Recently, Florida A&M student Stephen Howard (name changed to protect his identity), has opened up to share his experience about growing up with a father who has AIDS.
Andrew Howard, Stephen’s father, has always been involved in his life. Stephen and his father have always lived in the same house while maintaining a healthy relationship.
“Back then I had no clue what HIV was, I searched the internet to find out what it was and that’s when I realized that HIV was something serious and could be fatal,” he said.
His father’s illness became Stephen’s biggest secret he carried for nearly 10 years. He was too embarrassed to share his emotions with anyone.
“I didn’t want people to think of me any differently because of my dad’s illness.” Stephen said. “My mom told me that my dad had been infected with HIV when she explained to my siblings and I that she and my dad were getting divorced. She also told us that she was not infected so there was no need to worry about her.”
Deborah, Stephen’s mother said the divorce caused a rift between her and her son.
“When we were packing our things to move to our new home, Stephen did not pack and told me that he wasn’t leaving,” she said.
“I felt so hurt.” Stephen told her he wanted to live with his dad. But he didn’t tell his dad he knew. “I won’t tell my dad that I know about his illness because I do not want to add to the humiliation that he is probably already feeling,” he said. Over the years, Stephen has taken notice of his dad’s worsening condition, including an increasing cough.
To block out the sound of his father’s coughing, Stephen cranked up the volume on his television and radio. Once, Stephen almost unintentionally caused his father’s death.
“When I was 15, I had a cold. There was a glass I used to drink out of, and I placed it next to the sink when I was done with it,” he said. “The next morning, I saw my father drinking out of the same cup.” His dad fell ill with a cold. During that long illness, Stephen felt responsible for his dad’s condition.
Stephen makes his father proud by maintaining a 3.7 grade point average.
“I just hope that my dad will survive long enough to see me graduate, since I will be the first person in my family to successfully finish college,” Stephen said.
According to a surveillance report from the Florida Health Department of Health, in 2010 the HIV rate is seven times higher than white men.
Emily Drain, a third-year nursing student from Pensacola, said it would be difficult to handle the illness of a parent.
“If I had a parent who suffered from HIV/AIDS I would probably cry everyday,” Drain said. “I wouldn’t tell anyone, I would be embarrassed.”
Stephen isn’t embarrassed, he said. Instead, he feels fortunate to still have his father.