Antoine Robinson with his son, Amir, 2, in December at Bright Beginnings. Robinson, 27, is a single dad who is grateful for the services provided by the partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

It often seems that men whose fathers were more an absence from their lives than a presence in them can go one of two ways when they become fathers themselves. One path, I suspect, is more likely: They can continue the cycle of abandonment.

Antoine Robinson went the other way

“When my son came along, I had to own up,” Robinson, 27, told me. “I had to man up. This is my son. This is all me right here.”

Robinson knew being a single parent wouldn’t be easy, but he fought for, and won, custody of his son, Amir, now 2.

“It was a lot of stress having a kid,” Robinson said. But he’s getting help from an organization called Bright Beginnings, a preschool in Southeast Washington that serves financially strapped families, many of which are experiencing homelessness.

Robinson heard about Bright Beginnings — a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand — from a dean at the University of the District of Columbia, where he’s a student.

“Bright Beginnings was a big blessing,” Robinson said.

The school is a safe, loving place for children, from infants to prekindergarten 4-year-olds. Robinson was delighted when he found out it’s open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“That’s a whole day,” he said. “I can go to school. I can do a job. I can take care of myself, get things in order for Amir, so he’ll be straight when he gets home from school.”

Bright Beginnings has a two-generation approach to helping those in need. There’s school for the kids (the charity picks up Amir’s tuition) and there are programs for the parents. Antoine has been involved with a fathers group that meets weekly. There’s a workforce development office, too.

“They reach out and help with jobs,” Robinson said. “Having a son that’s just like me, raising him, I’m teaching myself at the same time.”

Robinson has worked many jobs — from fast food to construction to delivering The Washington Post. Two days a week he takes classes in nutrition at UDC. He hopes to eventually focus on sports medicine.

Robinson said that when he was a boy, both his parents were out “doing whatever.” He and his siblings were in foster care for a while before they moved in with their grandmother.

“My grandmother was kind of like the best choice,” he said. She was an island of stability in a messy family situation.

Robinson said he respects his father, but the broken promises that “Pops” made still hurt.

“I used to run track,” Robinson said. “He would tell me he was coming to my track meets. And he didn’t. That was a big blow for me, you know. I loved him so much, and I wanted him to be there so much.”

Those memories fuel Robinson’s desire to be a different kind of father to Amir.

“I’m putting in time,” he said. “A lot of fathers out there don’t do that, not to put them down, but when you have a kid it should change your whole perception on life.”

Robinson dotes on Amir, who is lanky and tall for his age and obsessed with basketball.

“His teacher says he’s a classroom leader,” Robinson said proudly. “He knows all his ABCs. He can count to 20. He knows his colors.”

Robinson hopes that by sharing his story, he’ll “lift those hearts up of single fathers — and mothers, too. Somebody might read my story, and I might motivate them to get their son in school.”

You can help

And maybe Antoine and Amir’s story will motivate people to donate to Bright Beginnings. That’s why I’ve been sharing stories about the school and the other nonprofit partners in The Washington Post Helping Hand, So Others Might Eat and N Street Village.

To give, visit posthelpinghand.com and click where it says “Donate.” To contribute by mail, make a check payable to “Bright Beginnings” and send it to: Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington, DC 20032.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.