June 13, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- When strangers learn that Ron Besemer, 24, is the unmarried father of a 6-year-old son, he feels that assumptions are often made.
Maliki and Ron Besemer at home by Bald Eagle Lake. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
"They quickly do the math and assume all the wrong things," he said. "The first impression is, 'You must be a deadbeat dad,' or 'You must have left the mom and kid.'"
But Besemer, who was an 18-year-old senior at Brandon High School when his son Maliki was born in January 2006, believes parents make decisions before their children are born on what kind of parent they will be—and he wasn't about to be the stereotype of an absent teenage father.
"If you want to be a good Dad, you will be," Besemer said. "Don't cut yourself out of your kid's life. If you don't stop to throw yourself a pity party and keep your head up, all you will do is surprise yourself at how easy some of this stuff is. If you would have asked me when I was 17, 'Can you work multiple jobs and go to school and raise a child?' I would have said anyone who tries to do all that is out of their minds. But I found myself in that situation and I did it."
When Besemer's high school sweetheart told him she was pregnant, he was surprisingly calm. He'd always known he wanted children, although not that early. While the pregnancy was unplanned, he regarded it as a wake-up call. He'd always earned good grades in school and was never in trouble, but with a child on the way, Besemer needed to figure out sooner than most teenagers what he wanted to do with his life.
"Life throws you a curve ball, you swing at it," he said. "I thought, 'OK, I gotta buckle down. Life is starting, here we go.'"
Despite some family pressure to marry, he and his girlfriend decided a baby wasn't a reason to get married. They loved each other, but thought marriage could wait. They lived together with her parents during the pregnancy and as the pregnancy progressed, Besemer said he became a "little terrified."
The reality of being a father finally hit him at the hospital the night Maliki was born. Exhausted from the birth and three days of contractions, his girlfriend was asleep.
"I was holding my son and he dropped a bomb and the whole hospital heard and I didn't even know how to change a diaper," laughed Besemer. "I set him down in the bassinet and said, 'I'm just gonna do this.' I changed it and he went right back to sleep and from that moment, I realized, you don't have to know, you can figure it out. Whether you're 18 with a baby or 30 with a baby, it doesn't matter if you've never done it before. My attitude is, give it your best shot. No one knows your kid or can take care of your kid better than you."
The new family moved into an apartment in Auburn Hills after Maliki was born and that is where Besemer's relationship with his girlfriend began to unravel. Besemer was working four part-time jobs at one point because he was unable to find a full-time job and was taking online accounting courses through Baker College. Just after Maliki turned 1-year-old, the couple split.
"I want him to see what a loving relationship is like, I didn't want my son to see a loveless relationship," said Besemer.
But while the relationship with his son's mother was broken, Besemer knew he never wanted to be a "part-time" or "weekend" parent. Without court involvement, they agreed to have equal time with Maliki as much as possible.
They worked out a schedule where Besemer had Maliki three days one week and four days the next. It was difficult with Besemer working three part-time jobs and taking a full-time courseload and frustrating as well when he interviewed for full-time positions and the job would be given to someone else. Interviewers would note how "busy" Besemer was with a child, multiple jobs and school. Besemer's social life suffered, too as friends who didn't want anything to do with the baby would tell him to call on days when he didn't have his son with him. While he understood their feelings, he wanted his son with him as much as possible, with as stable a home environment as possible.
Besemer is two semesters away from his bachelor's degree and will pursue his master's degree in accounting at Oakland University. He landed a full-time job at an Auburn Hills firm two years ago and is a senior accountant with a stable, secure income. He and his son are now reaping the benefits of the sacrifices that have been made.
"I see him play with his friends, doing well in school and it's worth all the hard work," he said. "I am a young father and he is my biggest distraction, but he's also my biggest motivation. If it takes twice as long to do a term paper because I had to play with him, feed him, take care of him, it's worth it. He won't remember, but even now, when he says, 'Let's do this,' or 'Let me show you,' even if I'm doing laundry or dishes, what's five minutes? I always have time to listen to what he has to say."
Besemer stresses the importance of education to Maliki and when his son comes home from school and tells his father he didn't learn anything that day, Besemer's response is to tell him he has always learned something.
This Father's Day, Besemer reflects that the biggest lesson he has learned from fatherhood is that children teach and affect their parents as much as parents influence their children, as long as you're open to the lessons.
"The relationship with your kids is something you earn and you kinda have to fight for it," he said. "It's not just about making sure there's a bed to sleep in and food on the table, it's about talking about their day, really asking, and really listening, and it's about doing things with your kids…What brings me fulfillment and joy more than I ever expected is my son."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville