After Dad Dies, 12-Year-Old Fills in Father’s Role for His Three Younger Brothers
This is the story of a little boy forced to fill shoes way too big for him
It’s hard to pinpoint when the childhood ended for Jossue, now 12 years old. Maybe it was when he was 10 years old and his dad died. Or maybe before that; when he was 8 and this dad he loved so much kept falling down drunk and getting rushed to the hospital for complications caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
Whatever the date, the reality is Jossue stepped in as man of the house for nearly as long as he can remember, comforting his mother and helping raise his three younger brothers.
This has been a big deal for a little boy. So big that Jossue had a psychotic break, psychologists say, and began hearing voices after his dad’s death. The voices finally stopped three months ago thanks to intense intervention from staff at Catholic Charities affiliate St. Ignatius school and deep love from his mother and three little brothers.
“I missed my dad a lot and started seeing things,” says Jossue, now age 12. “I was hearing things, people calling my name but people weren’t actually there.”
Life didn’t start off so hard. Jossue remembers younger years in a happy home. His dad worked fulltime as a liquor store deliveryman; his mother worked as a part-time home attendant. They earned enough to afford a decent apartment in tough but affordable Hunts Point in the Bronx.
Most important, Jossue’s parents were loving; his dad never hit anyone in the family even after alcohol took hold of him, Jossue and his mother say. There was enough money for rent and food. Perhaps best of all, Jossue’s little brothers were his playmates, not his responsibility. His mom was his mom, not someone whose tears he had to dry.
Now, however, “I have to help everyone and take care of the whole family,” he says. “My brothers have homework and they need help and my mom needs help with math because she’s studying for her GED. It makes me feel important but sometimes it feels like too much.”
His mom, Aurelia, 42, had to give up her small home attendant income to take her children to frequent psychologist appointments and pull them out of the darkness. She took on house cleaning since it offers flexible hours that allow her to work around her children’s medical appointments. But the pay, combined with the limited demand in their impoverished neighborhood, left the family with expenses far greater than her small income. As a result, after Jossue’s dad died the family fell $5000 behind on their rent and faced eviction.
Fortunately, in July 2015, six months after Jossue’s dad died, his mom found and enrolled Jossue in St. Ignatius School, an oasis in Hunts Point, the poorest congressional district in the U.S. It is part middle school, part social service provider and part miracle worker. A stunning 100-percent of its students go on to graduate from high school -- compared to 32.9-percent of students who attend Hunts Point school district schools. Better still, 90-percent of its students go on to college – nearly three times the college attendance rate of their peers.
At St. Ignatius, Jossue receives education, counseling and an introduction to the world outside his sad home. Similar to his fellow students, he spends summers at St. Ignatius’ summer camp in Lake Placid. Then, weekdays during the school year, he arrives early in his blue uniform stays for homework help and supervision until 5:30 every weekday night. Because he is in financial need, all of his expenses are covered.
He loves the friends he made here as well as his teachers, Jossue says, and has begun to dream again. A talented artist, he sketches scenes for video games he hopes to invent some day. But he has no computer to practice graphic art or to use for homework. So Catholic Charities drew on $370 in New York Times Neediest Cases funds to purchase a laptop computer.
Moreover, staff from Catholic Charities eviction prevention services got the family’s rental arrears paid off. Then they negotiated a Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy to slash their rent from $1200/month to an affordable $200.
Taking help, however, does not sit well for this once-independent family.
So Jossue tutors him mom in English and for her upcoming GED exam to give this young widow the skills she needs to land a job that can support her family.
“Even though I’m just a kid I keep helping my mom any way I can so she can get a good job instead of the one she has,” Jossue says. “We’re a strong family and even though my dad’s not here we keep going on.”