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READING, WRITING & REARING : Man Who Was Father at 17 Calls for Change

July 23, 1992|CAITLIN ROTHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lonnie Miramontes, a 38-year-old father of four, has just become a grandfather.

Last week, before his daughter's baby was born, he admitted to feeling nervous, as if he were becoming a father all over again.

"You always worry about what might happen," he said.

Miramontes and his wife were both 17 when their first child, Joseph, was born. Miramontes' mother was also 17 when he came into the world. And his grandmother was 16 when she gave birth to his mother.

His daughter Sabina waited until she was 20 to have her first baby, moving slightly away from the cultural tradition of early parenthood that her father, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother followed.

Miramontes, community services director at El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, talked about the social changes that are needed to help young Latinos break out of this cycle of early parenthood.

The blotter on Miramontes' desk at the Oxnard-based Latino advocacy organization serves as a see-through scrapbook of his life as a father. A bookmark, a doodle and many snapshots of his children and their friends are displayed there.

Pointing to a photograph of Sabina, he said, "That's her graduation picture when she's crying, there she is again."

Unlike her mother and father, Sabina finished high school, and she seems to be making more mature decisions about her life than they did, he said.

"In my day, we didn't have the power to make decisions for ourselves because of the family structure and the way society perceived us," he said. "We didn't have anybody to look up to."

With no role models going to college, he said, "What was the goal? Have a family."

So at 17, with only the excitement of the moment in mind, Miramontes had sex with his girlfriend and got her pregnant. He said he, like many young people today, did not consider the future, how the act would affect him, his girlfriend or the child he was conceiving.

"We as young people don't realize that things happen," he said.

Although Miramontes said he and his ex-wife, Evelyn, may not have made all the right decisions, "We always tried to do the best and that's all we could ask of (Sabina)," he said. She has not disappointed him.

Miramontes left his first wife when Joseph and Sabina were still young. He had a son by another woman, then a daughter with the woman to whom he is now married. He also takes care of his wife's 9-year-old boy, who Miramontes said is like a third son.

He said he still feels guilty about the scraped knees, chicken pox, fevers and broken arms he wasn't around to deal with when his first two children were young and he was having problems staying in a relationship--and still growing up himself.

Education, Miramontes said, is the key to breaking this mind-set and interrupting the cycle of early parenthood.

"A lot of it has to do with how we prepare young people to make choices," he said. "Don't tell them 'Don't have sex.' It's not an answer, it's not even an option for some people."

Rather, he said, these teen-age girls should know what happens to their bodies when they get pregnant, how their lives will change if they have children, and that abortion is still a legal option.

Project Pride, an El Concilio program, helps young people learn how to make decisions, teaches them about self-respect and respect for others, responsibility, and how to stand up against peer pressure.

"You provide them with those tools so they can make their own decisions," Miramontes said.

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