By Veronica Nijamkin and Steven Steinberg
“The Other Wes Moore – One Name, Two Fates,” is the story of how two kids of similar age, background, and community — sharing the same name — end up in completely different places.
The difference between one going on to achieve academic distinction, military honors, and financial success and the other spending the rest of his life in prison for the murder of a police officer illustrates the impact fathers, mentors and guides can have on the lives of children.
Wes Moore, the author, overcame a rough childhood to become a role model, respected war veteran, and businessman. He learned about another Wes Moore, whose childhood was just as rough, and who will never experience freedom again. In 2005, after exchanging dozens of letters sharing their personal life stories, the men met each other for the first time on the grounds of Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland.
“Your father wasn’t there because he couldn’t be; my father wasn’t there because he chose not to be.”
Q: Your father died young, when you were three. The other Wes Moore told you, “Your father wasn’t there because he couldn’t be; my father wasn’t there because he chose not to be.” Did you see the parallels as well as the differences, immediately?
A: Even when I was young, there were times I could tell my mother wasn’t handling my father’s death well, but she was trying to make life for us as normal as possible. She was shielding us from loss and the meaning of loss, though she ended up losing control of her own life in many ways. That was the impetus for her calling up her parents and saying, “I need help.” Her kids were getting older, ready for school. We had a lot of relatives from my father’s side of the family in Maryland, and she had lots of college friends; everyone was being very supportive. But she found something compelling about the idea of going to live with her parents, at the home they had lived in for decades in the Bronx.
Wes’ mother Mary didn’t have that option as a single parent. Her own mother died when Mary was a teenage mother herself, and that death devastated Mary’s father. Mary did what she could do …
As a youngster, Moore, the book’s author, unexpectedly lost his father. After his mother, Joy, became a widow, the family moved with her three children to her parents’ house in the Bronx. When she realized her son was involved in delinquent activities, she sent 12-year-old Wes away to military school. After first rebelling, young Wes choose to eventually think about why he was sent away and reinvent himself.
On the other hand, Mary Moore, the mother of the other Wes Moore, admitted on the Oprah show that she lost control over her Wes at an early age, sharing the challenges of trying to balance her role as a single mother with the necessity to work outside the home full-time to support her family. Looking back, Mary acknowledged that the lack of resources, education and support led to her son’s criminal activity.
“Communities in which children are regularly deprived of vital family resources are far more likely to produce angry adolescents and adults who are a threat to themselves and others. The impact on society, neighborhoods, and children is significant and frequently multi-generational,” Seth Eisenberg, President of PAIRS Foundation, wrote in a recent article about the impact of marriage education in low-income communities.
Wes the author credits his family and mentors for his many triumphs. “I was so fortunate and lucky to have people in my life who… were there for support. They were there to give my mother the leverage that she needed.”
The author described having consistent authority figures in his life as the main difference between him and the other Wes. “That hole that was left in both of us from not having a father there, from not having that presence there throughout to help us to make decisions is, I think, something that both of us spent a lot of our time, particularly our young years, trying to fill.”
- Oprah: Same Name, Different Fate
- NPR: The Destinies of Two Men Who Share the Same Name
- Author Wes Moore’s Website
- Fatherhood Channel: Parents’ Role in Preventing School Violence
- Fatherhood Channel: Helping Incarcerated Dads Be Fathers
- PAIRS Foundation