income is too high for him to get assistance.
Max said he has a social service job working with mothers and children with special needs across the border in Massachusetts. He makes $2,300 a month, but between income taxes and health insurance he doesn’t bring home enough to afford child care.
Since he couldn’t get a child care subsidy, Max said he relies on a network of friends to take care of his kids while he’s at work. In exchange, he watches their children for them when they need it. He said the arrangement is a bit complicated to work out, and it depends on everyone involved being responsible and trusting each other.
“If it’s a female, I try not to get between her panties so we keep the respect going on,” he said.
Max is happy that gender roles have evolved over time, but he thinks there’s still a ways to go.
“Men need to stop with the old school, the 50’s and 60’s, the 80’s,” he said. And, for their part, women need to realize that “with independence comes responsibility.”
Max said relations between the sexes can be fraught enough that he’s just as happy not to be in a relationship at the moment.
“I love being a single dad, and I love being single,” he said.
Being by himself, though, Max says it’s especially important to get to know his neighbors. He learned that he could count on them in a very hard way a few months ago when three strangers beat him with a baseball bat and stabbed him. According to newspaper accounts, the assailants were looking for an entirely different person but knocked on the wrong door and attacked Max when he answered it.
After the incident, Max said, his neighbors stepped in to help him and his sons.
Considering what happened to him, Max is remarkably positive about Nashua and its residents. He’s somewhat critical of the city government—for one thing, he thinks it lets neighborhoods deteriorate by failing to hold landlords accountable for dilapidated buildings. But he thinks if you dig deep into the community you can find good people to balance out the negative aspects of the city.
Max’s ideas about community seem to mirror those on parenthood. He thinks both will work out if people really try hard.
“Men need to realize that just because you may not have had a great parent doesn’t mean you can’t be a good parent,” he said.
He said he hopes I’ll use my blog to spread that message.
“Tell all the men, take baby steps to be a father,” he said.
photo provided by Max