The two of us have come a long way from the days of having zero responsibilities—playing basketball, video games and watching many, undocumented hours of Rush Hour—to having to move out of our parents houses and adapting to an adult lifestyle brimming with all sorts of pressures and uncertainties.
Over the years, I have had my share of ups-and-downs, but luckily, I was still able to bounce back and continue to face life head on. Primarily, due to the fact that I was single and had no other person(s) to worry about, say, like a small child for instance.
My good friend, Tyler Salerno, on the other hand, also had his share of ups-and-downs, and, of course, was able to graciously—much like myself—overcome them, but did so and coming out of it with more discipline and structure given that he had a small child to look after.
Now then, it is in this context upon which I approached my good friend Tyler Salerno to allow me the opportunity to explore some of the intricacies of being both young and a single parent. To put it another way, one of us was forced to grow up quickly—and I was determined to inspect how the other person was holding his own.
Having arrived at 110 Throndale, I was greeted by Tyler Salerno at the door. He was sporting a blue Buffalo Bills hat with Taz, the Tasmanian devil on the front of it, a plain white T-shirt and black Khaki shorts. Tyler is tall, lanky and wears a beard that covers his jaw-line. He’s also half Italian and Puerto-Rican. He would always joke that because his complexion resembles that of a middle easterner, and that, coupled with his beard, some people might mistake him for ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group. “Hey, man how is it going?” he asked while opening the front door. “I’m good, bro, thanks for having me over.” I responded, now in the house and preparing to take my shoes off.
While in the house, I was greeted by Tyler’s five-year old son, Emilio and two girls like his age. The two girls belonged to Tyler’s current girlfriend whom was out at the time. Emilio was energetic and sported a green T-shirt with the fictional comic book character, Hulk, on the front of it. Although, the incredible Hulk on Emilio’s shirt had no head, it was better that way because the incredible Hulk is known to have a very unpleasant face when he’s angry. Emilio’s head as a replacement was less threatening.
Tyler’s home was spacious—lots of open kitchen, living room and bedrooms—with hardly that many furniture to accommodate it’s good-sized capacity. With one picture on the wall—of him when he was much younger wrapped in the arms of one of his older brothers—and a few DVD’s and one flat screen television, his home struck me as a simple one.
The two of us first exchanged some niceties while watching the local news on television, before we got into the interview. Soon after, his girlfriend arrived.
“What are some of your interests?” was the first question that I asked him. Although, a simple question, it took Tyler some time to think about it. My guess is, it’s been a while since someone has asked him that. Fortunately, and seeing that his father was taking too long, yet wanting to assist him, Emilio replied, “Tyler likes pizza.” The two of us chuckled. “Yes,” Tyler said with a gentle smile on his face, “Tyler does like pizza.”
Tyler then added, “I’m really interested in Real Estate.” But, soon enough Emilio interrupted, saying, “I like Ice cream.” First it was pizza then it was ice cream, if I would have to guess, I would say that Emilio was trying to tell us that he was hungry. Secretly, I knew that, but it wasn’t my place to say something about it so I kept silent—hoping that Tyler would catch on. “….and Emilio likes Ice cream.” Tyler mimicked him. I don’t think he will catch on. A few seconds later, It appeared as if Emilio was turning green—his eyes were starting to augment and his neck-veins were pulsating erratically. I think Emilio was metamorphosing into the incredible Hulk. Thankfully, Tyler’s girlfriend was cooking Tacos, causing the aromas to circumvent the entire house, which in turn, made Emilio normal again.
“I see money in it,” Tyler elaborated. “and when you do the research it can make the profit even better.” He then continued explaining the ins-and-outs of one of the houses that he was interested in. “The house that I was interested in would have been $3,000 dollars and after fixing up the house it could go for $50,000 dollars. So imagine, putting $15, $20,000 dollars into a house that you paid $ 3,000 dollars for—-so now your in it, say, $25, $23,000 dollars, and you just made $25,000 dollars. You made your money back plus $25,000 dollars. Now go back and get more houses for $3, $4,000 dollars and then the money just starts to roll in.”
“What about the economy, being in a bad shape, does that ever come across your mind when your thinking about Real Estate?” I asked. “Yeah, no, because if you don’t sell it in a certain amount of time it can become rental property.” Tyler countered. “Where would you like to get a house, what neighborhood?” I probed some more. “It just depends. South Buffalo is where I would like.” he said. ” Why South Buffalo?” I interrupted. “Tax wise, taxes are cheaper there.”
As we went back and forth about Real Estate, I could tell that Tyler has spent some time thinking and strategizing about the what if’s and outcomes of Real Estate.
“What inspires you?” was my second question for Tyler. “Emilio,” he quickly replied. Then he said to me—with a sense of dark humor—that his freedoms were over with and that all his focus and attention now goes to Emilio.
Tyler had Emilio when he was 19-years old—at a time when any young person would be thinking about themselves and contemplating a life finally-freed of parental authority and familial obligations. For the most part, that’s what I was concerned with. However, Tyler did not have that same luxury like the rest of us. Having dropped out of High School and without any real prospects of a decent job, Tyler was preparing to face a future that was reserved for the very few in society.
Through the years, Tyler bounced around from one odd job to the other—spent 11 days in Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden NY, and got into some nasty fights with his father. In addition to that, he experienced the lose of his one brother, Nick and the lose of his uncle, Dan. If that wasn’t enough, his relationship with Emilio’s mother was also coming to a close. “That could’ve been the foundation for him since day one,” he said, looking sternly into the camera. “….to give him a better start, you know.”
Tyler then added with tears in his eyes, “My father was there but he wasn’t there. He had other interests. Things he wanted to do kinda pulled him away from his kids. Plus his father did the same thing….wasn’t there….to him. So, that makes me want to be a better father to Emilio. To be there for him”
Emilio, out of nowhere, then jumped on his dad and asked him if he could call his mother. Tyler said, “sure, hold on,” and gave Emilio his phone to make the call. Emilio then walked into one of the bedrooms and attempted to call his mother. Emilio’s mother, much like Tyler’s father, was there but wasn’t there for him. She spends less time with Emilio and, on rare occasions, gives Tyler a notice before she comes to pick him up. On the whole her times with Emilio has been sporadic, at best.
Having experienced how frustrating it was for his dad not being consistent in his life—which, in part, makes up for a lot of Tyler’s indecisiveness—Tyler recognizes that without that fundamental structure, Emilio might end up harboring some of the same feelings of abandonment that he had towards his father. From his talks it was clear that that’s what Tyler was trying to prevent. Judging by her sporadic and subpar presence in Emilio’s life, however, it seems like Tyler has lost that battle. Nonetheless, he’s still determined to be there for Emilio as much as possible—to make up for her absenteeism.
Soon after, Emilio walked out the bedroom and approached his dad, saying, “She didn’t answer.”
Tyler stared at his son for a brief moment, as if he wanted to apologize, but then returned his gaze towards me and said, “The whole father thing for me was a blessing. I think it was more less what I needed. It was something that benefited me, that leveled me a little bit. Gave me more of a purpose.”
I have always had my father and benefited greatly from him being in my life, a lot. His presence gave me a sense of structure and direction. So when Tyler was talking about the seriousness of Real Estate, his father not being there and how having Emilio grounded him, It was all foreign to me. However, I still was able to recognize that having those said structures in place could benefit anyone. Which was precisely what Tyler wanted to provide for his son, Emilio.
Without realizing it, I was in the moment of something really special. Originally, and with a kind of investigation to extract all the reasons why I despised coupledom and early parenting, I wanted to inspect how one of us was forced to grow up quickly and how that person was holding-up. But, as Tyler went on about his past struggles and his desires to create a stable future for his son Emilio, and how he didn’t want to repeat the absence of his father onto Emilio, I began to see that Tyler was speaking a language of all parents.
Parents—much like everyday sanitary workers, firefighters, and police officers—-whose invisible deeds and commitments won’t make the newspapers or the history books, but were rudimentarily valuable—not only to society but to their families. Having glimpsed this for myself—accidentally—while I was interviewing my good friend, there is no doubt in my mind that Tyler has transcended amongst those demographics. By all means, and much like other parents, there are days when Tyler feels like he’s not reaching the challenge—of being there for his son—like anyone else. But, no matter what, he keeps pressing forward.
By the same token, it was absolutely paramount that I underscored Tyler’s silent commitments and aspirations for his child. Not only because he was my childhood friend and that I had some homosocial incentive to tell his story and tell it well—which I thought about, naturally—but also because young people like Tyler needed to know that their dreams and existence matters….and that there will always be someone who is willing to listen to their stories.
In the light of Tyler’s past struggles and his current fatherly presence in his son’s life, I reckon that some people would, instead of seeing the positives, microscopically focus on the negative aspects of Tyler’s life. And some may even go further to say that ‘why does it matter and what makes his story so special?’ My response would be; that Tyler, much like the rest of us, is much more than his negatives.
Today, Tyler is now 24-years old, he spends most of his time thinking about Real Estate, dropping Emilio off at school, then picking him off at the bus stop and helping him with his homework. He’s currently looking for employment—preferably, something in manufacturing. Why? well, he says because they pay you well and that the hours are much more stable. In the same fashion, he’s been writing a lot of rhymes lately and also thinking about taking-up Boxing.
At the end of our interview, I asked him one last question—–one that Emilio could not assist him with, primarily because it summarizes Tyler’s lived experiences.
“If you had only three words to describe yourself, what would those three words be?”
He thought hard about that question while Emilio jumped on him, again and laid on his chest. identically, it appeared as if Emilio wanted to assist his father by answering his question for him. Moreover, because the two of them were so connected, and relied heavily on each other for solutions, I could see the mental struggles that Emilio was going through—eventually coming to terms with the fact that no matter how much he wanted to rescue his dad, he couldn’t do anything to help him.
This question, yet again, rested solely on Tyler’s lived experience before Emilio was born and up to the present moment. ” I would say loyal is one,” he started to answer. “Great-father, and indecisive.” When I asked him to expand on his last answer, he said it’s because his mind is “always going….a mile a minute. There’s so much in there that it’s hard for me to focus on one task or one objective. and I go from feeling one type of way about one particular thing that I am doing….and I’ll either come back to it, or say ‘fuck it’ and forget about it all together.” He then added, “I know what I want and what I need but then there are days when I don’t know what I want and what I need.”
By and large, and from my perspective, it seemed like Tyler was going through the same ruminations as any typical 24-year old. And that’s when it really struck me on an interpersonal level; from the Real Estate to writing rhymes and thinking about taking-up boxing, then, to being heavily involved in his son’s life, my childhood friend, since he was 11 and I was 13-years old, has grown up so fast. His ambitions and concerns were vastly different than mines.
In the first place, and as it appeared as if Tyler was going to say something casually related to an egomaniacal nature, he completely surprised me when he said something only actualized from having to grow up fast and being a single parent.
“Thankfully, I was able to build a foundation for my boy. But people have bigger struggles and hurdles that I will never have…out there. Different parts of the world won’t have the luxury of trying to buy a house like I am. To them that may be a luxury, but that’s me struggling to make something happen. and, of course, there’s other people in the world where that’s not even an issue to them. Their issue is the next meal, a roof over their head or keeping their babies fed. So, at the end of it, I’m very blessed. I have a healthy child.”
Click link to read about Last Week’s inspiring person; Pierre Osias, a young writer from Brooklyn, New York
Here is a brief video version of my time with Tyler Salerno
Here is a video of one of Tyler Salerno’s Poetry
Here is another one of his Poetry