Jesus Nieves met his son’s mother when they were both teenagers. They played basketball at the same after-school center, on the west side of Manhattan, New York.
One thing that brought them closer together as a couple, other than the basketball court, was the fact they both grew up without a father.
Good friends who stuck together through good times and bad, they became parents and concentrated on bringing up their son Jayden.
Two years ago, when they decided to end their relationship, Nieves was forced to move out and face a much greater challenge alone.
The challenge of growing up without his son nearby.
“I struggle with feelings [that I have] for my child ... I can’t tuck him into bed, I can’t tell him, 'hey, let’s go brush our teeth together, or let’s do homework',” Nieves said. “Those are the struggles that I deal with every day.”
Nieves’ case isn’t unique, as nearly 24 million children nationwide live in single-parent homes, according to the latest Census numbers.
In Hispanic communities, one of three children –34 percent– live with single parents.
The difference in regards to Nieves, a 35-year-old Puerto Rican native, is that he decided to become an agent of change on this growing issue.
“I have to be in my son's life,” said Nieves. “ I didn’t have my father in my life so I want to break that chain.”
When unemployment was no longer an option for him, last February he stumbled upon the free, voluntary program Strong Fathers, Stronger Families (SFSF) and decided to give it a chance. Unlike similar initiatives he visited before, SFSF didn’t just land Nieves a job — it helped him launch a new career.
In a two-week course, SFSF assists fathers with job preparation and support in fostering relationships with their children and co-parents.
After Nieves completed the eight meetings, he kept going back to the Washington Heights location to tweak his resume and prepare for interviews. Today, he goes there as a peer outreach recruiter for the Manhattan-based nonprofit. He tells other unemployed fathers that it’s not about the other parent’s feelings; it’s about their child’s feelings.
“If the fathers don’t believe [it], I’m a product of the program,” said Nieves.
For this Father’s Day, Nieves hopes to have his own place, so Jayden will have a room for himself — and he hopes to finally meet his own father, someone he’s failed so far to track down.
“If I would have had my dad, I know for sure I [would not have] wasted the time I’ve wasted,” he said.
Dana Rapoport works for Fox News Channel.