The role of fathers continues to change in American society with divorce, single parents, sperm donors, incarceration and a host of factors that mean some children grow up with no father present or with one who is minimally available.
I choose not to relate statistical data but instead to focus on a father about whom I’ve written before, a man I’ve known for the past 10 years since he first began teaching at Edison State Community College — Dr. Thomas Martinez, Associate Professor of Anatomy.
I’ve followed the life trajectory of Martinez and his son Chantz during the past 10 years. Thomas thought Chantz would choose a career in law enforcement when he graduated from Piqua High School and play on the Edison State baseball team which Thomas coached, but the allure of the cooking shows on television held sway. Chantz traveled to Las Vegas where he graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in 2017. After a few years as a chef, including a stint at Mulligan’s Pub in Piqua, Chantz was bored and wanted a new challenge. He decided on the U.S. Army.
But let’s start at the beginning of the relationship of Thomas and Chantz. Kansas was the location, and the year was 1997. This was back in the days before gender reveal parties, but Thomas says, “I always knew he would be a boy. My mother,Carolyn, bought pink booties before the birth, and I covered them with blue duct tape.”
“There was a blizzard in Kansas on April 10, 1997. My wife had been in labor 16 hours the day Chantz was born and her doctor was not available. I snagged a doctor who was walking down the hall of the hospital. I pulled him aside and said, ‘My wife is in pain.’”
According to Thomas, the doctor examined her and said, “You’re having this baby. Now!” Thomas got to cut the cord which he says was like “cutting through styrofoam.”
He reports Chantz was born with a full head of black hair, 6 pounds, 4 ounces, and looked like “a little lizard with a pointed head.”
Thomas added, “From the minute he was born, I knew he would be my best friend, my buddy, for life.”
At the time Thomas was a bull rider in rodeos, but he explained, “I stopped that the week he was born, because I knew that I wanted to be there for him and not laid up in a hospital somewhere, trying to heal from broken bones with ice packs on my bruises.”
That decision meant Thomas needed to go to college, and his interests were sports and medicine. He began at Highland Community College which was 15 minutes from his house, and often Chantz went with him to class in a stroller.
Thomas said, “When my college students have problems with managing classes and children, I understand. One of my anatomy professors, Harry Moeller, saw me reclining in the student lounge one day with Chantz asleep on my stomach and said, ‘Don’t come to class. Just let him sleep.’”
When Thomas graduated from the community college in 1999, he went to Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, and Chantz went with him. Chantz would sit in class and color with the markers the girls in the classes provided. One day when Chantz was four years old, he jumped into the elevator on the fifth floor of an eight-story classroom building and closed the door.
In a panic, Thomas ran from floor to floor and finally located Chantz at the snack bar in the basement of the facility, sitting with four pretty girls. Each had bought him a snack from the machines.
Fast forward to 2019. Chantz is now 21 and wants to join the military. Thomas indicates that initially he had reservations and was scared for his son’s safety. He eventually said, “I understand you want a new start. You’re 21 and bored with the restaurant business. If you’re joining the Army, I want you to pick a job with a future in the outside world. Getting shot at is not a job. Get a skill.”
As a member of the 31st Alpha Company of Engineers, U.S. Army, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Chantz is training to be an Army diver. According to Thomas, the failure rate is very high and Chantz is struggling with classes and being locked down (a disciplinary measure because someone in the unit brought in outside food).
In their weekly telephone conversations, Thomas recently said to Chantz, “I don’t care if you fail, but I don’t want you to quit.”
Chantz’s response was, “Dad, we don’t know how to quit.”
Thomas reflects on his role as father: “I’ve always talked to him on his level, been honest with him. I admit my mistakes- financial, relationships. He has always talked to me about sex, drugs, alcohol because I am a safe place. My love for him is non-negotiable.”