Brenton Ferguson, single father, ex-Marine sergeant, budding artist, has not had an easy life.
As a teen, he left Miami high school and his football team to care for his ailing mother. After leaving the beloved U.S. Marine Corps to focus on his family, Ferguson assumed primary care for his young daughter — forcing the time-strapped father to drop out of art classes.
Even something as mundane as doing laundry became an exercise in heartbreak. Somebody stole most of his daughter’s clothes from the common-area washroom of their Little Haiti apartment complex.
But despite it all, Ferguson — a soft-spoken man with dimples and twinkles in his eyes — remains stoic. And doting. On a recent day, his 2-year-old daughter Khalonie refused to stop jumping on the bed. Stop, he barked.
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Khalonie looked at him with big, irresistible eyes. “Why no fun, daddy?”
“I cracked a smile and said, ‘You’re right,’ ” Ferguson recalled. “So we went to play at the park.”
As 2015 kicks off, Ferguson and his daughter have each other as well as loving relatives. But an in-unit stackable washing machine and dryer would help. For now, the designated closet space where the machines go is used as storage.
The 26-year-old father works part-time loading packages for UPS. He hopes to catch on with law enforcement. The last time he’d nearly saved up enough money to buy a washer-dryer, his car broke down. The money went to buy a new clutch.
Something else would be marvelous: a trip to Disney World, as much for Khalonie as for himself.
“I’ve never been to Disney,” Ferguson said. “I might be more excited than her.”
The oldest of four siblings, Ferguson grew up mostly in Overtown, although he lived in Opa-locka and Homestead — wherever his mother could find low-income housing. His father was not involved in his life.
Ferguson left Booker T. Washington High for one year to help care for his ailing mother, eventually graduating in 2007 but losing his final year of football eligibility. In his senior year, Ferguson was walking to a bus stop near school, a military camouflage backpack slung across his back, when an old Pontiac G6 pulled up.
A Marine recruiter poked his head out. “What do you know about that backpack?”
Ferguson struck up a friendship with the recruiter. The idea of a foundation forged in the military appealed to him.
The teen’s life felt uneasy. His 15-year-old cousin had recently been shot to death. Several friends had also been shot on the streets. He joined up.
“It shook me up,” said Ferguson’s mother, Dedra Brown, 48. “But it was the best decision he could have done for himself. He got stability, structure, all those things I couldn’t teach him in terms of being a man.”
Soon enough, Ferguson was in boot camp. In the Marines, Ferguson became a radio operator with the famed 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Division.
He served in Afghanistan and also aboard naval ships stopping in Africa — a world away from the streets of Overtown.
In 2011, Ferguson left the Marines to be with his wife, his high school sweetheart. It’s a decision he still wrestles with. “I miss it. I felt like I had a foundation,” Ferguson said.
Soon after returning to Miami, Ferguson’s wife got pregnant. But their relationship fizzled. Today, they remain separated and living apart, though they both split time caring for Khalonie.
“He’s so good with her,” Brown said. “He’s an amazing father.”
Inside their threadbare Little Haiti apartment, Khalonie zooms through the living room on a blue scooter boasting flashing lights and cartoon characters from the Disney movie Frozen.
Khalonie loves princesses. Elsa of Frozen is her favorite. Khalonie fidgets with his phone, then implores her dad to read to her a mini-size picture Disney book.
“What’s that?” he asks.
“A horsey,” she replies.
Moments later, Khalonie finds a comb, hops on the couch and brusquely begins styling his hair, occasionally scraping his face. “OK, you can do my hair,” Ferguson relents.
The young father smiles: “God sent me my daughter to humble me.”
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