When Boys Become Dads : Special Parenting Seminar Teaches Teen-Age Fathers How to Care for Offspring


Jesus Garcia was in the ninth grade when he learned that his girlfriend was pregnant.

"At first, I didn't believe her," said Garcia, who, at 15, is now the father of a 2-month-old baby. "I never thought I would end up being a dad so young."

Mark Fausto, 17, is looking for a job that will allow him to stay in high school while supporting his teen-age girlfriend, who is five months pregnant and lives with Fausto and his mother.

And Matt Snow, also 17, has begun working part time in his father's auto shop to help pay for the circumcision of his son, due to be born in three months.

"I'm not a jerk like some of these guys," said Snow, a senior at Orange High School who had been dating his girlfriend, Kristin Lamberson, for barely a month when he got her pregnant. "I was shocked and surprised; how would we take care of it, how would we live? But it's my fault too, and I love Kristin a lot, so I wanted to stay with her."

The three boys are part of a decided minority of teen-age fathers in that, when push came to shove, they willingly shouldered some of the responsibility for the new lives they had helped to create.

They were also participants Thursday in an annual event that was presented this year with a new twist.

It was the third annual Good Beginnings Conference for Pregnant and Parenting Teens at the Pan Pacific Hotel attended by 425 young women and about 20 young men. The twist: something called "Male Bag--For Guys Only," the county's first seminar aimed exclusively at teen-age fathers.

"We wanted to acknowledge their presence," said Brian McMichael, a community educator for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties who conducted the seminar. "Last year there were about seven teen dads here and we had nothing for them to do. They felt locked out, like men wandering around in the women's clothing section of the store. They had this glazed look in their eyes."

The boys' seminar was added to attract more male participants in this year's conference, said Kathleen Young, coordinator of Adolescent Pregnancy ChildWatch, a coalition of 80 Orange County organizations that sponsored the event. "Boys are half the problem," she said, adding that the idea received some impetus from recent disclosures regarding the Spur Posse, a widely publicized group at Lakewood High School in Los Angeles County whose members allegedly received "points" for their sexual conquests of young women.

"It seems that society still views the problem as a girl's problem," Young said. "It's up to the girl to say no and up to the boy to keep trying."

Evidence indicates that there is indeed a teen-age sex problem in California. The last four years have seen a 25% increase in the number of teen-age pregnancies statewide. And in Orange County, according to statistics supplied by the Orange County Health Care Agency, the fertility rate among teens age 10 to 17 has increased even more--from 8.45 to 13.43 per thousand--since 1985.

The Good Beginnings conference confronted the issue with two main goals, organizers said. First, it attempted to educate the young adults on how to prevent future pregnancies. And second, they said, the conference was aimed at helping the new and future parents learn more about caring for their offspring.

For the women, this was accomplished through a series of seminars on such subjects as physical fitness for moms and babies, child care, domestic violence, living with parents and how to deal with crying babies.

While their girlfriends were discussing tummy stretches and midnight feedings, however, the handful of boys attending the Male Bag gathering seemed primarily interested in a more material issue: how to pay for it all.

"Are the girls going to do this?" McMichael asked his audience, pointing to a typical budget he had scrawled on a blackboard detailing the considerable expense of supporting a family. "Are the homeboys going to help you with this? I don't think so. Five bucks an hour isn't going to make it."

To help the youngsters plan their futures, McMichael introduced them to representatives from two Anaheim-based agencies offering job training and placement for teen-agers.

For the most part, the boys seemed to react favorably to his presentation.

"It was real good," said Joe Rodriguez, 21, who, though employed only part time, has two children already and a third on the way. "I'm going to call (the agency) to see if I can get into one of those training jobs."

Tony Sebastiano, a 19-year-old high school senior from Laguna Hills with a 17-year-old girlfriend who is six months pregnant, agreed that the time had been well spent. "I had no idea that (raising a child) would be so expensive," he said. "It's very scary. This gives me an idea of what to expect."

Births Among the Young Births to Orange County females 10 to 19 years old increased 56% from 1986 to 1991,the most recent year for which information is available. The number of females in the age group increased 17%. Most Births to Older Teens Most births to this age group are to those 18 or 19 years old; they have a consistenly higher fertility rate. Total Population 10-14 years: 49% 15-17 years: 29% 18-19 years: 22% 1991 Births 10-14 years: 1% 15-17 years: 33% 18-19 years: 66% Births to 10-to-19-year olds '91: 4,817 Births per 1,000 10-14 years: 0.92 15-17 years: 34.72 18-19 years: 92.78 Source: Orange County Health Care Agency; Researched by DAVID HALDANE / Los Angeles Times

Attention on 15-to 17-year-olds Because 10-to-14-year old girls account for so few births, and many 18-and 19-year-olds are married, some experts think attention should be focused on females 15 to 17 years old. For this age group, births climbed steadily between 1986 and 1991 in Orange County, increasing 62%. The fertility rate also roses relentlessly. Births: '91: 1,579 Births per 1,000 '86: 20.5 '87: 22.9 '88: 24.8 '89: 27.7 '90: 33.5 '91: 34.7 Source: Orange County Health Care Agency; Researced by DAVID HALDANE / Los Angeles Times

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