By Rosalie Tirella
Billy Fredette calls his two daughters “my girls” with the accent on “my.” They are the loves of his life. They ARE his life. So much so that he’ll get choked up just telling you!
In their Lafayette Street apartment he has shoe boxes filled with their awards – certificates for perfect attendance at Chandler Street Elementary School. Letters and cards created by them. He has been on the cover of the MSPCC newsletter, a Dad worthy of cover photos and laudatory articles.When money was tight several years ago, the teachers at Millbury Street Head Start loved his little family so much they pooled their resources and gave Billy’s girls a sleigh-load of Christmas gifts.
One year he prayed that his youngest daughter would be able to get into the Head Start school (the other had “graduated” and now attended Chandler Street), so he could work. She was on the school’s wait list but the classes were supposedly filled. Well, Billy gets a call from the teacher who had Kailey in her class (and loved her) and she tells Billy, “We have an opening.” A special opening. Special for Kailey.
Billy and Kailey, age 11, and Cera, age 9, – cook supper together, do chores together, watch TV together, go to baseball games together. He used to help with all their homework, but now some of Kailey’s modern math leaves him stumped, he says. So he can’t be as helpful, but his girl is still mostly all A’s, he boasts.
“I love my girls,” Billy, 36, says, smiling this beatific smile. Then he catches a tear rolling down his tanned cheek and quickly brushes it away with his fingers. He has raised his girls all by himself, these two, beautiful inner-city flowers. For 10 years! And now after 10 years of nurturing, supporting, guiding and reprimanding them; crying over them and with them; sharing the belly laughs and the belly aches, Billy, a single dad equal to about 10 fabulous dads and moms, is seeing the fruits of his labor.
“I love my Dad,” Kailey says shyly. She is sitting on the sofa in their snug little living room. Billy is seated on the easy chair, showing a reporter the school awards his girls have earned. Kailey is sweet, demure and soft spoken. There is a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, lying on the sofa. Kailey is reading the classic novel. “I want to be a veterinarian,” she says, smiling. “I’ve always wanted to be one.”
Her other sister is in the kitchen, making a snack. Kailey sticks by Dad – she’s the oldest.
Kailey says she is happy. She and her sister now visit her mom on occasional weekends. Billy, however, has custody. He says he loved the mother of his children, but she wanted to go out with friends. She did not want to be a family.
When she wanted to separate, Billy said to her, “Let’s not be a statistic.” But she left anyways – and took the kids, who were very little.
“The she’s living with her sister,” Billy recalls. Then she is moving out of her sister’s and is an one apartment in one city one week, another one, another week. When she and the two girls landed in a hotel – Billy got them. His girls were not going to live like that. He got custody by default, almost. Then he had to go to court over and over and over again – to get legal custody of them.
He says the courts/system are slanted to women. At the end, after years of having the girls and $7,000 in lawyer fees, Billy finally got legal custody for good. His social worker and other professionals who saw how great a family they were testified in court on his behalf. The judge told the girls’ mom: leave them alone. He said he never wanted to see her in his court room again. He awarded Billy the girls.
And Billy did more than get them; he raised them. Raised them while he had a janitor’s job. Raised them as his dad got and finally succumbed to cancer. Raised him as he helped his mom, who lived upstairs, cope with the loss. Raised them as he helped his kid sister, Sandy, who lived downstairs in their three-decker.
“I don’t have a personal life,” he says.
Then he tells them how hard it is to raise a kid in the heart of the city. “I don’t let them play outside,” he says. The Green Island neighborhood he grew up in – has gotten more violent.
“We used to fight,” he says. “Now people have guns.”
One day he saw blood smeared all over the cars on his street. Someone had been shot; the person walked down the street, critically wounded.
The girls play at school (cement playground – no recess). They have a nice apartment. Billy says hopefully he can afford a Tornadoes game or two – maybe Canobie Lake Park. Kailey bounces up and down at the mention of Canobie Lake Park. After seven years of hard work, Billy lost his job after his boss got mad at him for taking time off to be with his daughter who came home very sick from school. “Four sick days in all those years,” Billy says, and his boss was inflexible. He knew Billy was a single dad, too. “
But I just keep going,” Billy says. Things will get better – go back to the way they were. He says he takes it one day at a time.
For his girls.