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The Voice of the Black Community


Proud to be man of the house
Huntersville family embraces dad's role
Published Thursday, June 14, 2012 7:00 am
by Ebony Shamberger

HUNTERSVILLE – Howard Estell is a stay at home dad, a student, and grateful to see another Father’s Day.

Howard Estell, 31 (second from right), balances life as a stay at home dad and studies at Johnson C. Smith University despite sickle cell anemia. He credits his family – daughter Kaesianna 9, wife Jeanette and daughters Amarianna, 5 and Arianna, 7 – with providing support and inspiration.

Estell, 31, isn’t one to pout over daily chores. He cooks, cleans and acts as the mechanic and handyman. In the evening, he takes classes at Johnson C. Smith University, where he’s majoring in social work to prepare for a career in medical social work and gerontology.

And he manages sickle cell anemia, a blood-borne disease that produces a lifetime of painful crises.

How does he do it? Estell credits his wife Jeanette and daughters Raesianna, 9, Arianna, 7, and Amarianna, 5.

“I’m the one who take all of my girls to the doctors,” he said. “I take on more of those so-called traditional women roles in the household. And I’ve always, regardless if I was working or not, been the one to make sure I’m there and doing certain things.”

Sickle cell anemia is inherited from both parents and causes red blood cells to form abnormal sickle or crescent shapes. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body and are normally shaped like discs. The sickle- or crescent-shaped cells carry less oxygen and can get stuck in small blood vessels, which causes pain in the bones, fatigue, shortness of breath and rapid heart rate.

Video/Ebony Shamberger

The sickle cell trait is inherited if one parent has the sickle cell gene and appears in 1 of 12 African Americans. Both of Estell’s parents carried the trait and passed it along to their four children. Estell was one of two to develop sickle cell anemia, which affects 1 out of 500 African Americans. When Estell was first diagnosed as a 5-year-old, average life expectancy was in the early 20s. Today it’s 42, according to The New England Journal of Medicine.

“I’m 31 and sometimes I may have that thought and say ‘Oh, I’m running out of time,’ he said. But Estelle has faith medical science and spirituality will help extend his life.

“I believe spiritual beliefs can be just as powerful as medicine,” he said.

Dezette Johnson, an assistant professor at JCSU’s Department of Social Work, said Estell is a hard-working student with many good qualities.
“Howard is an excellent father who is passionate about helping others,” she said. “He does not let any obstacles interfere his progress academically or personally.”

Estell said support from his wife, Jeanette, a teacher at Mallard Creek High School, allowed him to go back to school.

 “It’s an ultimate sacrifice to tell your husband, ‘You can quit your job, we’ll struggle and you go to school full time’ so I can … obtain my degree in social work,” he said.

Eldest daughter Raesianna loves her dad’s new schedule. “We play baseball and maybe kickball with some of the kids in the neighborhood and eat popsicles,” she said.

Said Estell: “I think God knew what he was doing when he gave me three of them.”

He said when he has a sickle cell crisis they are always there to doctor him up. The kids learned how to care for their father from instructions as simple as carrying a straw to help Estell drink when he suffers pain so severe he can’t pick up a glass.

“They will fuss at me if I’m not eating, ‘Dad, you didn’t eat your sandwich yet, I’m telling mommy,’” he said with a wide grin. “My wife would say, ‘take your father a straw so he doesn’t have to try to sit up to drink.’”

After graduating college in 2004, Estell went to work in retail, but ultimately learned it was not his cup of tea as the workload took its toll.

“I was uncomfortable with some of the things that was asked of me to do, by my own personal moral or ethical code,” he said. “I felt, you know, I couldn’t do what they asked me to do, so I ended up deciding to go back to social work.”

The distance from his daughters also influenced him to change careers.

“Not seeing my kids as frequently as I wanted to, it just really broke my heart,” Estell said. “When I would come home and my daughter would say, ‘Daddy, you’re always at work. We never get to spend any time.’”

Now, they do, a message Estell wants other dads to get.

“Women really do need us to step up and be the type of role models and leaders in the house that we can by not lip service, more so, but actions,” he said.

“Do whatever you can to be there for your kids.”


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