Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Talking about fatherhood

Talking about fatherhood

June 11, 2014

Q.For Father’s Day I’d like it if you’d print what I have to say about fathers. I never had one. My mom was both father and mother to me. I know there are good fathers in the world. I just never got one. I saw something on Facebook where this young man talked about spelling the word “father” and it really hit home with me. I wish I could locate the video but I can’t remember much about it except the message, which I agree with.

I think a father isn’t the person who makes a baby, but the person who raises the child. My mom did an OK job most of the time. I don’t know if I needed a father as much as I wanted one. There were a lot of “father figures” in my life, like coaches. I’m lucky none of those men took advantage of me because I was a classic victim-to-be.

I’m not sure I want to be a father, ever. Right now the idea of putting myself second to another person is scary. That’s what I think a true father does. Puts his child first. Doesn’t walk away. Respects the child’s mother. It’s not about money or providing for a family as much as it’s about standing with your kid. Saying “this is mine” and living like it’s true. Thanks for printing this – if you do.


Mary Jo’s response: It is an honor to print your words. I’m sure you’re not alone. Your experience has given you wisdom; thank you for sharing it.

I think I found the video you seek. It’s a spoken word piece in which a young man purposefully misspells the word father as mother. It’s available on Upworthy at

Your thoughts about your own possible fatherhood are insightful. Parenting is a huge vocation – a calling to commit to a child’s life. Not all people should parent. I believe parenting is a choice. As long as you’re unsure, it’s wise to wait.

Parenting well is learned behavior. Our work with young fathers teaches me the challenge of changing negative parenting styles, yet many of the young parents we serve make choices to parent well. If or when you’re ready to be a father, please connect with me. Wonderful resources on fathering are available. Time changes our perspectives. Your family history doesn’t determine your future. Keep thinking. Continue growing. In time you may be ready to parent. I send you wishes for continued insight, joy, and the strength to make positive future decisions.

Peer Educator response: Mary Jo is right. A lot of people grow up without a father who acts like a real father, even if he’s right in the house. Good luck. At least you’re thinking about this and not just making a baby without figuring out how you’ll be a dad.

Q. I need help to decide if I should connect with my son. I was only 16 when he was born and his mom and I didn’t have much going on. Then she got pregnant and I panicked. I abandoned him. It’s not like she wanted me in his life anyway. It’s been 14 years. I’m thinking he might need me now. I started using at 14. I’m worried he might be like me. I’ve been in and out of prison and rehab. I’m clean now.

I don’t know. Would it be good to try to be part of his life? Would he be better off without me? I know his grandmother is raising him. I know he goes to school and he seems OK. I don’t want to hurt him. But I can’t stop thinking about him. What would be my first step?

Former teen dad

Mary Jo’s response: Your son is not you. Projecting your problems as a 14-year-old onto him only adds to your guilt. I’m glad you want to be part of your son’s life. Like you, I hope you can do the right thing for him.

Moving forward with caution makes sense. I think you have two first steps. I’m not an expert on child custody, so I suggest connecting with an attorney to determine your parental rights. I also suggest your entry into your son’s life be accompanied by family counseling. Begin by seeking professional counseling to discover your feelings about your own adolescence, what you describe as “abandoning” your son, and your rationale for connecting with him now. An expert in family dynamics could help smooth the way for a reunion.

Depending on the results of those two stages, I think it would be wise to connect with adults in his family before contacting him. At 14, your son may be reaching for adulthood. Adolescence is often a time of questioning as teens discover their identities. You may be tempted to arrive as a hero, taking sides against his grandmother and offering him a ‘new’ parent without boundaries or discipline. It’s important to become allies with his grandmother and other significant adults in his life. Work with them, not against them.

Take the time to connect with wisdom. Prioritize your son’s needs. Good luck.



blog comments powered by Disqus