TEMPLE HILLS – Glenn Chester remembers his father as a hard-living, tough-loving provider type of guy whose primary goal as a parent was to put food on the table.
No staying up late nights with a sick child, no going to cheerleading practice. And certainly no braiding hair.
“My father would never do what I do,” said Chester, who is raising his 8-year-old twin daughters, Ashley and Alaya, by himself.
That makes him one of 41,384 single dads in the state. And Chester, 45, is also one of 15,447 single black dads who are challenging the stereotype that being a black male equates to being an absentee father.
Chester said he stepped up and took sole custody of the girls in 1995, when they were just 7 months old and his estranged wife became unable to care for them.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I was too stupid to be scared. By the time I realized I had taken on such a large ordeal, Ashley and Alaya were 1 — and I was totally committed.
“All I knew was that these two beautiful children were here because of me. And I loved them more than any other person in this world,” he said.
The twins, now third graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Washington, are growing up and doing well. Alaya is the stubborn one and Ashley has the mouth: Just before Chester’s recent knee surgery, Ashley declared, “I’ll walk (to the hospital) if no one brings me,” he said.
They are also “very compassionate,” he said: When he came home from his surgery, the girls waited on him hand and foot.
They are learning basketball this winter at the Hillcrest Heights Community center, where Chester is the assistant facilities manager. Alaya likes reading and spending time with Daddy, especially when they go out for their favorite meal, pizza, while Ashley has already set her sights on being a teacher and a reporter and a hair dresser.
“My greatest hope is that they be all that they can possibly be, that they never fail, that they always succeed — which, you know, is unreasonable, but that’s what my greatest hope is,” he said.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
Chester recalled a story from the days when the girls were still infants in car seats. Because it was snowing, he had to park the car at the bottom of the hill and figure out how to get the girls and the groceries to their apartment at the top, without leaving the twins in the car or in the apartment.
Somehow — he’s still not sure how — he managed to get groceries, babies and all up that snowy hill and three flights of stairs in one trip.
“It was things like that, that made taking them to the doctor’s office or enrolling them in school, or washing their hair and plaiting it for the first time . . . look easy,” Chester said.
Since then, Chester has figured out a thing or two about single parenting, but he still leans on his family for support. His grandmother, Ugertha Bowman, and sister, Joyce Simmons, help him keep up with the girls.
“I wouldn’t be able to make it without those two,” he said. “When I have to go to work, I can always call on them and they never say no.”
The strong female presence also helps the girls, who have infrequent contact with their mother, Chester said. They’ve even picked up fashion tips from Aunt Joyce.
But Chester still has not quite overcome the plain old confusion of being a man in a (little) woman’s world.
“It’s joke with men. We say that a woman can’t make up her mind,” said Chester. “And when I see it in them I want to instinctively change that.”
As Ashley comes by in white T-shirt and pig-tails, waving a yellow balloon over her head, she asks to read a book. As soon as Chester tells her to go ahead, she quickly declares, “Oh, I don’t wanna read,” and skips away.
“And see, I don’t know if that’s just children in general or just girl children,” he said. “So, you know, I’ve learned patience.”