A Single Dad at 18
While teen mothers are a familiar focus of national concern, Pough is part of a rare breed of teenaged dads who are trying to raise children on their own. The U.S. Census Bureau says there are some 18,000 single-parent young men, up 5 percent from a decade ago. Like Pough, many teens want their own children to have the father figures they lacked, says Darryl Green, who runs Dads 101, a Baltimore course for young fathers. "Some of them don't know how to be a father because that role model wasn't there for them," he says. "But they want to reverse the trend of fatherlessness."
By all accounts Pough is a good parent. He gets some help from his grandmother and mother, but he is the one who makes Diamond's favorite pancake breakfast, takes her to the neighborhood playground, keeps her hair neatly braided, buys her new clothes from Old Navy and rushes her to the emergency room in the dead of night when she suffers one of her severe asthma attacks. "She's what I work for, what I live for, why I wake up," he says. "She's everything."
Pough wasn't always so paternal. He grew up a street-tough kid who never knew his father and who was raised by his maternal great-grandparents because his mother, Elizabeth, couldn't support him and his two half brothers. He was a high school sophomore who often spent late nights hanging out on corners with pals—sometimes getting in fights—when his life changed forever. Pough was only 15 when his then-girlfriend Charmaine Houston, also 15, told him she was pregnant. He pledged to support the child, but the two drifted apart—until her sister phoned Pough on Thanksgiving 2003 telling him he was a father. He rushed to her home to meet the baby. "I felt this warm rush of love," he says of holding Diamond for the first time. "I knew it was time for me to do what I got to do."
Trouble was, he wasn't quite sure what to do. His school placed him in Males Achieving Responsibility Successfully (MARS), a program affiliated with the Philadelphia public schools that instructs about 100 young fathers annually.
There he learned, among other things, when children get vaccinations and how to warm a bottle. He quickly became a star pupil. "It makes me feel really great to see a young man have the desire to be a financial provider—and do it in a legal manner," says Damien Webber, Pough's MARS adviser. "That's almost a lost art nowadays."
Living at his grandmother's house and working six days a week at Popeye's, he shared custody with Houston until, concerned that she wasn't meeting the girl's needs, he asked for full custody and—when a court ruled he was the more fit parent—won. Houston, who has Diamond on weekends, is content with the arrangement. "She loves her dad," she says. "If it came between me and him, he'd win." In January 2005, Pough used his savings to rent his apartment, which takes $450 of his monthly take-home salary of $1,060. While he's in class, Pough leaves Diamond in a high school-based daycare, but he still needs to pay a babysitter when he's at work. Plus, the battered '94 Plymouth Acclaim he bought for $1,200 last spring broke down, so he has to get around by bus—even for the four-hour round-trip ride to Diamond's babysitter.
Pough's determination will be tested again this fall. Germantown High recently changed its daycare policies, so he decided to transfer for his senior year to another school where he hopes to get vocational training to start a career in construction. College is an expense he can't afford. "I can't start working hard in college, slacking on my bills," he says. "Then my daughter would not be getting what she needs."
Even though he can't afford to buy Diamond everything she might need or want, he's making sure she will never lack for one thing: a father's love. "If something ever happens to me," says Pough, "no one can ever tell her that her dad didn't take care of her."
Thomas Fields-Meyer. Nicole Weisensee Egan in Philadelphia and Melody Simmons in Washington, D.C.