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DAD by Default! - American plays father to 21 Jamaican children

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2016 | 3:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Paul Reed and his wife, Hilda.
Paul Reed
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When Paul Reed came to Jamaica in 1971, the plan was to teach here for three years before returning to the United States to find a more permanent teaching gig in the land of his birth. But the educator found a job he loved, a woman who claimed his heart, and 21 children who today call him Dad.

Reed had no idea his three-year contract at Clarendon College was going to morph into 29 years, but he is not complaining.

In fact, the 79-year-old retired educator feels right at home in Jamaica with his wife, Hilda, by his side. Hilda was the school's guidance counsellor for 11 years before she, too, retired.

"Since coming to Jamaica, my life has become much, much more settled. In the US, I seemed to always be moving, moving, moving, and Jamaica has very much become my home," Reed told The Sunday Gleaner.

Part of what makes life fulfilling for him in Jamaica is the fact that he became a father to 12 children at the school, as well as his wife's nine children after her husband passed away a few years before she and Reed got married. Both were 52 years old when they tied the knot.

 

FOSTER PARENT

 

"I kept on 'bucking up' on these children who were either travelling long distances to come to school, or had problems with uniforms, or had problems with books," said Reed.

"One by one, I brought eight boys into my home and a church sister of mine took four girls for me. So more or less I became a foster parent for those 12 children. Interestingly enough, most of them now, when I see them, I am definitely Daddy. There is no two ways about it. I am Daddy, although I do not have any biological children," added Reed.

He said it was easier to provide financial assistance to these struggling students during his time because the cost of living was not so high then. In addition to providing spiritual and academic guidance, he also washed, cooked and paid the tuition for most of them.

"It was simply a matter of, I was living in a house where I had space, so I just took them in and fathered them," said Reed, who lived at a minister's quarters at the time.

As a guidance counsellor, Hilda was impressed with the fact that the boys who were raised by Reed were doing exceptionally well at school.

"I spoke to some of the boys and I discovered that most of them were boys who had one problem or the other and would not have been able to continue studying if he had not given them a place to live," she said.

"On one occasion, I lined up a sort of interview with him, mainly for my counselling services, and I wanted to find out what brought him to Jamaica, and he told me the story."

Apart from the fact that Reed was her youngest daughter's form teacher, Hilda said their relationship blossomed because they were Christians and would often meet during their lunch hour for Bible study.

Immediate past president of the Jamaica Baptist Union, Michael Shim-Hue, is among those who benefited from Reed's generosity as he was among those who boarded with the educator to cut back on the long commute to school.

Shim-Hue especially liked the fact that Reed maintained a good relationship with his boarder's biological parents to help ensure the best outcome for each child.

"Even though we weren't his biological children, he wanted the best for us and gave us the best," said Shim-Hue, who was a head boy and head of the students' council, and cadet.

 

INDELIBLE IMPRESSION

 

He lived with Reed for only one year, but even in that short time, he said the educator made an indelible impression on him.

St Mary High School teacher Edwin Coleman lived with Reed for much longer and considers him a father.

Coleman's biological father died at seven years old and he lived with Reed from he was 14 until he went to college at 20 years old.

"He played the role of both a mother and a father," said Coleman, who decided to become a teacher so he could give back to students in the way Reed had.

Reed was given the Governor General's Award for the parish of St Mary in 2005 because of his contribution to the development of the parish.

He was at one point the acting vice-principal at Clarendon College, and said he still keeps in contact with the children he helped raise.

Unfortunately, the reality in Jamaica he finds is that many teachers might not be in a position to do what he did because of the high cost of living.

"Things were nowhere as difficult then as they are now," he said.