June 22, 2009— -- In Haverhill, Mass.,19-year-old Jeremy is trying to break a cycle that he says began with his grandfather, continued with his father and will stop with his 1-year-old son Carter: boys growing up without their fathers.
"My dad walked out on me before I was born so I grew up without an actual father figure," he said. "I realized that having my own son ... I can't do that to my own flesh and blood."
Jeremy is among the small percentage of teenage fathers who remain in their children's lives. According to The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, only two out of 10 teen dads will marry the mother of their first-born. It's a statistic that's daunting for teen girls and their parents.
Watch the premiere of "Primetime: Family Secrets" Tuesday June 23 at 10 p.m.
Jeremy met his girlfriend Aliki more than two years ago in science class. She was a 15-year-old sophomore, and he was the older bad boy. Aliki liked his blue eyes; he thought she was hot, and the rest is history. The romance eventually fizzled, but five months later, Jeremy got a call at work from Aliki.
She was pregnant.
After Aliki broke the news, a nervous Jeremy drove to her house to face the firing squad, in the form of her father, Alan.
"Her dad was pretty harsh," Jeremy said. "He threatened to throw me in jail but ... I just took a step inside and closed the door behind me, and like that, my respect was earned." In that moment, Jeremy says he went from a boy to a man.
Alan showed the same strength. "What was I supposed to do?" he asked. "She was pregnant. I figure at this point she needs me more than before she got pregnant. I'll give him credit, even though I seriously would have liked to give him a good ass kicking."
Jeremy moved in with Aliki's family a few weeks later, though she gave him the option not to.
"We liked each other but we weren't going out," Aliki said. "After everything was said and done, he knew I was pregnant. I told him, 'Look, ... if you still want to go out with me, you know, I still like you, if not, I understand."
The young couple tried to rebuild their relationship as Aliki's hormones raged and her body changed. Four months later, on Christmas Day, Jeremy nervously proposed to a nearly nine-month pregnant Aliki. Days later, their son Carter was born.
Teen Dad Juggles Demands of Work, School and Baby
Aliki's parents Alan and Georgia agreed to watch Carter during the day as long as Aliki and Jeremy continued with their educations.
Strenuous. Relaxing. Scary. Exciting. Aliki uses all those words to describe the balancing act of school, work and child care.
"It's the most mixed feelings you could ever get," she said. "It's like waking up on Christmas morning and hearing someone died in your family. There's a whole level of excitement, but then there's that part of you that's like, 'what do I do?'"
Jeremy took on his new role as father and partial provider with determination. Up at 6:30 a.m. and out the door by 7:10 a.m. for a full day of school, Jeremy is at work by 4 p.m. He takes any shifts he can get at the local pub where he is a short order cook.
"I work between 40 to 50 hours a week along with going to school. It took me a year-and-a-half to get from washing dishes to cooking. ... Some people say that I'm not going to be able to do it all the time, but it is all mindset. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything," he said.
"I could cook for the rest of my life and make $12 an hour as long as I know my son and my fiancee or future wife are happy. Their happiness to me means more than mine."
What gets Jeremy through those long shifts -- and any extra he can pick up on the weekend -- is thinking about his cherished time with Carter.
"My favorite part of the day is the intermission between school and work because then I get to spend time with my son," he said. "See him grow more. Learn more things. Being a teen parent, you're still being introduced to the adult world, so you're learning new things as well."
But even with that added responsibility, Jeremy and Aliki still can't help wanting to be teenagers. The tension in the house heats up every Wednesday when Jeremy is off from work and wants to go to the Haverhill YMCA to practice his martial arts flipping.
It's not nearly as easy for Aliki to just go off and have fun. "He does get to go do flips. I mean, when I go out with my friends to the mall, the baby always goes with me," she said. "Before I go out somewhere, I have to pack up a diaper bag, make sure everything's in there, not just bottles and formula. I can't just pack up the thing and say, 'Hey, I'm going out.'"
Jeremy argues that flipping is the one thing in his life that keeps him focused and balanced. "It helps me clear my head. So I get aggravated when they say I can't go flip because that's a week I go without a clear mind," he said.
Keeping the Family Together, One Way or Another
Over the past year, ABC News followed Jeremy through his highs and lows. In March, the pressure became too much and he stopped going to school. Two months later, he and Aliki ended their relationship.
Jeremy tries not to place the blame on himself or Aliki. "We've both had our fair share of stress, mine being work, school and hers being school and home," he said. "I mean, staying home and taking care of the baby can be very stressful, but what I deal with at work can be, too. So I can't really say it's harder on either of us, but she took it better than I did."
Surprisingly, even though Jeremy is no longer with Aliki, he had decided to honor his commitment to Carter and remain living with Aliki and her family. He says while he may have failed in school and in love, his bond with his son will never be broken. That's who he wants to make most proud, and he's afraid he's already let his son down.
"It's not gonna feel good for him when he's older, saying his dad never succeeded and graduated on time and whatnot. It just feels kinda bad," Jeremy said.
With all the hope of a young man who's taken some falls, but hasn't given up, Jeremy told "Primetime," "Losing Aliki has made me realize what I wanted in life, what I needed to do. How I needed to act to be a good father and potentially a good husband, but I hope that I can fix the situation, repair everything with Aliki. But if not, then I'll just try to make her happy however I can."
Despite their breakup, Aliki has nothing but praise for Jeremy's skills as a father.
"There's one thing I can say about Jeremy. He might not be the best student ever, and he might not apply himself, but he's a damn good father," she said. "And that's why he does everything he does. He just wants to see Carter growing up with nothing but the best."