Defending Dads

You're doing your jobs. You and your kids deserve better.

Category: Rants (Page 2 of 3)

The Verdict is In

A support hearing scheduled for the afternoon of September 22 forced me to take a break from closing down my late grandmother’s home. The purpose of the hearing was to decide whether my monthly child support obligation should be lowered due to my unemployment.

I am fighting a battle for my life on multiple fronts and the experience has taught me a great deal. I’ve learned that it is counterproductive to deny the emotional impact the struggle has had on me. Facing my issues head on inspires creative ways to deal with them.

The mindset I have developed has resulted in:

  • A marked decrease in anxiety;
  • A commensurate increase in confidence;
  • An improved understanding of family court rules;
  • A rising determination to seek my day in court; and
  • The strength to ride out tough times with minimal support from family and friends.

The hearing itself is not much to write about. From my perspective, they never are. My routine is to arrive just before the scheduled time, leave in my car any possessions other than my wallet and critical documents, breeze through check-in, speak when spoken to before the judge and ignore any provocative behavior from the other side.

I did not deviate from this pattern September 22 with one critical exception: Before I left home, I sat down to write what in substance is a legal brief…and prepared supporting exhibits.

This is the kind of inspiration I have referenced above. The idea of preparing my own brief had occurred to me several days before the hearing, but the morning of, “idea” had evolved into “determination”.

The language flowed freely from my brain to my fingers. Considering the indisputable facts I sought to convey, writing the brief should have been so easy. In minutes, I had a document suitable for submission to the hearing officer (the hearing was administrative; no judge was present).

I realized immediately that the facts set out in the brief were of little value without supporting evidence. The beauty of the digital age is that documentation of nearly anything is accessible via corporate or government web sites with a few key strokes. I had found online and printed everything I needed within an hour.

The hearing lasted all of 15 minutes. I submitted my brief and exhibits to the hearing officer, she asked questions for which I had ready answers, I signed the required documentation then got the heck out of there.

Within days, I received her determination in the mail. My monthly support obligation was lowered, albeit on the condition of my unemployment. The hearing officer had made it plain that I must find employment that pays on the scale of previous earnings; taking a minimum wage job will not satisfy the requirements of the court.

As if that were ever my plan. In addition to child support, I have a mortgage, two car notes, insurance and utilities to worry about. Is she kidding? I grew up broke in the Bronx. I would never turn my nose up at lower paying jobs. I’ve simply built a life for myself and my kids that requires a higher income to support.

I didn’t bother to point this out. I’m done contributing to drama that never had a place in my life or that of my kids to begin with. My job is to get these people out of my face and get back to the business of hands-on fatherhood.

The Womb Has Proven Mightier Than The Pen

What has happened to the media? How many new-school journalists actually apply to their craft what they’ve learned in journalism school? Why is it that truly socially relevant stories go ignored while platoons of writers and photographers rush to cover what some celebrity-of-the-moment is wearing to walk her purse-pooch through Central Park? I don’t know. What I do know is that, even in this age of virtually all nonsense all the time, a single person with uncommon resolve and the right approach can bring about monumental change. Sometimes, it boils down to that.

The welfare of my children is worth every abrasive post, reasonable reference, revelation, taunt or stunt or any other price I might have to pay to bring attention to our plight. The American divorce/support/custody complex is a largely outmoded, corroded, grotesque, asinine system that frequently denies involved fathers and their kids the right to be whole after the courts have arbitrarily torn them asunder. It is time responsible fathers of our era stopped paying the price for the deadbeat dads of the 20th century. Who of the media dare to address this topic proactively and extensively rather than allow it to remain the backstory to myriad examples of antisocial behavior?

I know that common sense today is as fashionable as top hats and tails, but the decades of evidence that broken families tend to produce broken people glow in the dark like plastic skeletons on Halloween! The American media need to wake up, pull their heads out of Kim Kardashian’s backside and do their jobs! Start observing, culling data and telling the truth about what divorce courts, judges and lawyers are doing to good fathers as a matter of rote rather than acting in the best interests of kids!

In many states, divorce, custody and support matters are churned through a feudalistic machine where gender, money, convention and the whims of lawyers and judges routinely outweigh truth and the actual circumstances of any given case. That people in position to make changes, including the media, legislators, lawyers, judges and even beaten down fathers, some of whom happen to be members of the aforementioned groups, do nothing to fix this dysfunctional system is positively shameful and contributes to the degradation of the American family.

Given what many young men have seen happen to their own families or those of friends, it’s a wonder any would want to walk off the same cliff that previous generations of men have. Family values are clearly in decline and the punishment meted out to fathers for simply having been part of failed relationships is often excessive and inequitable.

Am I just a disgruntled soul ranting about some perceived injustice, the kind of guy to be avoided when choosing a place to sit at a favored pub? No, because first, I don’t go to pubs and second, I’m addressing concerns that far outweigh my personal struggle. I’m challenging American journalists to investigate the decline of the American family and the alienation of the American father as aided by laws and the parties charged with upholding those laws. This is not only relevant news but a long-perpetuated social injustice demanding the kind of activism that spawned movements to protect women’s rights, civil rights, immigration rights or any rights systemically denied a targeted group in this country.

For the purposes of sports broadcasts and fantasy leagues, a legion of statisticians are making a very good living generating data that contribute as much to our society as, well, Kim Kardashian’s backside. What would happen if the same kind of focus were applied to something that actually mattered, like the emotional impact of court-imposed separations and lop-sided custody orders on kids and loving fathers? What story would 10 years of data tell about the effects of inflexible, arbitrary support demands on fathers forced to either abandon their pre-divorce standard of living or face incarceration? God knows the internet and social media are teeming with the testimonies of dads whose rights are not only denied, but practically extinguished. The only question is: Who in the media will finally stop pretending that this isn’t a national crisis?

It’s Supposed to Be About the Kids


Without question, the worst aspect of modern divorce is the impact it could — and usually does — have on any children involved. As our society moves further away from the paradigm of the American family as established in the 20th century, it would appear that the personal interests of adults have superseded those of the innocent offspring who never asked to be dragged to the depths of the divorce cesspool.

I am a child of divorce. My parents split before I turned one. I spent much of my childhood bouncing from home to home. The little time I spent with either of my parents that I can remember was fraught with upheaval and confusion. For me, “consistency” and “stability” were merely vocabulary words to be studied for homework in fifth grade. Though I didn’t suffer the kind of abuse that might have turned me into a sociopath, for years, I had serious difficulties bonding with people and once lacked any type of parental instinct. As a young adult, I could not conceive of fathering children.

Over the years, the influences of romantic love and other external forces changed my way of thinking. Against all odds, I wound up getting married and having kids. At first, I had no clue how to do the job that nature drafted me to. The learning curve was steep, but I adapted. Not only did I become a hands-on dad, but I morphed into a corporate cog so that I could provide for my young family.

This transformation was, by far, the greatest achievement of an otherwise rudderless life. My family gave me purpose. I took great pride in establishing a foundation for us, keeping us afloat and planning for our future. Then, just when we were moving from establishment to development, the rug was pulled from under my feet. It took maybe 2 years for 12 years of hard work to come toppling down like Las Vegas’s Riviera Hotel.

Fine. As my family and friends constantly remind me, I have talent, health and relative youth on my side. I have a proven history of rising from the ashes. But that’s me. What about the kids?

They have been through the ringer. There is no obfuscating this. Though I would do — and have done — anything to protect them from the emotional turmoil they continue to suffer, the courts have literally and figuratively cuffed my hands. I must tip-toe through a mine field in order to do for my flesh and blood what comes naturally, what is a function of my love for them. It’s extremely frustrating, disheartening and depressing that I have changed my life to be, have been and continue to be a good father, but the only people to acknowledge this are those not empowered to change what “the system” has put in place. Regardless, I will soldier on. My kids are my world. I will never stop doing what I must to provide for them, to nurture them, to encourage them, to teach them, to advise them and above all, to love them. Whatever it takes. Whatever.

Joscelyn and Julien, never doubt me, my love for you or my dedication to doing what is best for you. For me, it’s always been about you.

The Breakdown

In order to work through what some refer to as situational depression or adjustment disorder, with some difficulty, I have trained myself to avoid thinking of the worst aspects of the last few years. Ruminating on the past leaves little time and energy for appreciating the present and/or consideration of the future. I have that all worked out. But try as I might to get on with things, I still have to contend with my ex-wife’s attorney and his ridiculous petitions for contempt, obvious attempts at cash grabs by a career lowlife.

God knows what my ex-wife has to do with all of this, but way after the final bell has been rung, the judges’ decision has been announced and the fighters have exited the ring, this mope is still pounding out frivolous motions on his Smith-Corona.

I am due in court this Friday, July 22, 2016, to respond to his latest work of bad fiction before a judge. As few as several weeks ago, such knowledge might have driven me into a three-day trough, a funk deep enough to elicit from me a prayer for strength. No more. This go-round, all I needed was time to outline every bogus move this clown has made from the outset of this debacle and dig up evidence of each. It took me two whole days, but I did it. I was able to rethink the past without reliving it. I got seven — count ’em, seven — pages recounting all his bad faith actions with supporting documentation, baby. I got the Breakdown.

When I step into that courtroom Friday, win or lose, I pledge to put a stain on this fool’s career that an ocean of Shout couldn’t wash out…and it’s not even about spite. I just want to make sure he is less able to pull his…er…shenanigans, shall we say, on any one else. I write “less able” because I have to figure he is connected with enough lower court judges to never be totally crippled. I want every attorney and defendant he faces from here on to know his game inside and out. Forewarned is forearmed.

He has been in the business long enough, but he is clearly out of touch with the current paradigms of the post-divorce family and co-parenting. After a nasty split exacerbated by the actions of thoughtless attorneys, considering the residual acrimony, it is unrealistic to expect that ex-spouses will play nice, even for the sake of the kids. Divorce lawyers who needlessly do dirt to the other side should be dumped at a salvage yard like a fleet of Oldsmobiles. With any luck, he will do every decent lawyer — even the human race — the favor of retiring. From what I have seen of him, that’s not a likely outcome, but that’s fine. For the rest of his life, he will wear bad karma like one of his cheap suits. As they say, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

All things considered, I’m lucky. The only thing I ever did was refuse to be in the same room with the schmuck. Now, not only is he out of ammo and, at the very least, guilty of questionable ethics, but I’m composed enough to face him. No, I’m not an attorney, I don’t know any judges nor am I well-versed in matters of divorce law. What I am is “just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose”…and armed to the teeth with demonstrable facts.

All Right Now

“These laws weren’t written for guys like you”, said the gentleman on the phone with knowledge of why my bank account had been frozen.

The “laws” to which he referred were those etched into Pennsylvania’s books regarding child support. The gentleman explained that if a dad in Pennsylvania is in arrears, the feds tip off the state to any of his recorded assets, e.g. bank accounts, property, you name it. You think the modern mob is infested with rats? Trust: They got nothin’ on the feds. Once the state learns of assets, it follows up like a couple of steroid freaks in warm up suits employed by a bookie. A man can’t even have a reserve fund for emergencies…unless he keeps it under his mattress.

The “guys like you” the gentleman spoke of are those who are in no way dodging their responsibilities, but are trying to figure out their next moves while single-handedly addressing a heap of financial obligations once handled by two in addition to support. Guys like me need to double their income to live half as well as we did when married. Now, I’ve never been afraid of hard work or long hours, but for crying out loud, give a brother a chance to breathe before pulling a government-sanctioned Ocean’s Eleven on his Plan B!

The gentleman went on to say that if I could produce the outstanding amount within 35 days of the freeze, Pennsylvania would unfreeze the account. “Hmm”, I thought, “that’s a curious position. If I could do that, the state wouldn’t have had to straight jack my dough in the first place!” I didn’t express my frustration to the gentleman; he all but expressed it for me! Our chat was so amiable, I wanted to invite the guy over for a cookout. I really must get used to the notion of the sympathetic state employee.

The surprisingly pleasant dialogue with a government enforcer aside, what I found most striking about learning that I would never see the frozen money again is my reaction to the news: I barely shrugged my shoulders. I’ve gotten to a point where, when it comes to the aftermath of divorce, I already expect the worst. At this realization, the titular tune came to mind. I’ve had it so much worse.

I remember well those days in the Bronx when I got by on a single meal of 4 greasy, over-cooked fried wings with a side of under-cooked french fries bathed in ketchup from my favorite dingy “Chinese restaurant”. These places were and remain ubiquitous in low-income neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. They are characterized by nearly identical menu offerings, drop ceiling light panels that often double as mausoleums for cockroaches, floors left filthy from constant foot traffic and “dining areas” furnished with cast-off tables and chairs. They all have imaginative names like “A1 Chinese Restaurant” and are staffed by Asians who may or may not be Chinese that work feverishly in strictly functional, poorly ventilated kitchens behind plexiglass partitions that could stop anti-aircraft missiles.

Today, I eat in Chinese restaurants where not only can I actually touch staff members, though I dare not, but the menus feature healthy eating options. I ain’t giving that up no matter how much money the government takes from me. Yes, it’s all right now.

Look Out: Adrenaline Rush!

Dads: No two of us are alike. Accordingly, each of us will react differently to the end of his relationship with his children’s mother and the surrounding circumstances. At the risk of dislocating my shoulder patting myself on the back, it seems my reaction has been more or less positive, though I have found some aspects of this mess to be extremely cumbersome, specifically anything to do with court and lawyers. For those with aversions to the court system as strong as mine had been, I cannot stress enough that you must put your emotions aside, find a good lawyer and get familiar with your rights ASAP. I failed to do these things and it cost me all kinds of money, time, anguish, aggravation, etc. Life is too short and you’ve got to protect your kids from as much of the carnage as possible.

It took better than 2 years, but I am finally able to follow my own advice. By simply going to court as I did this past June 24th, I proved to myself that I really have learned to put the children’s interests ahead of my own. In my world, it’s like being a yogi who has mastered the art of levitation. Great day in the morning.

Now that I am over that hump, I can focus more on self-CARE, which is a cornerstone of any dad’s ability to be self-LESS. Time to get back to eating right, sleeping well, working out…and posting some truly revolutionary content to this blog. Just you watch.

The Nitty Gritty II: Analysis of a Phobia

Though some constituents of the American legal system would have us believe their court rooms are bastions of impartiality, reason and justice, too often, they exemplify the worst personality traits of those that run them. This is the basis for my disdain for court.

Pragmatist that I am, however, I know that today’s system is preferable to the anarchy that characterized the American frontier in the nation’s infancy. Odds are that if I dare enter a court room anywhere in the United States today to address a traffic violation, I won’t wind up hanging from a tree behind the court house if I can’t pay the fine —  at least not in 2016. Regardless, I want NO part of ANY court. Period. Ever.

Reality check: Nobody cares what I want, probably not even my kids! But I love my kids. I want and need to be a part of their lives. In order to do that, I need to go through the courts. I need to learn the laws and how they can work to my advantage. I proclaim here and now that my love for my children supersedes my near-compulsion to flip the bird to the court system. I submit.

To that end, I went to the office of Northampton County’s Domestic Relations Section last week. I acted like a gentleman, was treated like a gentleman and took the steps necessary to maintain my connection with my children.

The irony that I walked into that place with the same attitude I would carry into a correctional facility was not lost on me. I knew the rules, what was expected of me and how to conduct myself. My mind was set on two goals: Walking in and walking out. How I came to be there had no bearing on what I needed to do and was therefore irrelevant.

As I walked out of the building, I felt an intense relief. Yes, it took considerable effort and time, but I had identified a phobia, analyzed its source, faced it down and defeated it. I am guilty of no crime and I have quality representation. Now, I’m cool with going to court everyday if need be.

Dads, once you get over the rage engendered by the very idea of divorce court and its inherent biases, you take away her attorney’s most lethal weapon: the ability to manipulate your emotions. Then, just as you would behind bars, you will have earned your respect. Carrying your weight in jail has more to do with mental fortitude than physical strength, although it is definitely helpful to be strong enough to hurt someone if you must. Facing down a big mouthed shyster in a court room? Relatively speaking, that’s a breeze.

Here’s the Nitty Gritty: Get a grip on your emotions, keep your court dates, study the law for your own edification and get your money’s worth from your attorney. If you’re really feeling gung-ho, file a motion or two. You won’t need to get medieval on anyone if you get analytical first.

The Nitty Gritty

Growing up poor often prepares young men for certain less-than-desirable rites of passage. Proms? Senior trips? First cars? College tours? Fairy dust. When a poor kid from a broken family develops the perception that, for him and his peers, the American Dream is just that, his aspirations tend to grow darker, his blood colder. “Hope” is for suckers; “compassion” becomes a weakness.

Not only did my divorce rekindle my phobia of court rooms, it initiated a new one for the receipt of deliveries. Over time, the idea of opening the door to a delivery person holding a court document or even discovery of one of these in my mailbox caused me to break into a cold sweat, hyperventilate and froze my digestive tract! These were, by far, the most outlandish physical reactions I have ever felt toward non-lethal threats. I have literally had guns pointed at me and felt less traumatized.

Many of my peers dropped out of school by age 14. That’s too young to work on the books in New York City so those kids “got paper” (earned money) anyway they could. Drug dealing, armed robbery, gambling, stealing from their mothers’ purses, whatever it took. Learning to commit these crimes and — temporarily — get away with them would be their school. Call this class Criminal Behavior 101: Getting Away with It. That class is finished with a student’s first serious arrest and serves as the prerequisite to Criminal Behavior 102: Introduction to the Criminal Justice System.

First up on the syllabus in Criminal Behavior 102 is booking: Peace officers usher youthful offenders through fingerprinting, mug shots and a background check. If an offender must appear before a magistrate, that offender will meet with a defense attorney to discuss particulars of her/his case, then enter a plea before a representative of the prosecuting attorney’s office. Expressions of emotion are necessarily repressed because they interfere with work. For everyone familiar with these procedures, it’s always just another day at the office, only not everyone gets to go home at quitting time.

From the point of view of an offender, getting booked is tedious, dehumanizing and toxic, and it couldn’t be much better for those running the show. Jail is not exactly a breeding ground for high culture and wrangling criminals all day can cast a pall on even the brightest personality.

In my less enlightened days, I was introduced to the court system as described above. I hated it then, I hate it now. Criminal, civil, doesn’t matter. Court is anathema to me and I’m not alone. This is why it took me forever to get my head around being dragged into divorce court when other options were available. As much as the architects and craftsmen do to dress up court rooms, and they are often quite impressive, to me, they always feel like the abandoned factories used to stage the sadistic games played in the “Saw” film franchise.

Not only did my divorce rekindle my phobia of court rooms, it initiated a new one for the receipt of deliveries. Over time, the idea of opening the door to a delivery person holding a court document or even discovery of one of these in my mailbox caused me to break into a cold sweat, hyperventilate and froze my digestive tract! These were, by far, the most outlandish physical reactions I have ever felt toward non-lethal threats. I have literally had guns pointed at me and felt less traumatized.

Bear with me. This is critical background information for the next post, which shall reveal the titular thing…

Ranchers, Soldiers, Closets and Crowbars

The kids. The kids. The kids.

With all I contend with these days, the three thoughts expressed above come first.

Never the less, I see the wolves at the gate. Once, I simply sought to keep them at bay. Today, I’m like any rancher protecting his herd. I now see the wolves as my prey.

When dealing with wolves, ranchers do not Google attorneys, draft documents or serve summonses. They take more direct and finite action, usually with rifles.

I am no rancher, although the U.S. Army did a fine job of training me in the basics of marksmanship. I have no doubt I could still pick off a charging wolf at 300 meters. Today, however, though I have less use for an M-16 than I might for a set of bagpipes, I remain determined to protect what is mine.

Life — and history — has taught me that violence is never the answer. In our society, a person’s ability to think on her/his feet is a greater defense than an entire infantry unit. That said, I am finished back-pedaling from spurious legal challenges.

For better than a decade, I have been as law-abiding a citizen as can be found on the continent. I mean, I observe stop signs on pitch-black, 2-lane farm roads cutting through corn fields after 3:00 am. So now, when shyster lawyers come at me with boiler plate complaints they’ve filed at friendly courts knowing full well their judge buddies will rubber stamp their motions, I refuse to take food from my kids’ mouths because some self-important schmucks “order” that I must.

Get it straight — I am drawing a line in the sand because it is my right as a U.S. citizen, a veteran, a concerned and involved father and a decent human being to do so.

Yes, there had been skeletons in my closet, but in the interest of what was once my family, I have long since grabbed a crowbar and pried open that door. I gathered the dusty bones within and gave them a proper burial. I no longer have anything to hide.

The trouble for those looking to use a clearly biased court system to extract easy rent money from me is that I was smart enough to hold on to that crowbar. I wonder what skeletons might be exposed once I get to work on their closet doors…or how much more they have to lose than I ever did.

I wasn’t looking for this, but believe me, I am game.

An Ordinary Guy with Nothing to Lose

The film American Beauty won several Oscars way back in 2000. I couldn’t care less about the Oscars, but I love the flick.

My favorite scene has protagonist Lester Burnham, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, meeting with an “efficiency expert” to discuss Lester’s limited future at his dead-end job. Faced with termination, Lester goes on the offensive. Rather than suffer another word of corporate-speak, Lester threatens to slap the hologram seated opposite him with a law suit unless he leaves the room with a year’s severance plus benefits! Stunned by Lester’s ingenuity, the hologram reluctantly agrees to Lester’s terms, then sums him up with an epithet not to be repeated here. Lester then offers this classic comeback:

“Nope; I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”

I was in my 30s when I first saw the movie. I couldn’t relate to Lester then, but I loved his moxie. Here was a man smart enough to walk out of a soul-numbing job with a chip in his pocket, yet his employers — following the same flawed, insipid, moth-eaten blue print that typifies corporate America — were clueless about how to tap into his skill set!

Today (absent the creepy interest in a juvenile female), I understand Lester completely. I’m done living within the limits set for me by others.

While that’s all wonderful for me, it’s the kids who will benefit most. They are witnessing first hand how to handle adversity, shape their own identities and improve their chances at living life on their own terms.

[Spoiler alert! If you’ve never seen the film and have a mind to, STOP READING NOW.]

American Beauty was effective because it left me grieving not only for who Lester had become by the end, but for who he might have been had he discovered himself sooner. The film is a testament to the indespensible value of identifying and nurturing promise early and a cautionary tale for dads — indeed any parents — grown disenchanted with just about everything.

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