“Daddy come back!” “Daddy will you take me out for ice cream?” This is what one of my peers and I heard as we left the St. Martin de Porres House of Hope Saturday morning. Normally this question wouldn’t have disturbed me. However, the question was directed at two college sophomores who have yet to father any children. Confused yet? I must admit I was a little baffled myself. The seven-year-old continued to call out “Daddy” without any hesitation in his voice. We stopped, looked at each other, and then looked back at the young boy. He was really talking to us.
Sometime I feel
Like a fatherless child
Sometimes I feel
Like a fatherless child
And sometimes I feel
Like a fatherless child
A long…long way…from home
Let me give you a little background before I go any further with this story. Every quarter The University of Chicago Community Service Center sponsors a “Day of Service” where student organizations volunteer at community based agencies. Through these day long events students are supposed to learn about the surrounding community and form a greater appreciation for volunteerism. The organization that I’m a part of, Organization of Black Students, was selected along with a few other groups to volunteer at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope. I had no idea what this place was. I thought we were going to end up painting a few classrooms at an area school like the previous year. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be refurbishing a school, but rather I’d be refurbishing a child’s life.
As we walked south on Woodlawn Avenue past the immaculate Boothe School of Business and the Harris School of Public Policy I began to see grandeur decline into squalor. The vast discrepancy, just in terms of milieu, between the University of Chicago and the surrounding community still disturbs and shocks me to this day. But I digress. When we arrived at Saint Martin a few cheery looking middle-aged Black women greeted us. I thought that they were probably teachers at the school. As we were being ushered into what appeared to be a living room, I asked one of the ladies what kind of school St. Martins was, she told me that it wasn’t a school. She looked at me as if I had asked where do babies come from. After the awkward pause in our conversation she went on to tell me that St. Martin de Poress House of Hope was a home for women recovering from drug addictions and their children. I began to wonder what kind of service activity we would be doing. Before I could fully complete my thought, the Director of St. Martin popped in a video about the center’s purpose and mission. The video was filled with harrowing stories of women who had spent decades living on the streets struggling with the disease of drug addiction. But, it was also full of hope and success. In fact, St. Martin has about an 85% success rate in women staying clean.
After the video was over, the director came back in the room and informed us that our community service activity was going to be playing with children. Playing with kids? How the heck could playing tag with some kids for a few hours make a difference? Initially my naiveté would not allow me to see the importance of this.
As we rounded up the kids I was overcome with happiness. It was weird. I never understood how much a child’s smile could light up your heart until that day. As we walked the kids to the park around the corner of the facility I talked to a rambunctious seven-year-old boy who reminded me of myself at that age. His curiosity about the world took me back to my days on the jungle gym. Although we didn’t talk much we instantly bonded. We did everything from playing tag to red rover. By the end of our 2 ½ hours I didn’t want to leave. Neither did he.
He began to call me daddy toward the latter part of our “play session”. I never responded to the term. But the image and his voice became stuck in my mind. Why was this kid who barely knew me calling me daddy? Better yet, was playing tag for two hours and leaving a typical fatherly action? Or was he so desperate for a father figure that he clung to any male who entered his life, even if it was for a brief period of time? Either way, this situation was quite problematic. For the last few days I’ve thought about that youngster. I felt bad for leaving, and I could see in his eyes that he didn’t want me to leave. It hurts me whenever I hurt someone, especially when it’s unintentional. Although I will not try to play the role of father to him or anyone else who is not my child, I will continue to try to be a positive role model to everyone around me.
Who’s got a shoulder when I need to cry
I feel restless and I don’t know why
Cry for help, but I still feel alone
Like a fatherless child along way from home
Lord I’m lost I can’t find my way
I’m dealing with the struggles in my day to day
My soul is weak and I wanna be strong
I try to run away but I’ve been running too long