For a man whose life seems stable, Larry Danner Jr.’s world once was swirling out of control.
Traditionally, teenagers graduate from high school and college, fall in love, get marriage, start a family. At least that’s how it works for some.
Not according to Danner Jr.
For him, the sequence was just the opposite.
He became a father first.
At 14. That’s no misprint. Fourteen.
For the next several paragraphs I could list the long odds of being a teenage father, graduating from high school, marrying the mother of your children, then graduating from college. It’s safe to say Danner Jr. is the exception to the rule.
But there he was Sunday afternoon graduating from Miami University Middletown with a degree in health information technology.
“It felt like I finally accomplished something significant in my life that would make my family proud,” said Danner Jr., 23, who hopes to find a job in the medical field. “It was surreal to finally reach what I knew I was going to do eight years ago.”
Among those at the graduation were his wife, Donna, 24, and their three children, Mackenzie, 8, Audrie, 5, and Kate, 11 months. After the ceremony, they took several photos to capture the moment. In one of the best, Kate is seen chewing on her father’s diploma while Audrie is standing off to the side, upset she had to stop eating potato chips long enough to pose for the photo.
While Danner Jr. is thrilled to be a husband, father and college graduate, he doesn’t recommend this road map to success. No GPS would give out these directions.
He called walking across the MUM stage “a very proud moment” because he’s the first college graduate on his mother’s and father’s side of the family.
“It’s good to be finally done,” he said.
With college and fatherhood, he said. After having three daughters, he was asked about trying to have a son.
“Three’s plenty,” he said.
When he was 13, he went to his girlfriend’s house because her mother was out shooting pool. He said they had sex once, and a few weeks later, found out Donna, then 15, was pregnant.
“Shocked,” he said of the news.
“Everything happens for a reason,” his wife said. “People told us our lives would be over, but we made it.”
They had another child in 2009 when Larry was a junior at MHS. He graduated from high school in 2010, and they married shortly after in a small ceremony in her grandmother’s back yard. Her uncle performed the ceremony.
Donna eventually earned her GED, and is taking LPN classes and watching the children.
After he became a teen father, Larry quit the football team and concentrated on his studies, his part-time jobs and raising his daughter. He worked numerous jobs while he went to MUM full-time.
“I had to come up with a plan,” he said.
He was 14, a teenager with adult responsibilities.
During one semester, when his car broke down, he walked to MUM every day. Some days he stayed with his father, Larry Danner Sr., because he lived closer to the university.
There was another time when Danner Jr. thought about quitting college, joining an endless list of teenage fathers not to finish school. He worked 50 hours a week at Middletown Tube Works, making $12 an hour. That’s $600 a week.
“Good money,” he said. “But that wasn’t for me.”
So he returned to MUM and graduated in four years and one semester.
As Larry talked, the hallway smoke detector in their apartment sounded and Donna raced down the steps and into the kitchen. Dinner she forgot in the oven was ruined. She grabbed a towel and pushed the smoke away from the detector.
She then joined her husband on the couch. There were toys at their feet, and hanging above them on the wall, painted on a piece of wood, were the words: “All because two people fell in love.”
It said nothing about the age of those in love.
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