Roland Kendrick decided to take on fatherhood around age 19, fathering a child who was not his own. Twenty years later, he has decided to adopt the girl, Imani Francies, who brought him to embrace fatherhood.

It was a night out hanging with friends in Bakersfield, California when Roland Kendrick met and connected with Claria DeBose, his soon-to-be wife. “We spent the night talking and hanging out in the parking lot after a talent show,” said Kendrick. He went into this relationship with DeBose knowing that she had a toddler at home. Kendrick explains that he continued down this path with her even though she was a young mother because they simply “just hit it off.”

At the time, he lived with his parents, and they began enforcing rules in their home. There was a curfew, he was working, and his parents were even wanting their 19-year-old to “start paying rent,” Kendrick explained. So, his interest with DeBose was a way to get out of his parents’ home. He felt that everything that he was doing at his parents’ house were things he could’ve been doing on his own in the real world.

“I think I was pretty responsible at that age. You know? I was working fulltime. Going to school fulltime and [my parents] just [monitored my every move]. And I just wanted to be grown,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick was also okay with the situation because he connected with his soon-to-be daughter, Imani Francies. “[Imani and I] connected from day one. I didn’t know what it was, but I was okay with it,” Kendrick said.

A few years went by, Kendrick and DeBose had a son together, got married, had a daughter together and then later moved from Bakersfield to Atlanta. After a couple of years here, the couple ended up divorcing, but that didn’t change how Kendrick felt about Francies.

Now, almost 22 years later, he is taking the initiative to adopt her. He never looked at Francies as his stepdaughter because he has been the only male figure in her life and he disliked being referred to as the stepfather.

Over the years, Kendrick received backlash for fathering Francies because some felt he was too young for such a task, but he ignored it. He explains that his “siblings and parents were supportive” and that they never made any “negative remarks.”

“[I’m basically] going back to the beginning. I should’ve [adopted her] a long time ago. I’ve been there for [her]. All the times that [she] was sick when [she] was a young child … I was there for [her],” Kendrick explained.

Kendrick is only in the beginning stages of adopting Francies, but he advises other fathers to stay focused on “progression.” He says that the most important thing about fatherhood is being “communicative” and trying to be the best parent you can be continuous.

“I never wanted to look at myself [as a stepfather], and I always felt like that was the title society put on me … unless I had to call [her my stepdaughter] legally, I never called her that,” Kendrick added. “[She’s] all that I know and I’m all that [she] knows,” Kendrick said.