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Keeping the Faith: A Teen Dad’s Story

By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: April 13, 2004 Revised: November 1, 2012

“In Swahili, the word ‘Imani’ means ‘faith,'” explains 19-year-old teen dad Uniquek Haywood, sitting at home in downtown Orange, New Jersey. And he needed faith when he and his girlfriend, Sandra Sanchez, 17, found out that she was pregnant. They were still in high school. They had no home or jobs of their own, but they decided to have the baby.

“I knew I wasn’t ready,” remembers Uniquek, “but neither of us wanted to have an abortion, and it was my responsibility. We were on our own. I was looking for a job, and the baby gave me faith and inspired me to keep looking.”

So, on June 13, 2000, when their baby daughter was born, they named her Imani.

In the United States, one in every 15 men fathers a child while still a teenager. Uniquek is one of them.

Uniquek, Sandra, and Imani live with his parents in a house, minutes away from Bell Stadium, home of the Orange High School football team. He and Sandra sleep on a bed in the living room. Imani’s crib is also there, along with a stereo and computer.

“I’m thankful my parents accepted me and allowed us to stay in their home,” says Uniquek. “They’ve been there when I needed them the most.”

By the time I arrive at Uniquek’s, at 10 a.m., he’s been up for several hours. His day usually begins at 6. He showers and helps Sandra get ready for her receptionist job at a law firm. Then he gets the house clean before the baby wakes up and needs a bath.

Minutes after I arrive, 10-month-old Imani wakes up. Even though Uniquek sprained his knee playing basketball the day before, he’s very active, carrying Imani in his arms and sitting her on a chair next to him. He whispers in her ear, lifts her up and down, and they laugh with each other. I sit on a sofa across from Uniquek, as we get deep into conversation.

In the United States, one in every 15 men fathers a child while still a teenager. Uniquek is one of them.

Before I Was a Teen Dad

Uniquek was a junior in Orange High School and a drummer in the school band when he met the new flute player, a freshman named Sandra. After talking to each other for some time, the two started dating.

When Uniquek and Sandra started having sex, he always used a condom. But as time went on, “either I didn’t have one, didn’t have the money to buy one, or we got into the mood and didn’t think about possible outcomes,” he says. (He’d had mandatory sex ed classes in school, but says they weren’t helpful. They didn’t provide condoms, or give out communication tips for when you don’t want to have sex.)

During his high-school days, says Uniquek, “I was always fighting, staying out late at night, playing basketball, hanging out on the streets, and not always going to school. I kept getting in trouble at school for disrespecting the teachers and at home for always coming in late.”

Yet things changed once Sandra got pregnant, a year after their relationship began. After he learned the news, Uniquek talked with both of their families, asking for advice. Then he told Sandra that he’d support whatever decision she made. She chose to have the baby. They got married three months later. He was 18, and she was 15.

Being a Teen Dad

Once they knew the baby was coming, Sandra and Uniquek left Orange High School, to work and prepare for their new family.

“Sandra wanted us to be a financially independent family,” he explains, even though they moved in with his parents.

Uniquek got a sales job at Toys ‘R’ Us. For the first five months of the baby’s life, he worked while Sandra stayed home with Imani. They also got money from both of their parents. Today, their only income is from Sandra’s receptionist job at a law firm; Uniquek stays home with Imani.

After getting back on their feet, Uniquek and Sandra found out that they couldn’t return to Orange High School, because they had left the school system. They started attending Orange night school from 3 to 8 p.m. Even though Sandra’s freshman class graduated in June, she’s currently a sophomore because she lost most of her credits transferring to night school. Most of Uniquek’s freshman class also graduated already.

Now that he’s back in school, Uniquek says he feels good. These days, he stays at home with Imani until 2 p.m. During my visit, he spent most of the time feeding, changing, and playing with her. After 2 p.m., he drops the baby off at his mother-in-law’s, so he can go to school.

Looking to the Future

Uniquek believes that having Imani changed his life for the better. He’s calmer than he was during his high-school days of fighting and hanging out in the streets.

“I look back and know that wasn’t what I should’ve been doing,” he says. “I’ve learned that if I want respect, I have to give it first. Even when someone seems to be disrespecting me, I still have to show them respect.”

He doesn’t regret the decision to keep the baby, although he wishes he’d waited until he finished school and got a good job. “There are times when we’ve wanted stuff for Imani, but can’t afford it,” he says.

After high school, he hopes to attend college for a degree in business or computer technology. College will depend on their finances. Along with his hopes, he has fears. Uniquek’s greatest one is “losing Imani at a very young age,” he says. “With people in this area getting shot and killed, it makes me want to keep her with me.”

But, just as in the beginning, Uniquek has faith that things will be OK.

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