[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] Bradley is an ambitious 17-year-old Dunbar High School senior on the brink of manhood who said he wishes his father was around to help him grow into it. His mother, Christine Fullard, gives him lots of love and as much time as she can, Bradley said, when she's not on the night shift cleaning offices at the GSA building downtown.
But what he said he misses is the presence of a father -- someone loving and caring -- who can help steer a clear path past the street crime that tempts so many of Bradley's young friends.
"He left me when I was a little boy. I resent him for leaving, that's the only thing I'm mad with him about," said Bradley, a muscular young man whose instant smiles soften the hard edges sharpened by inner-city life. He lives with his mother, grandmother and sister in an attached brick house a few blocks from the old riot-scarred H Street corridor in Northeast Washington.
Life without father is the way of life for Christopher Bradley, Anthony Briscoe, Kimberly Quezada and many of the nearly 66,000 other District youngsters who are growing up in homes where the father is absent and contact between father and child is minimal or nonexistent. And sometimes holidays and important birthdays can pass without a word from the man who helped make life possible. Usually these children are the innocent bystanders of adult complications: divorce, separation, illegitimacy, imprisonment, death and abandonment.
Loneliness and lack of attention are two side effects of their predicaments, according to youth counselors who said many youngsters in fatherless homes want the companionship of another adult.
"Usually there's more than one sibling," said Jacqueline Dennis of Big Sisters of the Washington Metropolitan Area, "and mother doesn't always have the time to invest in this child who's getting older and curious."
Many community leaders, educators, physicians and child specialists agree that self-esteem and personal identity are largely determined by a child's relationship with a loving mother, father and other adults.
They disagree, however, on the implications of 1980 U.S. Census figures and 1977 D.C. housing department statistics that show that nearly one-half of all city households with children are headed by women.
Some observers say the number of children without any close, paternal bond is critically high.
"I know it is," said Washington child psychiatrist Alberta Vallis. "I can see a thousand kids a year and only one or two fathers."
The absence of fathers or nurturing adult male role models, Vallis said, is the source for many of the problems she sees in the families of youngsters she treats in public and private practice.
"Mother is trying to do so much. She has to unwind," Vallis said. "Often she unwinds by clobbering (the child)."
The result is a variety of other family problems, Vallis said, including juvenile crime, teen-age pregnancy and drug abuse.
Others, however, are not as alarmed by the statistics, saying that fathers who are absent from the home but maintain close bonds with their children are not counted.
"I don't think that's an accurate perception of who's got fathers," said Dr. Renee Jenkins, director of Howard University Hospital's Adolescent Medicine Program. Besides, Jenkins said, "People have alternatives, a lot of times: Live-in people, long-term boyfriends, grandfathers."
Jenkins also said that some fathers are too busy to give adequate attention to their children even though they live under the same roof and, sometimes, one strong, loving parent in the home is better than two uncaring ones.
"The parent that is left, seemingly is doing such a great job of extending himself that a lot of good things are happening anyway," said the Rev. Russell Dillard of St. Anthony's Catholic Church at 1029 Monroe St. NE. Dillard counsels teen-agers in his parish.
Bradley and his sister Angela have two uncles Bradley credits with "setting us straight when we were little." He said that uncles and older friends have been helpful. But as well-meaning as uncles and friends can be, Bradley said, they don't take the place of a father.
"One day I came out and asked, 'Where's my father at?' " Bradley said. When his mother replied that he was gone, Bradley said he thought she meant "over in Southeast or something." But as he grew older, Bradley said, "I never asked after that. I just knew what was going down."
Sometimes he resents his father, Bradley said, but he also respects him. He has seen the man only once, and what remains is barely more than a sketchy memory, a hazy vision. He knows his father lives in South Carolina. And Bradley imagines that his father is shorter than his own 5-foot-8 inch height and stockier than his 165-pound frame.
While Bradley can barely remember his father, Anthony Briscoe still remembers the sorrow of losing a father when his parents divorced eight years ago. Even though his father lives in Silver Spring, Briscoe said the only contact between him and his father is occasional, usually on birthdays or Christmas. His father does contribute to his financial support.
Briscoe is 15 with long arms and legs that dangle like licorice strings and a smooth caramel complexion that hasn't yet picked up any fuzz. He is adjusting to his new physical maturity and says he has adapted to his father's departure.
But sometimes he misses not having a father to talk to as he grows into adulthood.
"I would always wonder, 'When am I gonna grow? When am I gonna get some muscles?' " he said.
Briscoe, a sophomore at The Archbishop Carroll High School, is amused now when he recalls how his godfather and grandfather often assuaged his typically teen-age fears. "You have big feet, you'll grow," he said, mocking their responses.
For his birthday last August, the Rev. Russell Dillard of St. Anthony's took Anthony and some friends out to dinner. Dillard is another man Briscoe can turn to, a friend who gives him the mature guidance and companionship a father might.
"I can always call him," said Briscoe, seated on a plump couch in the four-bedroom brick house in Northeast's Michigan Park he shares with his mother and 19-year-old sister Sonja. Life is going smoothly, now, Briscoe said. But it wasn't always.
"I always thought he'd be coming back," Briscoe said, sighing and recalling the years when the shock of his father's departure brought tears to his eyes. His father left when he was in the first grade. "I was still crying in the fifth grade," he said.
At one point Briscoe's mother sought help from Big Brothers of the Washington Metropolitan Area, the organization that matches men with boys in need of fraternal, if not paternal, guidance and companionship. Briscoe was matched with a big brother who moved out of town a year later.
Big Brothers reports that it has 1,000 active matches of sponsors and boys and 2,000 names on a waiting list. "It's getting worse and worse," said Big Brother spokesman Warren Wanlund of the demand for its volunteers.
Big Sisters spokeswoman Jacqueline Dennis said that demand for her organization's volunteers isn't as large as Big Brothers. Big sisters has 100 active matches and about 50 girls on its waiting list. But most of the girls served by Big Sisters, Dennis said, come from homes where the father is absent.
Because of the Rev. Dillard, his grandfather, godfather and friends his own age, Briscoe said he doesn't need the companionship of a Big Brother anymore.
"I used to think the old-timey way that a boy needs a father in the home," said Anthony's mother, Barbara Briscoe. "I use to think he needed a male image. But they find their own images."
But other parents worry about the role models their children may follow. And for parents who have to work long hours, a responsible companion may make a difference in keeping a youngster from going astray. That's the way it was for Jane Bryan and her daughter, Kimberley Quezada.
The two have no relatives on the East Coast. And when Bryan and Quezada clashed during a turbulent period of teen-age rebellion and independence, the two sought outside help from Big Sisters.
Sixteen-year-old Kimberly Quezada's sparkling, sensitive brown eyes belie her indifference. Her parents never married and, she says tossing back a mane of chestnut brown curls, she doesn't miss what she's never known.
"It was very hard when Kim was born," said Bryan, 39. Bryan did not marry Kimberly's father and turned down requests to place her child for adoption with a relative.
Instead, Bryan said, she worked two jobs, which meant a 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. workday.
Now Bryan works at the U.S. Post Office's Chevy Chase Branch and her daughter attends the District's School Without Walls. They live in a cramped apartment in Adams Morgan off Columbia Road NW.
Quezada hopes to be matched with a Big Sister this month. She wants someone to do the things with her that her mother doesn't have time for, Quezada said, and to share the secrets a mother wouldn't understand.
"I don't think it's very important to have a father," said Quezada, who bears her father's last name and a resemblance to him. She and her mother look nothing alike.
The only obvious advantage, Quezada said, might be in having someone to help them out financially. She is already thinking of college and wants to be a psychiatrist or lawyer.
Quezada attended private school in Falls Church, Va., last year and most of her friends there lived in two-parent families, Quezada said. But now most of her friends at the School Without Walls, like her, don't live with their fathers, Quezada said. "It's not something they feel bad about," Quezada said.
She spoke with her father on the phone once, when she was about 11 years old. But now neither she nor her mother know his whereabouts. Quezada said she wondered what he was like after the phone call, but doesn't really think about him much anymore.
"If I'd seen him," she said, "Then I'd have something to remember."
But Briscoe and Bradley say they still have nagging memories jogged by occasional telephone calls or Christmas cards.
Bradley initiated a long distance relationship with his father in January and now telephones him about every two months. He wants to attend the University of South Carolina next year and live with his father during the school year. But he isn't sure what, if anything, will happen.
"When I talk to him, he be trying to change the subject on me . . . Sometimes I feel like taking a bus and going down there and having it out with him," he said with a smile.
In the meantime, Bradley spends most of his time studying and playing basketball at the Boys Club. He plans to stay out of trouble.
Some of his friends who live and play just off Northeast's H Street corridor, haven't been so lucky.
"All of them like making money, breaking into houses," Bradley said. "But that's 'cause they don't have nobody to look up to," he confided, hunching his shoulders and stretching his palms upward with the explanation. "Most of them like me, without no father figure. Half of them don't even have no uncles."