05/03/09 — Reality check

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Reality check

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 3, 2009 2:00 AM

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Antonio Houpe, right, speaks to male students at Goldsboro High School Friday about the struggles of being a teenage father. Now 19, he is the father of a 2-year-old son.

Antonio Houpe became a father at 16 -- and it wasn't easy.

"Life smacked me in the face," he says now, at age 19. "Now, I can't do nothing. can't go out with my boys, now I have got to get up early in the morning. Who gets up at 6 in the morning? ... You don't need children at this age."

Speaking Friday to a group of male students at Goldsboro High School, he shared as much discouragement as he could muster.

"I ain't trying to say girls are bad, but it can be trouble," he said. "Don't do it, man. It ain't worth it. You have got a full life ahead of you. Wait until you finish college."

Life is hard, pure and simple, Houpe said.

"Kids, man, you can't think about yourself no more. If you don't got no job or education, you ain't going nowhere," he said. "I ain't gonna say life is over. You can still go to school but you have got a priority. You have got to think about somebody else."

Houpe was a football player, with aspirations for the future. These days, it's more about working to support his now-2-year-old son. It's a struggle, he says.

"You might as well call us broke," he said. "Formula is $3, $4 a can. I used to spend all my money on jeans."

What made him step up and take care of his responsibilities?

"One thing, I loved my girl since the beginning of like eighth grade," he said. "I knew it was my fault -- it takes two -- (and) I don't regret my son."

In an adjacent hallway outside the library upstairs, Jade Phillips was breastfeeding 11-month-old daughter Jadeya after sharing her own similar story with female students at the school.

She is 14 years old.

"I fell in love and started having sex two years ago," she said. "I was about 13 at the time -- playing volleyball and basketball at Dillard Middle School when I found out in the WISH Center (school-based health clinic) that I was pregnant."

When she first found out she was pregnant, she was in denial.

"Everybody came to me and asked, and I said, 'No," because I didn't want anybody to know," she says now.

Like Houpe, she "fell in love" and started having sex. Having a baby did not sustain the relationship, however.

"He comes to see her, but is not really supporting her," she says of her daughter's father. "I still love him, and I'm hurt by the whole situation. I go to school and everywhere with a smile on my face, but I have got a lot of mixed emotions."

Her mother helps care for the baby, and Jade stayed in school. She is now a ninth-grader at Wayne School of Engineering.

It's been difficult -- having a C-section, juggling a baby and school while still in her early teens. But she was willing to share her story if it will save other students from experiencing the same hardship.

"I think they learned a lot from what I went through," she said after delivering her message. "I'm proud that I'm here, but it's a disgrace kind of thing. But I feel like maybe this was meant to happen to help make their life a little different than my life."

She left the audience pondering a question she perhaps would have liked to have contemplated nearly two years ago -- before she engaged in sexual activity, before she became a mother.

"I asked, 'Is eight or nine minutes of sex worth a lifetime of responsibility?'" she said. "A lot of them said 'no,' a few had blank stares. They didn't understand the question."

Tanesha Uzzell, 19, has two children, ages 1 and 2.

"Think before you make a mistake," she told her audience. "The first baby daddy said he loved me. I didn't want to lose my virginity. I shouldn't have done it, I made a big mistake."

Child support, like the presence of the father, is not guaranteed, she said. Today, she receives no assistance other than Medicaid and food stamps. She didn't finish school, dropping out after 10th grade to support her children. And she is fortunate to have help from the father of her second child, who helps with both children, she said.

WATCH -- Wayne Action Teams for Community Health -- has been instrumental in helping her, assisting her in getting an education.

Reflecting on her own situation, she shared wistfully what might have been, and offering some advice to students contemplating going down the same road.

"I really do believe, when my mom kicked me out at 14, I believe if I had stayed with my mom, I wouldn't have two kids because she was so strict" and wouldn't have let that happen, she said before cautioning her audience, "Don't get pregnant. Take your time. Live life to the fullest."

Friday's event, "Straight Talk, Real Talk," covered two class periods at Goldsboro High School. Sponsored by WATCH, health educator Vandora Yelverton said it was made possible through a grant acquired by the Teen Pregnancy Task Force.

It was a pilot program, which she would like to see offered in other schools, possibly even for students as young as middle school-age, she said.

"We realize that if we educate them concerning the realities of teen pregnancy. This hopefully will give them a conscious attitude about being sexually active," she said.

The morning's agenda also featured discussion on child support and establishing paternity, neglect and child maltreatment, the responsibilities of a father and the physical changes that accompany pregnancy.