Javontae Stokes

Javontae Stokes had to witness his son, Nolan, now 1, overcome serious medical issues due to his premature birth. Now, watching Nolan and his stepdaughter, Chloe Davis, laugh “brings pure joy to your heart,” he says.

The U.S. Census Bureau speaks in statistics, trying to tell stories with numbers and dates.

So, in honor of Father’s Day on Sunday, the bureau published numbers from its 2014 “Survey of Income and Program Participation” that show 61.6% of American men over 15 years of age are fathers, or about 74.4 million across the nation.

Broken down demographically, 29.4% of Hispanic men, 24.9% of black men, 21.2% of white men and 12.4% of Asian men are fathers. The bureau goes further and says of the men who live with their children, about 75% eat dinner with their children five to seven days a week and around 40% take young children on outings at least three times a week.

But the numbers can’t tell the whole story of what it means or what it takes to be a father. On what most fathers will admit will always be only the second best day to celebrate a parent in your life, four fathers in Greenwood were asked for their own stories about the joys and struggles of fatherhood.

 • • •

David Stroud, 25, was able to get in a little practice before his significant other, Satrina Crigler, gave birth to their daughter, Morgan Stroud, about 18 months ago. He helped raise his stepchildren — Nakayla, 16; J.T., 15; and Gabriel, 11 — showing him the way to his responsibilities and rewards. But as Morgan’s main caregiver, Stroud has found her birth into his family has made a difference to him.

David Stroud

David Stroud says it’s important to him to be a father figure to his 18-month-old daughter, Morgan.

“I never had any kind of father figure, so it’s really important to me,” he said. “As a dad, she’s my responsibility, and I take a lot of pride in that, being a good role model. A lot of kids don’t have that father figure in their lives, and it taught me a lot not having it. I want to be a positive figure in her life as much as I can and provide and teach her the things my dad didn’t show me.”

The lessons of fatherhood included lessons in household finance for Stroud, saying he learned how to save and how to have patience about the things he wants and the things he needs. “I slowed down and found out the things I used to buy that I can’t buy,” he said.

And while he didn’t have a father to turn to, Stroud found answers and guidance about raising his daughter from the person he always looked to.

“A lot of things that I didn’t know, I called Mom and asked her what’s best,” he said. “She helped me along going down the right path raising my child. She pretty much raised me, her and my grandma. And that’s helped me a lot.”

Morgan’s favorite vehicle at the moment is a bike-like stroller that she can ride while Stroud pushes it as they visit a nearby park every day.

“Pampering and soothing, it took a lot of patience,” he said. “It pulled me away from a lot of things I normally would be doing because I want to be in her life as much as I can. She’s a great kid.”

An 18-month-old may have a few words but isn’t fully talking with her parent. That can become frustrating, but Stroud said he’s keeping up his part of the conversation and sees the person Morgan will become emerging.

“Even though she can’t respond, I want her to hear it,” he said. “Her personality is a lot like mine. This was the only thing that surprised me. She’s very smart, and a lot of the things she does at an early, early age just amazed me. Like she knows right from wrong. She’s very active. She grows so fast.”

And while he’s not playing favorites, hoping all the children in his family will become “like brothers and sisters,” Stroud does admit that Morgan’s birth changed him.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. It teaches me to be a man. I see myself being more active in her life as time goes on, keeping her around me, taking her wherever I go.”

 • • •

Jacob Clark, 36, was in his office at his family’s insurance agency, nursing a knee injury suffered when he was getting ready for a church league softball game. When his wife, Christie, arrived with their 7-month-old daughter, Nora, Clark’s face lit up and he started talking to her.

Jacob Clark

Jacob Clark says he found the birth seven months ago of his daughter, Nora, “changes the way you look at everything.”

“It used to be I’d see a baby and I didn’t think anything about it. I didn’t speak to it. I didn’t do anything,” he said. “My cousin Brad told me, ‘When you have your own kids, there’s not a baby that’s going to come by that you’re not going to speak to.’ And I’ll be danged if he’s not right.”

Besides talking to babies, Clark said Nora’s arrival made his life different in all ways.

“It changes the way you look at everything,” he said. “All of a sudden, you work a little harder. No matter how bad the day is, when you get home and see that little smile, when she smiles when you come through the door, it takes a bad day and makes it good quick.”

Clark said he used to always  look for the opportunity to engage in some type of sporting activity, playing softball, golf, hunting, fishing, and thought the best hours of his day were the later hours. Not any more.

“It’s made me a morning person, and I was not before,” he said. “She’s very happy in the morning, and so she’s a lot of fun in the morning. ...When you go in there at 5:30 and she gives you that little smile when you bend over the crib, it’s on and she’s ready to party. So, it’s made me a little bit of a morning person, or a much better morning person.”

Clark will quietly admit that he and his wife have been lucky that Nora’s at a point where she will lie down at 7 p.m. and not wake up until 5:30 to 7 a.m.

“I think we have been blessed to have what would be considered an easy child, but it’s not easy,” he said. “I told Christie it’s hard to believe that something so small that can’t even talk can be so demanding.”

The absence of language presents the biggest challenges of fatherhood for Clark. His wife is somehow able to decipher Nora’s cries, but Clark cannot.

“The most difficult part is when you know they’re hurting but you can’t figure out what’s wrong,” he said. “So you know they’re hurting, you know they feel bad and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

But the frustrations are easily overcome by the miracles of watching a baby develop, he said.

“Watching her hit those milestones and seeing the change literally from week to week,” he said. “Last week she couldn’t sit up, and this week she’s sitting up on her own like she’s been doing it for six months. She used to not get in the crawl position at all, and now it’s like she’s going to take off. She’s not talking but she’s jib-jabbing, you know. She’s saying something in her mind, and we just don’t know what it is yet.”

Clark had to ask his wife to answer a question about how his friends would say fatherhood has changed him.

“I think you’re a little more soft-hearted,” Christie Clark said. “You’re home more.”

And while he said he’ll return to the softball field once his knee has healed, Clark has put away the golf clubs to spend more time speaking with his daughter, just like his cousin Brad said he would.

 • • •

For Caleb Whites, 30, since his daughter, Anne-Read, was born five months ago, every day has been an education for him and his wife, Elizabeth, whom everyone calls Red.

Caleb Whites

Caleb Whites says watching his 5-month-old daughter, Anne-Read, grow and learn is the best part of being a father — and he’s learning, too. “People try to give you advice on how to do this or how to do that. ... When your baby gets here, it’s just like turning on a light switch,” he said. “You just know.”

“I’m learning every day,” he said. “People try to give you advice on how to do this or how to do that. ... When your baby gets here, it’s just like turning on a light switch. You just know.”

Although he said “I do all of it,” Whites admits that his wife is the main caregiver.

“I do all of it, but if it wasn’t for my beautiful wife, if would be a whole lot harder,” he said. “She’s carrying more of the load, but usually all the moms do. I help her out a bunch.”

Whites said he’s found himself working more efficiently so he can do more in less time.

“I find myself wanting to get off earlier,” he said. “I don’t work later because I want to get home to the family, so I manage my time better to the fact that I know I will be home.”

Anne-Read’s arrival has found Whites doing things he never expected he’d be able to do, he said.

“I never thought I would change a dirty diaper,” he said. “I don’t have a strong stomach, but her spitting up on me doesn’t really bother me.” Whites wondered out loud if it would get worse when Anne-Read’s diet changes to “real food.”

“She’s been an awesome baby,” he said. “She sleeps through the night and have been for the past 10 weeks. But it’s more toward what my wife’s been doing.”

But White’s biggest surprise has nothing to do with spit up or sleeping.

“What surprised me is how it’s a night-and-day difference between loving your wife and loving your kid,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just different.”

Whites said being on time for things such as church or work has become more difficult since Anne-Read’s arrival, but then he admits he and his wife weren’t on time before their daughter’s birth. Whites has found he’s still able to get out on the golf course these days, except now he has his wife and daughter riding in the cart with him.

And the best part of being a new father?

“Watching her grow and learn,” Whites said. “Figuring out what her tongue is, the noises she’s making. She learns something new every day. How when you pick her up, she knows who you are. ... She makes a lot of noises; I’m pretty sure she’s going to be a talker.”

 • • •

Javontae Stokes, 26, may have had a more difficult start to fatherhood after the birth of his son Nolan Stokes, now 1.

Stokes had some practice helping his wife, La’Tia Stokes, for two years raise her daughter and his stepdaughter, Chloe Davis, 3. But nothing prepared the couple for what they would face when Nolan arrived very early and spent more than the first two months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Stokes’ first Father’s Day with his son was spent at the hospital hoping and praying that Nolan, less than 2 pounds at birth, would grow big enough and strong enough to breathe on his own and make it home.

Besides the breathing, Stokes said, Nolan had other difficulties to overcome.

“He was a pound and 15 ounces,” he said. “He was tiny. He weighs almost 20 pounds now. All his doctors, he has surpassed their expectations. He had hernia surgery. He had a hole in his heart they had to close up. It was a challenge.”

Although he had and his wife had family support during Nolan’s ordeal, Stokes said it was a difficult time for a then 25-year-old.

“Just having him down there and dealing with his breathing condition and the other surgeries he had to have, that right there was an obstacle that I had to approach,” he said. “I had to pray to God for him. But he has really grown from it. He’s overcome it. How he is now, you wouldn’t really think he was premature.”

Stokes remembers the time he spent traveling from the Delta to Jackson, trying to spend time with his son and trying to work to support the family.

“That’s the thing,” he said. “I was working and had that on my mind that I had to get down there to see my child.”

The early struggle has made him appreciate both his children, Stokes said.

“The best part of being a father is seeing your children grow and progress and expand,” he said. “It’s a blessing to watch them learn their ABCs and their 1-2-3s and learn how to walk. The movement, the joy and the laughter. It brings pure joy to your heart when you see them laugh and just looking like they’re really enjoying life. And that’s the best part of being a father.”

Like many others, Stokes said the biggest challenge can be financial and making everything work.

“The challenge is to keep everything balanced, keeping the shelter intact, keeping food on their plates, just keeping everything balanced and moving steady to the future,” he said. “That’s the real challenge, but every challenge can be met; every challenge can be handled. And that’s how I look at it, and that’s how I conquer it.”

After spending Father’s Day last year worrying and praying, this year he’s taken on a new role at his church, Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Browning, where he’s joined the choir and will spend the day Sunday singing and “enjoying the good Lord’s word.”

“I’m truly blessed I’ve been put in this situation by God, and I feel like I have a purpose and a mission to raise both my stepchild and my blood child to follow the right road, to be right, to do right, to understand they’re somebody in this world and they can make a difference.

“As a father, I feel like I really have to lead them down the right road. I feel that’s my greatest mission, like nothing else in this world, to lead them down the right road.”

•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or gmaliska@gwcommonwealth.com.

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