Being the dad he never had

When Father’s Day is fatherless, like it was for Brenton
Attaway, the third Sunday in June is just another day.
When Father’s Day is fatherless, like it was for Brenton Attaway, the third Sunday in June is just another day.

Attaway, 26, grew up without his father and he will walk across the stage with his GED in hand next week without his father.

But, Byron will be there.

“He’s one of my many inspirations,” Attaway said nodding toward his 4-year-old son – a bright boy who couldn’t hide his excitement for the anticipated annual outing Sunday – “Santa Cruz Beach Board … walk” he repeated in a sing-song pattern. They sat side-by-side at a table in the Adult Education Center Wednesday morning. It will feel strange to graduate, Attaway said. The last time he wore a cap and gown he was 13.

“I’m very excited, yes, ma’am,” Attaway said. Every answer is punctuated with a “yes, ma’am” or “no ma’am.” His instructors at the center describe him as polite, respectful and persistent.

But he wasn’t always on the straight and narrow.

Born and raised in Oakland, Attaway was lost, wandering down the wrong path as a young man. He got involved with a rough crowd and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade.

“When I go back there, it doesn’t feel like home anymore. It feels different. Everything has changed, as far as people, the environment. Everything is different,” he said. “I love my city, but I wouldn’t want to stay. It’s not really safe anymore.”

Byron and his girlfriend moved to Morgan Hill four years ago to raise Byron in a nice community. He deserved a chance at a better life than Attaway had in Oakland. Still, one of his fondest memories is from the handful of times he spent with his father. As a boy, his father took him to a baseball game and they spent the rest of the day at a park together. Byron’s birth, “of course,” Attaway said, is his proudest moment. To it, he will add completing his GED.

“It’s pretty hard,” Attaway said about being a dad. “But it’s fun because you’re teaching your son the ups and downs … ”

Byron’s hands shot into the air. “Up! … And down!” Byron cheered. Both Attaway’s grinned. “The positives and negatives,” Attaway added.

“I want him to learn to grow up respectful and not take life for granted.”

Earning his GED in a year was no cake walk, said Attaway, who works as an after-school coordinator for children at the Royal Court Apartment complex. In fact, in the beginning he felt like giving up – a few times.

“Then I started thinking, where would I be? It would be a big waste of time to give up. I didn’t want to let down my family, my son, my girlfriend,” he said.

If it weren’t for the help from Principal Dennis Browne and his GED instructors Debra Burdman and Adriana Anguiano, his biggest obstacle – math – may have never been conquered.

“They were there for me, pushing me a little bit. It paid off. It got me where I am today. Mr. Browne has been a very great guy to me. He’s helped me out a lot and has been nice to me all around,” Attaway said.

Math is oftentimes described as “scary” by students who are returning to earn a high school diploma or GED. Attaway tried to avoid taking the math portion of the GED as long as possible – even taking all four other classes first.

“I got a couple low scores, but I kept going. I didn’t let it get me down or nothing. I just had to keep telling myself every day I could do it. If I try hard and study hard and try my best to get it over with,” he said.

There was no choice, Attaway had to take the math portion lest he could never move forward.

The results came back and Attaway was stuck with a smile for days; he passed with a higher score than he expected. It was only imagined fear that held him back.

Attaway was so uncertain about how his GED goal would evolve that he never planned on graduating as soon as this summer. His family from Oakland will miss the celebration to go to a family reunion in Louisiana. They will attend in spirit, he said, while his son, Byron’s mother and her parents will clap the loudest for him at Britton Auditorium Thursday night.

From graduation, Attaway will continue his education at Gavilan College in the fall to study criminal justice and eventually enter the forensics field.

“It’s difficult to get a job without a GED or a diploma. This has opened up a lot of doors,” Attaway said. He was asked Wednesday to speak at graduation on behalf of the class of 2010.

“He is a terrific young man. We are very proud of him. When you see people like Brenton you feel proud that they are able to give people a second chance or a third chance,” Browne said.

This summer Attaway will enjoy the things he loves most – family outings, indoor roller skating and taking his son to the park.

“We like to play games and fly my little kite. But not right now,” Byron said.

Not enough wind?

“It’s a little bit windy.” Subjects can change frequently with 4-year-olds. “I am going to go to P.A. Walsh. It’s going to be my new school,” he said.

As both Attaways start school in the fall – a four-year degree is the next goal for Brenton and young Byron.

“I want him to go to college, too. And to be very responsible,” Attaway said.

With Attaway as his role model, Father’s Day will resonate with Byron for many years to come.

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