Student poet juggles school and fatherhood

Damien McClendon and his son, Nile.

Daria Gaither

Damien McClendon was living life as a college senior, performing poetry and traveling around the country for performances when he became a father. The news of a baby boy did not stop his dreams of becoming a performer.

“I want to be the best poet in the world,” McClendon said. “I want my poems to sink so deep into people’s souls that it changes the shape of them.”

4.8 million college students are raising children, according to research conducted by, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Eleven percent of the student population are made up by single fathers.

Single fathers and mothers are defined as students who have never been married or are divorced, widowed or separated.

Often times in the media, single mothers who are in college are praised, but you do not hear about what single fathers face in college.

“Fathers in college are typically overlooked in the media and other publications. It’s so easy so forget about them,” said Autumn Talley, senior psychology major with a minor in Pan-African studies and human development and family studies. “Women, especially mothers, have been on a roll lately in regards to our amazing feats, but we’re missing an equally important component in the matter of it all: the father,” Talley said.

When asked why there is a stigma of underrepresented single fathers in college in the media, Talley says our society is still caught up on gender roles.

“As a society, we don’t usually look at what the father may be dealing with because despite how far we’ve come as a generation, we still hold on to these specific gender roles that cast the mother as the caregiver and the father as the breadwinner,” Talley said.

McClendon, a senior Pan-African studies major, is a performance poet and travels around the United States for different performances.

“I am a performance poet right now,” McClendon said. “I travel around the country doing poetry shows, speaking at different venues, colleges, churches, wherever. I just want to get my poetry out there.”

As a student, McClendon says his son, Nile, drives his goals and dreams.

“Your child is pushing you, but he is not doing anything, he’s just breathing, he’s just growing, but at the same time, he’s pushing you to accomplish your dreams,” McClendon said. “It’s a struggle, but it’s a beautiful struggle.”

McClendon says his definition of a father is a man who can provide the masculine energy that a child needs in support of the feminine energy that a child also needs.

“A real father is someone who will be there for their child, no matter if its something they feel is too emotional, or too touchy, they are still going to be there for their child,” McClendon said.

McClendon says as a student and a father, time-management is the most crucial part about life.

“In no way, shape or form do you want to take time away from your child, so you have to make time for your school, but you still have to graduate and accomplish your goals,” McClendon said.

McClendon said college students and new parents get the least amount of sleep compared to others.

“Your sleep pattern is thrown off,” he said. “You are trying to remember what you have to do for the test, but at the same time you have to wash, feed and wake-up the baby.”

Talley says studies show that fathers are at risk for a lot of the same stressors that a mother would be, including postpartum depression.

“Fathers are susceptible to losing sleep and much needed quiet time just as much as mother are,” Talley said. “In addition to dealing with the stressors of being a college student, such as meeting deadlines for coursework, working and being available if the student is involved on-campus, they now have a child to consider and that definitely can contribute to stress.”

McClendon said being a father can sometimes contradict your life as a student.

“Being a student, you already have to have a certain amount of selfishness,” McClendon said. “You have to focus on what you are doing, but becoming a father, there is some contradiction to this. You have to not only remember what your goals are, pursue them with all drive and passion, but now you have this life that you have to nurture and take care of.”

McClendon says he has had to take away from his “studentness” and give it to his child.

“You have to take away some of that focus from being a student and give it to your child,” he said. “It can actually be something that increases your passion for what you are doing because having a child, you are going to want to provide for that child.”

With one of McClendon’s passions being poetry, he had written a poem about his son. He wrote the poem when his girlfriend, Lora Lewis, mother to Nile and a Kent State graduate was seven months pregnant. McClendon says the poem is about the fear that African-American parents have when they have children in this society.

“We deal with so many things with racism, police brutality and violence directed towards our children,” McClendon said. “I just wanted him to be prepared for that, so I wrote him this piece before he was born. It’s entitled, ‘Nile.’”

Damien is an inspiration to others, Lewis said. “I definitely think people find inspiration in seeing him and his child. Anytime we are all together, people tell us to not let anything break us apart, to stay a family and that the most important thing is to put Nile first and to make sure he has everything that he needs, which is love. All babies need are parents, love and guidance. I definitely feel like Damien is that. I couldn’t ask for a better father for my child.”

Life of a student, poet and father from Daria Gaither on Vimeo.

Daria Gaither is the diversity reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].