By Dywoine Massey
That’s how long it took each time, the drive from North Carolina to Virginia.
Trip after trip, my parents and I jumped in our 1996 Nissan Infiniti and hit the road, our eyes on the prize. The drive was worth it. We were going to pick up Shaynah.
She’s my daughter. I was 16, a rising junior in high school, when she was born.
I still remember the joy I experienced when I held her for the first time. I still remember vowing that, no matter what happened between her mother and me, I was going to be present in her life.
That was easier said than done. Parenting is hard enough. Doing it as a teenager, however, presents a unique set of circumstances and challenges.
I took a job and began paying child support before I ever crossed the stage and earned my diploma.
I went to court over a dozen times in the span of just as many years and faced judges who juggled my visitation rights in their hands.
I missed Shaynah’s birth because no one told me her mother was in labor. I didn’t find out until afterward, when one of her relatives gave me a call.
I missed a lot of Shaynah’s life — sending her off to school in the mornings, school events, getting her off of the school bus. For much of her adolescence, our interaction took place over a phone, or during intermittent visits during holidays and summer vacation.
Today, I’m 35 and Shaynah is 19. Even though she’s a young adult, I believe it’s critical for me to be there, every day, as often as possible. She lives with me in Charlotte, N.C., and that makes quality time with her easier than ever. We’re making up for the missed moments.
But getting to this point wasn’t as simple as her moving to another state. It took lots of patience and overcoming a series of tough obstacles.
Life as a Teenage Dad
When Shaynah was born, my family and I lived in Dumfries, Va., just north of Richmond.
Back then, I would see my daughter after I got out of school. I had joint custody and Shaynah would spend Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend with me. I worked at Pizza Hut to help buy baby supplies. Plus, my parents were supportive, making it a little easier to balance parenting with school.
Things changed senior year.
My parents and I moved to North Carolina, and with the greater distance came greater challenges.
Shaynah’s mother and I were no longer together, and I only got to see Shaynah a few times a year.
A lot of my little girl’s life, I missed. When I did get to bring Shaynah home with me, there was always so much to catch up on. She had grown so much; her clothing and hairstyles had changed; her taste in music changed; her interests were evolving.
It never felt like we had enough time. Taking her back to Virginia was never easy.
There were periods when Shaynah’s mother and I were not on good terms. Because of that, there were also periods when my parents and I would drive all the way to Virginia only for her mother never to show up with my daughter at the chosen pickup spot.
More battles & memorable moments
For the next few years, court battles would follow. There would be losses (such as her mother getting a slap on the wrist for not presenting Shaynah at visitations). There would also be wins, such as when the length of my visitations was extended.
The courts also required Shaynah’s mother to meet me halfway during scheduled visitations, cutting the six-and-a-half-hour drive in half.
Yet, challenges persisted. Tensions between Shaynah’s mother and I became so high — and conflicts so numerous — that I decided to just communicate with her via email. I’d talk to Shaynah when she was at relatives’ houses, and when she got her own cellphone.
Although we were miles apart, I was still able to help Shaynah with her homework over the phone. We would pray together before she went to bed.
Even as I finished college in 2004, I’d spend time with her on her birthday and during Christmas.
When she was 15, with a bouquet of flowers in hand, I took her out on a father-daughter date at the Cheesecake Factory. The goal: Show her how she should expect men to treat her.
As she grew up, I was able to expose her to new experiences, such as zip lining, riding on a banana boat and mountain climbing.
I started dating a wonderful woman named Whitney, who I would marry in 2010. She grew to love my daughter and became a pillar of support, joining me in court or during visitation pickups.
Beating the odds
Despite the obstacles, here’s my takeaway: God does answer prayers.
After graduating high school, Shaynah decided to move to Charlotte. Since then, she’s started her first job in retail. I’ve been able to teach her the importance of saving her money and helped her open a personal bank account. I taught her how to drive, helped her get her driver’s license and, along with my wife, purchased her first car for her 19th birthday.
She’s enrolled in college. Most importantly, she attends church with us each Sunday and has learned what it means to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So yes, I was a teenage father and yes, I missed a lot. However, I feel like I’ve beaten the odds. I could’ve allowed the distance to create a barrier. I could’ve given up after the tireless court battles and stopped fighting to be in my daughter’s life.
But I refused.
Anytime I told Shaynah I’d be there, I was. If I said I was going to do something, I did it. I didn’t make promises I couldn’t keep, and I made sure to follow through with whatever I told her I’d do.
And today, I’m living the payoff. A solid relationship with my daughter has made all the challenges worthwhile.
My experience as a teenage dad has taught me a lot, particularly the importance of a parent’s presence.
Now my wife and I are considering having our first child together.
I don’t plan to miss a single moment.