A Dad Never Retires
Bernard Walker says that it’s strange that two of his children, Nataya, 5, and Trayon, 3, are younger than some of his grandchildren. Sure, it might be a little unusual, but Bernard wouldn’t have it any other way. He asked for this, after all, and so he steps up to the plate every day.
While Trayon is his biological son, Bernard is going through the process of adopting Nataya. The mother of both kids isn’t in the picture. Bernard, however, has always been there, ever since Nataya was born premature and spent her first year in the hospital. She literally had a hole in her heart. “From day one, when I saw all the tubes and the gadgets stuck to her, I promised I would be there for her,” Bernard says of the little girl, who has had a variety of medical conditions.
“She is doing excellent,” says Bernard, adding that Nataya started walking in February, and that she is starting to develop her language skills. As for Trayon, “He’s very intelligent,” Bernard says. “He is very verbal. I sit down and read books with him. He loves books. He loves Spider-man and he loves Dr. Seuss.”
Bernard, who lives in the Bronx, is pretty much on his own raising the kids, although he gets help from his brother’s family, and some assistance from a home attendant, who is especially helpful with some of the more feminine tasks. “I can’t braid Nataya’s hair and stuff,” Bernard says.
Bernard has three grown children, two of whom have kids of their own. The more the merrier, says Bernard, who was happy to host the whole family, which came to celebrate Nataya’s fifth birthday this year.
It’s not exactly the retirement plan most people set out for themselves, but Bernard, who stopped working with developmentally disabled people last year (and recently retired from the military, for which he served in Iraq during the first Gulf War), is committed. “I like children,” he says by way of explanation.
Bernard grew up in Harlem without a father. He recalls playing in the street one time, and seeing his dad, who gave him five dollars. He was so happy at the time, that he ran to tell his mother. But his dad had disappeared; Bernard figures that his father must have been worried that his mother would threaten to take him to court.
Now, as a committed dad, Bernard often feels like an army of one in the playground. There are few other dads out there, he says. In fact, he often gets comments from strangers, who tell him he’s doing “a good job.”
Last year’s NYC DADS Matter Award ceremony, which introduced him to other dads like himself, was an honor, he adds; “I felt so happy to be recognized for what I do,” he says. “But I don’t need pats on the back, because I enjoy what I do.”