This story is part of All Things Considered's "Men in America" series.
Marvin Ramos found out he was going to be a father when his girlfriend, Stephanie, called him during a basketball game. He says he sat down on a bench and looked up at the sky. He was 16. Stephanie was 19.
When his daughter, Hailey, was born, Ramos was overwhelmed. He saw her only on weekends, and not being around on the weekdays, he says, meant Hailey and Stephanie's "bond grew bigger than mine." Hailey was afraid of him, he says, and would cry when he held her. He felt useless and says he "slacked off."
Ramos didn't have a strong father figure to look to for advice. When Ramos was growing up, his dad worked long hours and disappeared drinking in his off time. Then, about the time Hailey was born, he left their home in New York. Recently, he told Ramos that he's ruined his life by having a child at such a young age.
That's galvanized Marvin to do better.
"What do I say to the dad that thinks my life is ruined, just because I have a daughter by my side?" Ramos asks. "I can't accept that. I want to say to him, '[I'm] going to prove you wrong.' "
Right now, Ramos is trying to finish high school. He's saving money and working toward his dream job of managing music talent. One day, he hopes to buy a home in upstate New York where Hailey has a room of her own.
"I haven't run away," Ramos says, "and I never want to. I want to be the best father I can be and I think I'm 60, maybe 70 percent of the way there."
You can hear Marvin Ramos tell his story, in his own words, at the audio link above. This audio story was produced by Emily Kwong and edited by Kaari Pitkin for Radio Rookies.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. We're hearing stories this summer about men - how their roles have changed, what their lives are like. Well, today we get inside a young man's life. Marvin Ramos is 18. He's a New Yorker, who's working his way toward his high school diploma. He's also a father. His child is a little over a year old. It's been a struggle for Marvin - an experience that made him reflect on his own father and what it really means to be a dad. Here's his story.
MARVIN RAMOS: Hailey. I found out by Hailey during a basketball game. My girlfriend, Stephanie, called me to say, I'm pregnant. I sat down on a bench and looked straight up at the sky. At the time, Steph was 19 and I was only 16 - morning.
M. RAMOS: Some people said there's another way out, for my girlfriend to get an abortion. But we couldn't do that - Hailey, talk.
M. RAMOS: Hailey is mad adorable, mad lovable. (Imitating baby talk).
STEPHANIE: Are you sitting on her Bobo (ph)?
M. RAMOS: Hailey and Steph live about 45 minutes away from me with Steph's mom. The first month, I didn't know how to hold her. She felt too small for my arms.
STEPHANIE: All right, nap time? Want to go with Daddy?
M. RAMOS: Come over here.
M. RAMOS: Hailey was afraid of me, too. The moment she was on my lap, she cried.
M. RAMOS: I'd just give her back to Steph. I felt useless. It was like me not being there on the weekdays meant their bond grew bigger than mine. We had our up and downs about me being a parent to my daughter and you would be upset.
STEPHANIE: You - no lie, but you be lazy. You know, I did everything.
M. RAMOS: The feeding, the diaper changes, the waking up in the middle of the night - Steph did it all. And me? I slacked off. Sometimes I'd disappear and take long walks.
STEPHANIE: I think 'cause you were scared. I was scared too, but I had to do it. It's your responsibility. You're her father. I'm telling you like come on - like she has to recognize you. She has to know who you are.
M. RAMOS: I'm trying to be a better father these days.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yo, what up, bro?
M. RAMOS: I have four brothers. And here's the thing. Three of them - they also had daughters at a young age - Alila (ph), Annalise (ph) and Abigail (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Where's your baby?
M. RAMOS: Where's who?
UNIDENTIFIED GIRLS: Hailey.
M. RAMOS: Hailey's not here. She's with her mom right now. All my brothers are still with their girlfriends. And growing up, my nieces would call me, tio, tio. I loved it. But being an uncle is really different from being un padre. How you been, bro?
GUSTAVO RAMOS: Like, I'm good - chilling right now with Abby (ph).
M. RAMOS: Gustavo (ph) is the youngest and the most recent father to join the brotherhood.
G. RAMOS: When they told me it was going to be a girl - like, damn. But then, you know, I love her, you know. She's cool. She's my little princess.
M. RAMOS: He's 16. We share a bedroom - painted red and filled with toys for when our daughters come to visit on the weekends.
G. RAMOS: She changed me, emotionally. I'm a happier person. My dad dipped. Then she came through so you know. She just filled in that hole in my heart.
M. RAMOS: About a year ago, our dad dipped - that means left - a wife, five sons and four granddaughters. He went down to Mexico and never came back to our home. I heard he's back in New York but only Gustavo (ph) talks to him now.
G. RAMOS: I think he's hurt 'cause, you know, we all have kids. And you know, I think he thinks we failed on him.
M. RAMOS: Failed on him? In a lot of ways, our dad failed on us. I'm about to call my father after so long.
M. RAMOS: Hello?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah? Go ahead.
M. RAMOS: He picks up right away and we start talking. I ask him why he left Gustavo and me.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) It doesn't matter if I'm not home anymore. I told you - you guys can call me anytime you want, any day you want. But you have never done that.
M. RAMOS: I guess. But he doesn't call us either. And why does he never ask about my daughter Hailey? I ask him if he honestly thought he was a good dad.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) No, my son, no. No, I was not a good father, my son. Providing anything you wanted is not the same as being a good father. I always put work first. And on my days off, I would head to the streets to be with my friends. I never took you guys to the park. I drank.
M. RAMOS: My dad worked at a pizza shop 10 to 12 hours a day and would come home with his whole body hurting.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) I'm really happy to know that you're fine. But regarding the other stuff - I'm not really happy about it. Do you understand?
M. RAMOS: (Spanish spoken). How have your sons disappointed you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) Look at Gustavo. Look at where he's at. Do you think I'm happy that at 16, while in school, he already has a baby?
M. RAMOS: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) And you - the same. You think I'm happy about you having a baby at 16 also?
M. RAMOS: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through translator) You don't realize how you ruined your life. Having a child at your young age - what kind of future do you have now? Now you have to put you child first.
M. RAMOS: What do I say to the dad who thinks my life is ruined? Just because I have a daughter by my side - that my brothers and I have no future. I can't accept that. I wanted to say to him, we're going to prove you wrong. Since my home life wasn't the best when I was a kid, the place where I got my energy was M.S. 88, my middle school in Park Slope. I go visit my old counselor, Ms. Brown.
BROWN: How's life?
M. RAMOS: Well, it's different now - way different than when I used to come to see you. I used to spend three peers a week in her room, just talking. Now I got a daughter, too.
BROWN: Congratulations. Did having a baby change your life?
M. RAMOS: Yeah, my focus...
BROWN: It's not about you anymore.
M. RAMOS: I told Ms. Brown about talking to my dad.
BROWN: So your father can maybe never be the man you wanted him to be. Maybe growing up, his life was hard and maybe he never got over it. And sometimes when you don't go over things, growing up, you then affect your children and you continue the cycle. Despite everything, you have the qualities that matter the most - good-hearted, good person, kind, caring hard-working, dedicated. That's what makes a real man and a good person.
M. RAMOS: Right now I'm finishing high school and looking for a good job managing inventory or working for the city. I'm saving money because my dream is to manage music talent - big-time music talent. I even have a recording studio in my bedroom. I stay up really late editing songs and stare at the screen until my eyes hurt. But sometimes, I worry that all this work won't add up to success. Someday, I'd love to have enough money to buy a house in upstate New York, where Hailey has a room of her own. But at least, I have enough money to throw her a birthday party.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Happy birthday to you.
M. RAMOS: Hailey is a year old now. She blows kisses and gives me high-fives. She's starting to recognize me.
M. RAMOS: Blow it, Hailey - for you. One thing Stephanie told me the other day is that Hailey is starting to look like her grandfather - Stephanie's father. Did your dad not being there affect you?
STEPHANIE: I mean, I didn't get my high school diploma. (Crying) Sorry - I did want a dad. I did want one so badly, 'cause all my friends had one. I've always seen them get picked up by them in school. They would have someone to go hug. And I never had that. I never had a dad come and say stuff. You know, that's why I hate guys that run away from their daughters or sons. It just makes me not want to believe anybody, 'cause they could just run away from you at any point in their life.
M. RAMOS: When she told me this, I felt like crying for the things her father did and things I've done. Like when Hailey caught a fever and I wasn't there to take her to the doctor. Or when I skipped out to play basketball - those were moments I missed with my daughter. But you know, I haven't run away - not like my dad or Steph's dad. And I never want to. I want to be the best father I can be. And I think I'm 60, maybe 70 percent of the way there. I'm falling in love with Hailey every time I'm with her. But I only see her on the weekends. After I graduate high school, I want to give her more of my time. She deserves it.
STEPHANIE: Say, thank you?
HAILEY: Thank you.
M. RAMOS: Thank you? You said, thank you? Thank you - those were her first words. For NPR News, Marvin Ramos in New York.
SIEGEL: Marvin Ramos's story is part of Radio Rookies, a New York Public Radio Youth Media program. It was produced by Emily Kwan and edited by Kaari Pitkin at WNYC. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.