Letter to my little brother, growing up without a father

Vanessa Pineda,

To my little brother David aka Dey

You have grown up without our mom or your dad. Our mom is a drug addict, and her drug abuse affected our family, especially you. Your dad has been absent since before you were born. What you have gone through and the emotional battles you have faced are unimaginable.

Growing up parentless

About 49 percent of children in the US live in a home without their father, a number that has increased over the past 50 years, according to a 2015 study by the U.S. Census Bureau. My 12-year-old brother, David, is included in this statistic. He is a young boy in middle school finding his way without the guidance of his biological parents.

According to the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization devoted to research on fatherlessness in America, children who grow up without a dad are more likely to live in poverty, perform poorly in school, use drugs or alcohol and commit crimes.

David has been raised by three women: my selfless grandma, my sister Amanda and me. We do our best to teach David to work hard, to do what is right and most of all, to love. We always encourage him to do well in school and stay out of trouble.

Lately, I’ve started to talk to my brother about what it means to be a man. I tell him that he has to get an education so he can get a good job to support and raise his own family one day. I tell him to be brave and be a protector, but in reality, for the past 22 years, I have never had to act or think like a man. I honestly don’t know what it is like.

When David was younger — around five years old — he went through a period of time where he was very angry. He threw temper tantrums. He would fiercely throw all of the framed photos and knick-knacks off of a counter between the living room and the kitchen, all over the floor. If he was extremely upset and started kicking, we would have to hold his arms and legs down to try and calm him.

David went to counseling and learned to manage his feelings. He became more mature and that phase ended.

Some acquaintances, school administrators and family friends think that growing up without a parent isn’t hard because many people go through it. But that is far from the truth. Unless you are a child growing up without either parental figure, then you have no idea.

“The effects on children from growing up without a mother and father are significant, though there are certain factors that affect the impact,” Dr. Steven Ross from the CSUEB Department of Psychology said. “The age of the child when the parents were no longer in the household, what the extent of the parental attachment before the parents exited from the household, the frequency and type of contact/interaction that the children maintained with the parents and who raised the children once the parents were no longer in the household.”

David was raised by his own biological family, but some children in his situation are put into foster homes. In California, there are more than 100,000 children who have been removed from their families and put into foster care, according to the Bill Wilson Center, an organization in San Jose that provides services to youth and families through counseling, housing, education and advocacy.

For children dealing with these types of issues, there are community agencies that offer counseling. They may be non-profit or established by the county and offer different programs, explained Ryan Guetersloh, associate director of counseling at CSUEB Student Health and Counseling Services.

Growing up, my dad and grandmother raised me. David and I have different dads. My dad always worked hard to support our family financially, and he made sure to take care of us. He taught me to be confident, independent and hard-working.

I cannot begin to think how hard it would have been to go through life in your shoes, Dey.

To all the boys out there growing up without a father, I know it’s not easy. You are so strong for dealing with this type of adverse issue. Life may be tough and you may face countless problems in the future, but never give up. There is someone out there rooting for you to do well, be successful and reach your goals.

Although many people don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, you are not alone. David is experiencing the same internal battles you do.

It’s normal to seek help; there are people out there who can give you guidance and support. Ross explains that it is often helpful for the children to be able to work with a therapist to better assess the loss and to monitor the development of interpersonal skills.

And to my Dey

I love you so much and it hurts me that you have to go through life without Mom or your dad. I know growing up without them is difficult. You already beat half the battle, you just need to continue to develop and work to always do better.

Everything I do, all the hard work I put into school and my job is for you. One day I hope you follow my footsteps and become a college graduate. You are already one of the strongest men I know and you have overcome many obstacles in your life. I am proud to be your big sister and a mother figure in your life.