On Father’s Day, D.C. man battles past mistakes to raise five kids
By Michael E. Ruane,
Tiara’s sandals are around somewhere. Her father has sent her upstairs to look while he rummages in the basement. It’s kind of messy. There are rumpled bunk beds. Piles of clothes. An ironing board where he has just pressed pants for two of his sons.
He probes under the couch where he slept the night before because Tiara, who is 5, pushed him out of bed. A pair of tiny pink-and-silver sandals appears. “Tiara!” he yells.
Tony Loring, a short, stocky 54-year-old, once was an amateur boxer. Now he is living with five of his children — Tiara and her four brothers, ages 11 through 14 — in his mother’s rowhouse in Northeast Washington.
And after a long time as a selfish “knucklehead,” Loring’s working to be a father.
It is a little before 8 on a humid overcast morning recently. He is rushing to get everybody ready for the fifth-grade promotion ceremony at Kenilworth Elementary School, where his twins Tavon and Tyrus, 11, are advancing with honors.
There is talk of haircuts, but it’s too late. They have to catch the V-7 bus down the hill on Minnesota Avenue in about an hour.
The children have made themselves ham and mayonnaise sandwiches for breakfast at the dining-room table, which sits beneath the gold-framed picture of “The Last Supper” on the wall.
But nobody’s dressed. The phone is ringing. And Loring’s hollered instructions echo through the house: “Brush your teeth! . . . Everybody’s got five minutes! . . . We’re running behind!”
Loring had no guidance on fatherhood as a younger man. He says his father was not in the picture, and Loring was enthralled by the fraternity of the street. Drugs, crime and prison were all part of his rearing.
Along the way, there were also children. Ten altogether. Five are grown and gone, with lives lessintertwined with their father’s: “A telephone daddy,” his eldest daughter, Akira, 33, called him.
Later, Loring says, he was married for 13 years to the mother of the five younger children. But the marriage grew troubled, the couple divorced and he moved to his mother’s with the kids three years ago.
Their mother, who sees them regularly, said Loring is doing a good job with them but declined to say more about him.
Last week, as Father’s Day approached, Loring spoke at length about his belated fatherhood, about his mistakes and successes, as he hurried to get the children, and himself, washed, dressed and out the door of their home in Marshall Heights.
In a way, he said, the children have changed him as he has reared them — their needs gradually supplanting his flaws and making him into a parent.
‘My way, my way, my way’
In his black shorts, sleeveless white T-shirt, with his bulky arms, Loring resembled a boxer as he stood at the ironing board in the dim light of the cluttered basement.
“I used to be straight militant,” he said of his parenting technique. “I was always ‘my way, my way, my way.’ ”
“They come home from school, there’s five different attitudes, five different problems,” he said. “It can be overwhelming. . . . I see what a lot of single ladies go through.”
As he spoke, a radio on a table blinked the incorrect time: 9:23. Upstairs, Tiara sang, and his mother, Minnie Ruth, 75, drank a cup of black coffee.
Ruth said Loring is doing a superb job with the children. “He does all the cooking for them, all their washing, all the groceries.” Visits to the doctor, the dentist, “he takes care of all of that,” she said. “Everything that a mother would do, he does, and more.”
Loring’s son Tony, who is 14 and an accomplished student, said his father has “put a roof over our head. We eat, got clothes. He’s showed us the qualities of being a man, and how the world is.”
Two years ago, Loring participated in a federally funded fatherhood education program at the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative and learned some lessons. He said he had heard about the program and thought it would do him good.
“I learned how to listen to the children,” he said. “I have to learn to be patient and give time to each one.”
You have to become a parent, he said. “Don’t just use the title . . . father. You have to get in every aspect of the child’s life. You have to talk to your children and teach them the correct way to live. You can’t have them as your buddy. You have to be their parent.”
There are rich rewards.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” he said. “That’s number one. I used to be a knucklehead.”
But there is also “the joy of seeing them happy,” he said. “When I do something wrong, I can sense it in the children. But when I’m on the right track, I can see it in them. I like keeping them smiling.”
‘Streets needed me more’
That wasn’t always the case. He grew up about a half-mile away in a rugged neigborhood he called “Little Vietnam.”
The area was tough, and “I was part of the problem,” he said. “I grew up a hoodlum. . . . I saw the dollar signs, that false advertisement on the street.”
“I learned how to be a father at the expense of my first two daughters,” he said.“I was too busy running the streets. . . . The streets needed me more, so I thought.”
Daughter Akira Loring said in a telephone interview that for much of her youth, “I didn’t see him.”
In the mid 1980s and early ’90s, Loring said as he sat at the dining-room table, he was arrested twice for dealing drugs and spent six months in prison.
He was also using drugs. “I started using my own product . . . cocaine, marijuana, [and] selling it all.”
Loring said he left drugs behind in 1991, but got into more trouble as his marriage to the children’s mother fell apart and he and his wife began to fight. He said he served an additional six months in jail for domestic violence in the early 2000s.
He took anger management courses, and he and his wife divorced in 2009.
Meanwhile, Loring’s health took a bad turn when he had to have a hip replacement and became disabled. He was forced to use a walker for a time and needed help bathing.
In the face of everything, he said, it was the children, and the grace of God, that kept him going.
“There’s a lot of people I know that’s not here now,” he said. “I ask God what did he save me for. There’ve been times I should have been gone. . . . He has purposes for me. I know.”
‘Better father, a better man’
Now, things seem different, Akira said. “From not being there for us, he wants to make sure to definitely be there for the younger kids,” she said. “All of the mistakes that he made with us, he’s trying his best not to make those same mistakes for the younger kids.”
“I’ve never been mad,” she said. “I don’t have as close a relationship as my younger siblings, but I still love him. I hold no animosity towards him. And I hope that he will be a better father, a better man, and all of them will grow up to be great people.”
As the family got ready last week, the twins donned their dark pants, and powder-blue dress shirts.
They put on gray vests and gray clip-on ties. Loring helped Tiara get dressed and put on her sandals.
Then he changed into a pair of sneakers and blue shorts, and stuck a gold earring in his left ear. He pulled on a black shirt with gold letters that read: “Father’s Day Is Every Day.”
About 9 a.m., Loring and four of the children walked out the door of their house at the top of the hill on Ames street. His 12-year-old son, Tylik, was undergoing school testing elsewhere and would join them later.
As they walked down the hill to the bus stop, it was raining lightly, but the dome of the Capitol was visible in the mist in the distance.
They caught the bus on time, got to the school, and took seats in the second row of the auditorium, which was mostly empty.
They were 40 minutes early.