During my time working at the YMCA, I learned very much about how children relate to circumstances away from school.
I served as a school-age site supervisor, providing before and after school care for children of elementary schools. It was a part-time gig – a very low-paying job which required hours of continued education in child development. I was a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect and took my job seriously.
Throughout my time with the YMCA, I worked at three different schools. A consistent theme developed in the way that the children related to me. They continually gravitated towards me and my presence, particularly the ones without their fathers.
The last school I was placed at held a story that touched my heart from the moment I heard it. A 12 year old boy, whose father had recently committed suicide during a brutal divorce brought on by the boys mother, was apparently labeled a “problem child” at his school.
When the boy saw me, his eyes lit-up like Christmas morning. His school only had three male teachers, and the only male role-model he ever had, had since passed. The after school teachers were women that he could not relate to, and I was just what he was looking for.
The fact that I was dealing with my own custody battle, and was in a position to fully empathize with this little boy, helped me immediately connect with him. He was overweight, dirty, lazy, shaggy, and sad – longing for someone to teach him self-respect and accountability.
I took great interest in talking with him about his interests and concerns. We talked about sports and I constantly coached him, encouraging his activity and showing him that I was there for him.
He began losing weight and improving his grades in school. I helped him with his homework, I encouraged his leadership qualities, and he quickly turned from the school bully into the thoughtful kid you see protecting the younger ones. He expressed an interest in joining the football team and I was proud of his participation.
My presence in his life was invaluable. He frequently expressed a desire to call me ‘Dad’ and always asked me to drive him home or come over and play video games with him.
Unfortunately, the rules that are associated with being a child-care provider are very strict. The bureaucracy has licensing laws and providers must follow them or face fines. I was open to spending time with him outside of work, but was told by my supervisors that I would need to obtain a release of liabilities and a host of other clearances before it would be allowed.
The stigma of a male child care provider was suspect by most of my female co-workers. I was constantly attacked and watched by overzealous, female peers who saw me as a threat. When they got wind of the boys desire to see me outside of work, some horrible things happened.
False allegations also happen to male child-care providers on the part of their female peers and I fell victim of one of those. It is much easier to fight these claims when the parents are on your side, but I had to take it all-the-way to the CEO of the local YMCA.
After being cleared of any wrongdoing, I insisted that any speck of this false-claim be destroyed and taken out of my records and the false accusers fired, they granted my request and justice was served.
I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to escape the every-day bias against male providers. I was facing a beast that based its operations on liabilities, not the children. Simply because I am a big man with muscles and I like sports, I would be looked at with suspicion by people of both genders since my line of work was caring for children on a daily basis. I had to leave. I had to be free from the persecution, as I was already dealing with it in family court when it came to my own child.
I ensured the young boy that I would always be there for him. I gave my number to his mother and explained to her that I would be leaving my position. I could no longer survive on the part-time income, as child support was taking almost 75% of my checks.
I didn’t want to walk-away from this child. I wanted to truly be there for him and continue to guide him through life. Unfortunately, our current culture and biases prevented that from happening. This boy needed a father figure.
I have not heard from his mother since I left. I think about him quite frequently and hope that he is doing well. Hopefully, in time, male care-givers will be better accepted, not investigated based solely on their gender, thus allowing a child exposure to a male role model when they are desperately crying out for one.