Fifty-year-old father of 10 Craig Cunningham does not know how he ended up raising all his children on his own but he knows one thing — it is not a walk in the park.
For that reason, the St Mary-based painter who fought tooth and nail to get three of his minors out of State care, after losing custody of them when he was hospitalised due to being stabbed by one of their mothers, is imploring men not to abandon their children, leaving their female partners to struggle alone.
“When I see a situation where a man leave a woman with five, six pickney, it cruel, it rough, because pickney have to go school, clothes have to wash, them need things, it hard, it wicked. You fi help yuh pickney if a fi yuh. It hard on di mother alone, it wicked,” the father of an even five girls and five boys stressed.
Reflecting on how he almost lost his three youngest sons, Cunningham said during the two-month stay in the hospital, his mother who had taken charge of the children crumbled under the pressure and turned them over to State care. The father who said he was during that time struggling with among other things a severe infection and unsure of his own survival said he did not fight her on her decision. However, once he was medically cleared after about a year he challenged the system for his sons.
“The way I love my baby dem, every day I go the children’s home, almost. Everywhere I go people tell mi say a mi a the best father. Everywhere I a go I have the little man dem a mi foot, clean like whistle. I am not going to wear Reebok and them a wear $1,000 sneakers, that wouldn’t look good. Dem never stop from school yet, never,” he said noting that transportation and lunch monies alone can run him as much as $50,000 monthly.
Reminiscing on the journey which he said has earned him the reputation of a man who can do “everything”, Cunningham said, “I never did even know how to pin Pampers and nappy but mi learn. I can do everything now. Like the girls, I just catch up them hair with elastic band in one, sometimes it don’t comb good but you have to try.”
“Miss, it hard but God help mi and mi try, mi is a trying youth and anything I get I do [work]. I just support them,” Cunningham told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.
With six of his children now adults, Cunningham says raising his remaining three sons, who are 12, eight and 10, is still a challenge given the increased cost of living.
Asked how he ended up having 10 children by seven different women, he admitted that his habits as a young man might not have been the healthiest, but stressed that his love for his children cannot be equalled.
“You know when time you work and you carry yourself clean, somebody always look on you or you look on somebody, and that’s how it happen; and then when them not going on good I go again and try,” the single father stated.
“Mi single, a me alone raise them, I do everything. Sometimes some ladies come along and you are trying with them, but they want more than you can afford; it’s just money they want. I don’t have it like that,” Cunningham said.
Asked how he managed to steer his children away from negative influences in present-day Jamaica, the single father who said he has never had a run-in with the law told the Observer, “I continue to work and do what I can do. I try to tell them the right thing. Two things mi tell them — ‘don’t go in no conning thing, when you grow big work for what you want’. I try to do my best for them and try show them the ropes because right now these young boys nowadays, their friends give them weed and them on the road crazy. Mi a try because mi reach real far,” he shared.
Noting that he still has some way to go before he can throw his hands up Cunningham said, “I just want little help so I can push my way better. them getting big and soon go to bigger school; a more money that now. I just need some help.”
The Family Reintegration Programme of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), in singing the praises of Cunningham, told the Observer that the single father “is very hard-working and committed to his role as a father”.
Noting that Cunningham makes do with his income and the support of the agency, the entity said his children are “always well-groomed” and in school.
“Despite the absence of a spouse to assist him in his parent capacities, Mr Cunningham is very active and present in his sons’ lives, seeing to their everyday needs,” the agency said, noting that he was very cooperative with their interventions as well.