Shanne Sowards

It’s funny the things you remember. The bus ride home was so quiet the day we found out. It was like the volume of the world got turned down. Selfish thoughts screamed at me. My dad is going to kill me. I have to quit school. I am a loser. Would she be on board with abortion or adoption? Football dream is over. Can I get a job at 15? However, the volume was only turned down for a short time. As we started to tell people, the volume of the world not only got louder, but it started screaming those same thoughts, and more, at me. 

I muddled through the pregnancy. I cannot say I was terribly supportive. I was there physically, but I would not call myself present. School did not change much for me, aside from the fact that I became the go-to guy when someone had a pregnancy scare. I continued to do the minimum, look for work, and just be around for my girlfriend. Her experience was very different from mine. She endured constant judgment due to her belly, a couple of different schools, and a lot of bouncing around. During her pregnancy she spent some time living at her dad's house, White Shield, Harry’s Mother, and her own mother’s house. It is a blessing that our daughter was so healthy when she was born.

About three months after the birth of my first daughter, I finally landed a steady job.  By the time school started again I was working 40 hours a week and I had ended my relationship with my daughter’s mother. I began paying child support. Soon after, due to homelessness (I no longer lived with my parents), I was paying couch-surfing rent. I continued doing the minimum at school and seeing my daughter a little. I generally saw her every other week on payday, at which I would say something like, “I wish I could spend more time with her.” By no means was I being a co-parent. Yet, aside from my daughter’s mother, no one was telling me I needed to do more for my child and see her more. In fact, at the time I viewed many of her demands as being bitchy. As I saw it, most people in my community were taking pity on me and telling me I was doing a great job. What was her problem?

At 17, things were rolling for me. I was finally doing well in school and playing football again, and thanks to a very kind family I had a steady roof over my head. I could even start taking my daughter every other weekend. I even had help with transportation. My daughter was one-and-a-half years old and I was finally consistently co-parenting a little. During this time, I also got partnered up with a mentor for homeless youth. I met Ben Root through my high school guidance counselor who told me Ben helped support homeless youth. I agreed to start meeting with him. It was nice to have someone who made me feel like I mattered. During this time I was also experiencing a second pregnancy with a very different result, with another young woman. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. I was grateful to have Ben’s ear during this time. The relationship with my mentor also gave me some valuable paradigm shifts and wisdom about manhood, money, and fatherhood that still impact me today.

Not too long after graduation, as I got on my feet, my weekends with my daughter turned into Wednesdays and every other weekend. Later, we went to an every-other-week schedule, and there was even a time when she lived with me full time and went to her mother’s every other weekend. I was very fortunate that her mother was patient with my growth and development as a father.

Through the years, there have been many days that were hard. The disagreements were many and our young brains did not always fight fair. However, our promise to one another was always to put our daughter’s best interest first. For us, that looked like joint birthdays, holidays together, not bad-mouthing the other parent, and certainly not allowing others to do so.

Today, our daughter is 26. She is a graduate of Portland State University and a teacher for autistic children. I do not have the words to express how proud I am of her and how honored to be her father. Her mother is happily married with five children, and without any hesitation I can say that I love her. She is my friend. We still spend every Christmas together.

I am also happily married with a total of three daughters whom I love dearly. In an effort to pay it forward, I created a mentoring program called Squires to help teen fathers attain the support they need to be successful. Our mission is to empower, encourage, and support teen dads to provide long-term emotional, physical, and financial support for their children. Young fathers tell us what kind of dads, providers, and protectors they want to be. Working together through friendship, we develop a path for them to become the fathers they want to be. To learn more go to www.squirespdx.org.