Portrait of a teenage father

He’s barely 19, but Atreyu Spears considers himself a grown man. “I have no choice,” is the way Spears explains it. “I have to be a man.”

He’s saying this while sitting on the edge of a mattress on the floor of a bedroom at his sister’s apartment in one of Chicago’s south side neighborhoods. Just a few blocks away from what is statistically the most dangerous geographic point in America’s third-largest city.

Spears has company. His eight-month-old son Trey is sound asleep next to him on the mattress. His girlfriend’s other child and his sister’s young daughter join them. It’s an odd sight. An ashtray at the foot of the bed is filled with cigarette butts. Newspaper pages cover the windows to block light and the view of nosy neighbors.

Just as it appears he’s about to delve further into our discussion, one of two cell phones Spears has tucked away in his baggy jeans blares with a loud hip-hop artist’s rapping ring tone. The babies wake up and like many things in Spears’ life to this point, our conversation veers off track.

At a time in his life when he admits he still had “a lot of bad in him”, he was arrested on gun charges when he was 15. The arrest report is filled with sketchy details, most of which Spears rejects. Despite not being charged with actually using the gun, an Illinois law that allows some juveniles arrested on gun charges to be tried as adults got Spears caught up in the courts system. He served 60-plus days in jail. Now he says he can’t find a job, can’t find a place to rent and for anyone looking objectively, it’s easy to envision this long and difficult path to continue for Spears.

All of this doesn’t deter him from having dreams. When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Spears describes a much different picture than his current reality.

“I want to get a job. Maybe open up my own barbershop and buy a big house for my family to live in. I want to have money.”

Two starkly different portraits of a teenage father.

2 Responses to “Portrait of a teenage father”

  1. hi , this is a really good photograph!

  2. This is a great photo, and your text makes it all the more powerful.

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