Lee Payne has had a lot of sleepless nights the last few years. But the husband and father of seven has no complaints. Working the wee hours of the night as a bus driver for CTA, Payne, on only a few hours of sleep after his 2 a.m. shift ends, is up at sunlight to take his five kids to school.
“It certainly can get tough,” said Payne, married to wife, Shavoka, for 13 years. “However, the arrangement we have allows both of us to spend time with the kids, as well as, have that time for ourselves. Through the grace of God we make it work.”
His wife works as a cashier, and the family currently lives in Humboldt Park. Five of Payne’s seven pre-teens attend Catalyst-Circle Rock School in Austin. On Tuesday, the 40-year-old went up to the school, 5608 W. Washington, he said, just to check on this kids. Despite Payne’s and his wife’s work schedules, he’s managed to balance his home life with his job. Payne’s day usually begins with him waking the children up to begin the day.
“Usually my wife is at work when it’s time for the children to start getting ready for school, so usually I get them up, get them washed up, fix them breakfast and ensure their homework is done before dropping them off,” he said. “I don’t usually get more than three or so hours of sleep a night, but hey, those are the sacrifices you make for your family.”
With so many issues and negative images facing black men and black fathers, Payne may be unique. But then again, maybe he’s not the exception to the given rule. Payne says some black men in the community have “lost grasp of their manhood,” and the black community has too many neglectful fathers to contend with.
“I’ve been a CTA bus driver for four-and-a-half years and I see it every day from some of my passengers,” he said, recalling one incident involving a couple who got on his bus, the female struggling to get the baby stroller on the bus without the male’s assistance.
Lee called the man out on the “un-chivalrous maneuver,” informing him it did not make him look very favorable. “I was like, ‘Why would you let your woman struggle with the stroller without offering assistance?’ To me, there is a type of lax attitude that some men have that prevents them from seeing these things. It can be disheartening.”
Payne grew up in Indianola, Miss. with his mother, a homemaker, and step-father, who was a plumber. Payne said he was fortunate to have positive male influences, like his step-dad, during his formative years.
“I really didn’t have a relationship with my biological father growing up, but my step-father stepped in and really taught me a lot about manhood and sacrificing for the good of the family. He instilled in me the tools that I wanted to bring to my household once I was married.”
After attending Gentry High School and then Mississippi Delta Junior College, where he studied printing, Payne moved to Chicago for greater employment opportunities. He worked as a retail assistant manager, and during one of his quick lunch stops at Church’s Chicken, he met a young female cashier who caught his attention.
“Well, I had just gone in to get a two-piece dinner and I met Shavoka. I was pretty smitten,” he recalled. “I asked her out and we married a few months later. It didn’t take me long to realize she was the one.”
There are challenges attached with having such a large family, Payne admits, especially in the current economic climate. Money is often so tight many of his personal wants have to be placed on hold.
“I may go past a store window and see a suit that I want and have to say to myself ‘No, I have to wait. Or we may not be able to eat out as often as I would prefer, but it is part of the process of doing what you must.”
About every three months, the couple tries to take time for just each other, said Shavoka, 32, when they can leave the children with their “exceedingly patient” babysitter. She credits her husband with working so hard for the family. “We work well with each others’ schedules and that allows us to have time for each other, work and the kids. If I am getting home later in the afternoon he picks the kids up and fixes dinner. Actually he cooks more than I do,” she said. “The fact that we have that understanding is how we make our marriage work.”