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Dad At 17

By Harold Breiding-Buss

While politicians are concerned about New Zealand’s high teenage pregnancy rate, the story of Tyler Guise shows that the responsibilities of fatherhood can straighten a lad out – if he is willing to take it, and has the right support.

Tyler Guise can’t see anything wrong with being a dad at 17. “Whenever it happens, it happens”, he says, “and everything happens for a reason.”

His age aside, he is just about the model of a modern father. He works a fulltime Monday to Friday job, and when he comes home he will feed his baby son, Cyrone, or do the shopping.

On Saturdays he helps out friends, sometimes earns a bit of extra cash, and during the week he’ll do some community work for the Christchurch Father&Child Trust as well. If he’s not clocking overtime, he’ll spend Sundays alone with Cyrone, and take him wherever he goes.

But as a Teen Dad, Tyler is almost by definition not supposed to be a good dad. He’s only a kid himself, after all, barely out of his nappies, still wet behind the ears, isn’t he?

His age earned him a brief spell of stardom, when he took part in a TV3 documentary which screened in October last year. Of the three fathers interviewed, Tyler was the only one to remain with his partner, Kate, over the several weeks the documentary was made.

Another father’s attempts to be more involved with his baby were thwarted by the mother and her parents, while the third didn’t seem altogether welcome in her parents’ house.

Initially, Tyler “didn’t want anything to do” with the documentary, but girlfriend Kate talked him into it.

So the film crew followed him around at antenatal classes, and even filmed him pacing the floors of Christchurch Women’s hospital the night Cyrone was born. On camera, he talked about finding a flat for the three of them, and buying a four-door car.

Cyrone – a compromise between the names “Tyrone” and “Cyprus” which his parents couldn’t agree on – was born on the 29th of July last year. The couple did move into their own flat only a few weeks ago, sharing it with a workmate of Tyler, but still no four-door car.

But neither do they have to put up with the “wreck” that caught fire one day on top of Christchurch’s Port Hills. In late March, as a result of lots of overtime and a pay rise, he was able to show me his latest acquisition, an immaculate, sparkling blue, clean ’88 Honda Prelude – a family car at last.

His pride and pleasure in being a dad and having a family is echoed by Massey University Research Fellow Helen Wilson, who debunks the idea that teenage pregnancy is all bad news. “In fact, research does not bear out the negative images [of teenage motherhood] that the media often portrays.

And I wonder if it’s being driven by the fact that middle-class white women are having their babies much later. Is this now seen as the norm, and everything else is a problem?”

Not that things are all easy for Tyler and his family. Until recently, his earnings could only barely support a family. Being young often means you’ll have to make do on the minimum wage or just above.

Tyler loves cars, and started to look around for training opportunities as a mechanic when Cyrone came along. He then decided he had to get a job as quickly as possible.

A proper career will have to wait.

But “Cyrone straightened things out for me”, he says. “I was never at school, refused to go. It wasn’t a challenge.” Living with his mum until he was 15, he then moved in with a friend. “I couldn’t stand being at home.” He hints at some problems with booze and drugs, which Kate’s parents helped him sort out after she got pregnant.

“If [her pregnancy] hadn’t happened, I’d still be at my mate’s and without a job. Now I’ve got a fulltime job and a decent car.”

While he is toiling for the family like any good kiwi dad, his partner Kate is taken care of by the Young Parents College in Koiapoi, north of Christchurch.

The Young Parents College is a special outfit to help young mothers pursuing a proper education and career, and not having to sacrifice it for the duties of motherhood. It is an innovative concept to keep those young women’s lives on track.

Tyler feels a bit left out by this, though. “I come home to hear about my partner’s day and how she gets information from the other young mums and the bonds she creates, and I sometimes wish that I had someone there to share experiences with and make friends in the same so-called boat,” he writes in a letter of support for the Father&Child Trust’s Teen Dads Project.

Jenny Hindinmiller, manager of the Young Parents College, agrees: “We have been wanting to set something up for the partners of our mums for some time now”, she says. As with many father initiatives, the how is the issue, not the why: how do you attract young men to a support service instead of repelling them. “Many of those guys wouldn’t accept any support at all”, she believes.

Until the move, Tyler’s family lived at her parents’ place in Kainga, just out of Christchurch. He is very grateful for their support and acceptance of him. Kate’s mum, Krista, has been especially vocal about drumming up some support for guys like him. “There’s nothing out there for them, and they need it just as much as the girls”, she says.

But it is his dad he can really talk things through with, and who he feels very much supported by. Unfortunately his dad lives in Auckland, with another family of his own. After his parents had split up, Tyler initially lived with his mum, but went up to Auckland to live with his dad when he was 13.

Despite getting along well with his dad, he moved back to Christchurch after a year or so, because he missed his siblings, friends and the places he was used to. Not long after his return to his mum’s place he moved out, at the tender age of 15, flatting with a friend.

He admits his life was a bit off the rails at that stage and without purpose. As soon as he turned 16 he stopped going to school. “I just refused to go. It was not a challenge.” Even so, when turning up for the exams he passed maths, science, art, without putting any work in. “Kate couldn’t believe it”, he says.

When Kate got pregnant and he was about to become a dad, Tyler felt society’s attitudes towards teen parenthood descending on him. That is “the way the rest of the community acts. They think we’re not as responsible.” Not feeling very confident in any respect, he says that “it did affect me at first, but I got over it.”

What’s different with Tyler’s story to some others is that Kate’s family clearly wanted him around and that he received the right encouragement at the right time.

“He was the only one [of the partners of the young mothers at the teen mum college) who went along to antenatal classes”, says Jenny Hindinmiller.

Tyler is still very keen to meet other guys in his situation and, through an acquaintance of the family, he was put in touch with the Father&Child Trust. Right now, the Trust is conducting a survey of young fathers like him as a first step to setting up a support service.

Tyler has become a member of the team, even gets paid a few hours per week.

Supporting Teen Dads -The Project-

After receiving a grant from The Hague (Netherlands) -based Bernard-van-leer Foundation, the Father&Child Trust (Christchurch) started work on what had just been an idea on the backburner for more than two years.

To find out in what ways teen dads could be (and wanted to be) helped, the Trust designed to find out about the young men’s needs. The Trust is recruiting teen dads for the: questionnaire at the moment.
Survey participants are asked whether they want to keep in touch and be involved in what the Trust sets up.

This way the Trust hopes to establish a core group of young fathers around which the service can grow.
A literature review is also a part of the set-UP phase.

The Trust sees its role mainly as a facilitator for a support service or network that the guys will run by themselves.

A web site Is being set up at! www.teendads.org.nz, and for referrers or interested agencies, the teendads team sends out a short newsletter at irregular intervals.

For more info, referrals, or literature on the subject that you may have, contact:
Harald Breiding-Buss, Project Leader.:
harald@fatherandchild.org.nz

Tony Scanlan, Researcher.
tony@teendads.org.nz

Tyler Guise, Youth Advisor.
tyler@teendads.org.nz

Ph (03) 372 9140, or write to PO Box 26040, Christchurch.

Next: Just You Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

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