David Scott, 42, became a biological father when he was a teenager. But it wasn’t until a personal crisis later in life and a change of heart that came from God that Scott became a dad.
“I was more of an absentee father. I ran the streets, did my own thing,” he said. “If I could go back to do it all again, I would do things differently, but you can’t change the past.”
At an all-time low, locked up on suicide watch at Rockford Memorial Hospital, a pastor came to him.
“It is never too late to do the right thing and be the person you so desperately want to be,” the pastor told Scott.
They prayed together, and Scott asked for forgiveness.
“Everything changed,” he said.
His wife, Erica, an office manager at Christian Life Retirement Center, agreed, saying, “He kept telling me he was going to take his life. But when he called, I heard in his voice, he was different.”
An unexplainable presence came over her, one she described simply as true love.
“I went to see him. He looked different, spoke different, walked different. … I was confused and in awe at the same time.”
David was 16 when he met Erica. She was 15.
“Soon after, she took a pregnancy test and when she told me, I was at a loss,” said David. “I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I didn’t know how I was going to provide.”
He dropped out of high school and took a job at Burger King.
“She had a lot of chicken sandwiches when she was pregnant,” he said.
Erica graduated from high school six days before giving birth to their second child.
If not for Rockford MELD and support from her mother, Erica said, she doesn’t know how she would have managed.
MELD helps guide young parents build strong families and lead responsible lives by providing shelter, education and life skills training.
From July 2013 to June 2014, 257 requests were made to MELD for shelter or housing. One hundred and ninety-three mothers and children, however, were turned away due to lack of space.
During that same time frame, 159 young mothers and fathers received parenting education, information and support in the MELD Moms and Dads Groups.
“MELD was a second father to (the kids),” said David, who now works at Chrysler in Belvidere with his daughter, Brittany, 25.
“MELD was like a second set of parents to me, too,” Erica said. “They helped me learn how to parent and keep goals in front of me.”
Though MELD strives for families to stay together, MELD’s director of development and public relations, Karen Tilly, said, “It’s not typically what you’d see. (David and Erica) have stayed together the whole time, through thick and thin.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, eight out of 10 teen fathers do not marry the mother of their child.
“I didn’t want my kids to be without their father because I was without mine,” said Erica.
The organization was such an instrumental part of their lives that the couple married at the former MELD house on North First Street in Rockford.
Although David made mistakes along his journey, his son, DJ, 23, a golf caddy in Texas, said, “He’s done a great job handling what was given to him at the age it was given to him. I have seen him grow and develop. In some aspects, we grew up together.”
He said his best memory of his dad is when David took him to a PGA tournament and they saw Tiger Woods play.
“When I was 10 or 11, he started changing,” said Brittany. “He feels bad about everything he put us through, but I don’t think he realizes how much good he has done since those times. Our life is no fairy tale, but me and my brother have moved past all that stuff. He is a good example of a man. We love him and we respect him.”
Brittany fondly recalls father-daughter dates they shared.
“He tried to show me how a man should treat me, like always opening the door for me,” she said beaming. “I appreciated those times. He has always been very supportive, showing me he loves me no matter what.”
David credits Brittany’s 21-month-old son, Elijah Brown, for his personal growth. “Being a grandparent to me is pretty awesome. When he first called me Papa, my heart melted.”
“It’s so fun to see him with Elijah,” said Erica. “He gets to do all those things he missed. It is amazing for God to give him this second chance.
“It has not been an easy road, but it is our road. It’s our story,” Erica said.
“At that age, I was so naive and immature, I just didn’t get it,” David said. “I try to tell young dads, ‘You will miss something if you just skip out. It is a God-given thing to put that love in you when you’re around those kids.’