Defending Dads

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Category: Tales from the Front (Page 1 of 9)

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Last Thanksgiving, many members of my family gathered at my late grandmother’s apartment for a one of a kind feast. It was everything any of us could have hoped for, but for me, it wasn’t a party until my babies got there.

Sometime around 7 PM, the kids arrived. My Thanksgiving began the moment those little arms locked around me.

I led the kids into the building to the elevator. With each step we took, I stoked in their minds the flames of anticipation. On the elevator ride, they peppered me with questions about how many people were attending, what kind of food was there, what we would be doing, etc. I was gently evasive. I love to surprise them. Once I present to them the pot of gold I’ve hinted at, the wonder in their eyes is totally unaffected and reflective of a joy I have seldom known as an adult.

The din of our family celebration hit our ears like a sixteen ounce glove the second we stepped out of the elevator. The kids ran past me to the apartment door. I opened it to the sight of wall-to-wall family, the aroma of a home-cooked smorgasbord and a cacophony of conversation, unrestrained laughter and uptempo music.

The kids followed me single-file into the mix. I couldn’t calculate the number of eyes that widened or grins that spread at the sight of my babies. Within seconds, they fell in with their cousins of similar age and were lost to the night.

Yes, it was a night to remember held in my grandmother’s memory.

A year later, we no longer have access to that apartment. There will be no sequel to that blockbuster. My job is to create other blockbusters of different character but similar gravity. I can do that.

My mom and her close friend invited us to join his family at his daughter’s place. I happily accepted.

Holidays held little value for me before I became a father. Over the lifetimes of the children, this has steadily changed. This year, things that had never occurred to me became priority; things like knowing what time the kids and I were expected, a travel plan, renting DVDs for the kids to watch on the way, packing a travel bag with snacks, drinks and children’s ibuprofen and grabbing a few keepsakes to leave with our hosts.

The significance of this new kind of thinking only hit me after I saw how readily received each gesture was by not only the kids, but our hosts. For once in my holiday life, I got us every where on time, there were no last-second convenience store runs, no complications and I brought stuff to keep the kids occupied while I socialized with the adults. Wow.

I am too grateful that things turned out well to be cocky. Successfully managing a major holiday solo is on par with being named Super Bowl MVP.

Even better, the three of us managed to have an excellent time with several people we had only just met.

A very good Thanksgiving. Second year running. Different character. Measurable progress. These are leftovers I can gnosh on deep into the new year.

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The Quest for Cheese

Rebuilding a life at middle-age is an unpleasant chore. This is a fact younger people cannot fathom, my contemporaries know all too well and older people try to forget. One has no choice but to schlep through each day like a lab mouse working its way through a maze to a hunk of cheese it can smell but not yet taste. The key to making it is to hold on to the grain of hope intrinsic to that statement: The mouse can smell the cheese. It works its way through the maze because it knows the cheese is there.

cheese_maze

Some days, I can’t detect a whiff of queso in the air. No swiss, no Muenster, no provolone. Other days, I think I might have a few slices stuffed inside my pillow case.

Cheese is tasty, wonderful and one of life’s great pleasures, but the metaphor grows strained. What I’m after is renewed contentment, specifically, a kind of freedom that can only come from carving out for myself a new career, new routines and new interests. What might the average day of this renewed contentment be like? I got it so cold, I can lay it out in military time:

0400 HRS: Wake up, pull back an 800 thread count sheet and make my way to the bathroom to wash up, slip on gym clothes and head out.

0430 HRS: Spend a good 90 minutes stretching, pumping and running my way to a healthy endorphin rush.

0630 HRS: Whip up a veggie recovery omelette and chow down.

0700 HRS: Blog, pound out prose, do research and promote my work via social media.

1000 HRS: Snack time.

1015 HRS: Back to the keyboard.

1215 HRS: Business calls.

1300 HRS: Lunch.

1330 HRS: Chores.

1530 HRS: Kid time. After school snacks, extracurricular activities, helping with homework and projects.

1900 HRS: Dinner time.

1930 HRS: Kitchen clean up, prep for down-time.

2000 HRS: Down-time. A neighborhood stroll, games with the kids or maybe some TV.

2200 HRS: Lights out.

Just a framework; Google Maps directions to MyNewNormal. It ain’t sexy, but after what I’ve lived through, just a month of days like that would be better for me than a stateroom on a seven-day Caribbean cruise.

I work toward the day when I can make my living doing what I love, taking care of my body and home and greatest of all, being a model of consistency and self-fulfillment to my kids and PRESENT for them. This is dreaming big for me.

Not there yet. Not even close. So begins another day of seemingly random events. As usual, I will exert whatever control I can and, pardon the backpedal, I’ll keep sniffing for that cheese.

The Day Of II

The morning of October 26, I walked into the Northampton County court house without trepidation. The proceeding was scheduled for 10 AM and I stood before the deputies at the metal detector at 9:55 AM.

To my chagrin, some schmuck had gone through the metal detector before me and he had a bin full of God knows what on the conveyor belt. The deputy running the conveyor belt, schmuck II, decided to stop the belt while schmuck I gathered his possessions. As schmuck I seemed to pick his things up in slow motion, schmuck II refused to advance the belt.

I had a wallet, keys and a sheet of paper in my bin.  I could have snatched that up in seconds and been on my way, but nooooooo. Schmuck I and the deputies had to go over schmuck I’s military career. Turns out schmuck I was a medic. So was I, but at 9:57 AM when I was due for a hearing at 10:00 AM, I wasn’t about to chime in with “No kidding? So was I!”

I did my best to disguise my impatience, but I can’t be sure I convinced the deputy running the conveyor belt. Was he holding me up just because he could? When it comes to law enforcement types, this is hardly beyond the realm of possibility. It could have been that I am impatient and paranoid and the deputy was just following protocol. Who knew?

When the deputies had finally worked out schmuck I’s military history, schmuck II flipped the switch on the conveyor belt. At 9:59, I grabbed my stuff from the bin and hot-footed it to the waiting area outside the hearing room.

As a military veteran, I’m familiar with the concept of hurry-up-and-wait. That’s what I did once I got to the waiting area. The remarkable thing was that I still felt calm. I downed a few cups of water, visited the facilities and carried myself like a gentleman.

When I was finally summoned to the hearing room, I spoke when I was spoken to, kept things simple and otherwise endured an exercise in utter futility.

There was a moment that the hearing officer seemed to be gunning for me, but just then, I remembered that court proceedings are as full of game as any routine pre-hook-up negotiation that takes place in nightclubs around the world. When she threw me a curve ball, I simply watched it fall out of the strike zone and waited for the next pitch.

The proceeding lasted about 45 minutes, and at its conclusion, little had changed. I walked in with nothing but an affidavit that the hearing officer didn’t bother to take into the record and walked out with the goals of resuming my life and once again being the father I had been before the divorce.

The divorce has changed my life immeasurably, but it has also given me the freedom to pursue my dreams. I am in the unique position to be living proof to my kids that pursuing their dreams is not only admirable, but essential to living a fulfilling life.

What I’m doing is by no means easy, but it’s well worth it to me and to them.

The Day Of

For the two weeks leading up to October 26, 2016, that date loomed over my life like a blood moon. As of 10:00 AM that morning, a custody conference would be held to determine whether I should be tried for contempt of an order issued two years prior.

At issue were my decisions to suspend (a) communication with the plaintiff and (b) regular visitation with my children. These decisions were based on several factors, chief of which had been the long-established and ongoing failure of the other side to act in good faith and my determination to set my affairs in order post…everything!

I had tried without success to raise money to cover legal expenses via a GoFundMe page. I had no choice but to walk into the torrid expanse of a legal desert without a canteen.

In the days leading up to the conference, I agonized over how best to prepare. The old saying holds that the truth shall set you free, but this had been far from my experience with Northampton County courts.

Curiously, by nightfall of October 25, I felt little trace of the phobia that typically gripped me before a court date. The absence of that crippling dread left me free to concentrate on the conference rather than my intense aversion to the process.

I looked over the notice of conference I received through the mail. It cited rules of Northampton County’s civil procedure. I reviewed those rules.

According to the rules of service, several items should have accompanied the notice of conference. There was no trace of these items. To my thinking, my law review was done.

Having worked for a preeminent law firm for a several years, I knew that my effort, while fruitful, had fallen far short of the standard of due diligence. I cut things off to help manage my emotions. Helping my cause is getting easier, but it is still exceedingly difficult to sustain objectivity.

Regardless, I know that a plaintiff’s failure to properly serve a defendant in a proceeding has the effect of an emergency brake triggered on a speeding train. I was tentatively emboldened by this realization. I drifted off to sleep marveling that I was so at peace the night before court.

At 4:00 AM the morning of the 26th, I hit the floor. Typically, I would wash up and head to the gym, but that morning was all about the conference. I planted myself in front of my laptop and, within minutes, my notion of plaintiff’s failure to properly serve notice became an affidavit ready for notarization and submission for the record.

At the appointed time, I walked into the Northampton County court house with only my wallet, keys, a blank stare, an open mind and a notarized affidavit. I hadn’t bothered to analyze my new-found confidence, but I knew that the truth was on my side and my relationships with the kids were at stake. Maybe determination to do right by them has finally overridden my utter disgust for the entire divorce process.

Defending ONE Dad

The experience of family court had been so brutal for me that I was driven to establish this blog. In addition to giving me a public voice, the blog has been therapeutic, a catalyst to research related subject matter and a bridge to better self-discipline. These are great, but I had no evidence that a single divorced dad anywhere had benefited from the relation of my troubles and/or what I have learned from them. I had no way to gauge if a key objective of the blog was being met.

As human beings, we all seek validation of some form, but seldom does validation seek out any of us. This past October 22 proved to be one of those rare occasions for me. My post about Brad Pitt’s face elicited the following abbreviated exchange:

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Mr. Marshall and I discussed sharing this exchange with the world. He consented and our shared hopes are to illustrate (1) the long-term effects of parental alienation on the alienated parent AND children and (2) positive courses of action an alienated parent should take to combat those effects.

We can do this, but none of us can do it alone.

Things People Didn’t Talk About…Until They Did

Garnering public support to address the social injustices regularly practiced in family court is like negotiating peace in the middle east:  

Read More

My Favorite Two People

The obstacles that stand between my kids and me are so Byzantine that they often distract me from my prime objective:

Read More

We Are Worthy

Initially, the prospect of becoming a father scared me to death. Being responsible for raising another human being was unfathomable to me. My life had been a roller coaster up to my mid-thirties. I didn’t want to bring an innocent kid into that.

Then, a miracle happened. The sound of my son’s tiny heart beat over an ultrasound burst through my trepidation like a charging fullback. Fear and reticence were instantly transformed into profound love. I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him.

Months later, a second miracle happened. I looked at an ultrasound image of my younger child with whom I was already in love and realized I had a daughter. I knew there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

I worked. Sometimes 7 days a week. Sometimes, 2 jobs at a time. Sometimes, 12 hours a day. I saved money. I paid my bills. I built my credit. I bought property. Not only did I want to be there for the kids every day, I wanted to make sure they were well provided for. I invested 15 years into establishing a good life for my family. Then, divorce tapped me dry. Clearly, it had been the goal of the opposition to drive me to financial ruin. For them, it was a question of leverage.

I have reached a point where I cannot meet my goals as a father or activist without the help of good-hearted strangers. No social services agency has $10,000 to help me save the home I bought for my children. No relative can help with my astronomical legal bills. No friend can afford to pay my back taxes.

While I search for suitable employment to help regain my footing, I find myself in jeopardy of losing my home and car. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: No father shown to be dedicated to his children should suffer financial catastrophe as the result of a divorce strategy. The very idea is absurd. My aim is to not only reclaim my life, but to help other fathers avoid the same fate.

I have lost it all and started over more than once, but this time is different. At 48, I have to weigh how many years it will take to clean up this mess against how much quality time I will have with the kids. The numbers don’t look good.

This is why I’m asking the public to not only recognize the plight of good divorced fathers whose lives are ravaged by the divorce/custody/support complex, but to think of the kids who love and need them. I’m asking for help not only for myself, but for my kids and for other fathers and their kids. Single moms deserve all the help they can get, but they are by no means the only single parents facing impossible challenges.

Please weigh my words carefully, then spread them. Thank you.

Forty-One Years Gone Epilogue

The morning of October 1, my phone’s alarm brought me back into consciousness seconds after 5 AM. It took a few more seconds to gather my wits.

My minivan is comfortable, but no one would mistake it for a motel room. Sleeping on the reclined driver’s seat left my joints stiff. Hours of lifting heavy objects the day before left my muscles achy. My tongue was a piece of sand paper coated with dry wall dust. My clothing reeked of sweat and the skin beneath it was clammy.

I had fallen asleep with the radio tuned into a comedy channel on SiriusXM. A comic was doing a bit about married life. Some of it was funny, but I wasn’t laughing.

A glance through the windshield reminded me that I was in a commuter parking lot in Nyack, New York. Dawn was still maybe an hour hence and the temperature had dipped into the 50s.

I thought how other people might think it strange to wake up under such circumstances, but this was my world where waking up on a space station is not out of the question. As soon as I was fully oriented, I turned the key in the ignition and got moving.

About thirty minutes later, I was visiting my U-Haul where I had parked it the night before. I lifted the gate on the cargo area to see that the things inside were still inside. Breakfast time.

I ate at a small diner at the corner of Walton Avenue and E. 149th St. I puzzled over where to put the stuff still on the truck. Two days prior, I had reserved a unit, but the reservation was now expired. No worries; I had my smartphone. A few taps later, I had a new unit reserved in a facility less than a mile from where I sat. The place opened at 8 and it was already approaching 7. Time to call Curtis.

A surprised and sleepy Curtis told me he’d throw on some clothes and be ready quick. Best news I’d heard that morning.

By 9 AM, we were at the storage place and I was signing papers. The counter person gave us an orientation as we toured the available inventory. We settled on an asymmetrical unit with a wide gate for easy access. The U-Haul sat two blocks away. I whipped it around, backed it into the loading dock and Curtis and I set to.

By 12:30 PM, the U-Haul was empty. We had only to arrange things in the storage box, then load my minivan with a few items for my mother and trash, which had become a challenge. Neither the management at my grandmother’s building nor the storage facility would handle it. My only option was to haul it out to Pennsylvania and dispose of it there.

U-Haul had left me a voicemail advising that the truck had been with us 2 days longer than contracted for. I had to get it back, so I left Curt to close up the unit and load my minivan.

It took longer to drive to the U-Haul store than to check in the truck. I was elated. On the walk back to the storage place, I grabbed a couple of ice-cold sodas for Curt and me. At the unit, I saw that Curt had loaded everything…except a single decorative chair.

If anyone thought I was going to let that chair stop Curt and me from getting up outta there, they don’t know me. We shifted some items, made a space up high and hoisted the chair up into it.

Down went the gate one final, triumphant time. Our victory meal was kebabs and hot sausage from a favorite food cart chased by a few shots of vodka.

The hardest part of the job is finally over, but I still need to deal with the stuff in the unit and it’s an extra bill that I can ill afford. Nevertheless, my grandmother’s possessions are with the family where they belong.

Forty-One Years Gone X

I woke up 4:00 AM the morning of Friday, September 30 believing that, by the time I returned home, my grandmother’s things would be fully secured, mission accomplished. Oh, the power of self-delusion.

By 9:30 PM, I found myself sitting in a U-Haul outside my cousin Renee’s place with my mother, cousin and half a truckload of cargo for which there was no delivery point. There are plenty of storage facilities across the five boroughs that offer 24-hour access, but very few take new customers after 8:00 PM, none of which were close to the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. Worse, my mother was adamant about going home. To Poughkeepsie, New York.

There was no wringing of hands. I announced to my passengers that I would be parking the truck behind the U-Haul at E. 144th St. and Grand Concourse, picking up my minivan, then driving everyone home. Curtis expressed concern that the cargo might be stolen over the course of the night. Without a hint of sarcasm, I told him we would just have to take that chance.

We had been so driven to complete the clean out that some critical details escaped my notice: The truck was equipped with a pad lock for the cargo area! The key for this lock was on the ring with the ignition key. At the time we rented the truck, I saw the key, wondered what it was for, then forgot about it.

This night, I made the decision to leave the half-loaded truck on the street with the cargo door unsecured despite the presence of a functional padlock. I wouldn’t discover this oversight until the following afternoon.

Presently, I dropped Curt back at his place, then embarked on the 75 minute drive to my mom’s place. In Poughkeepsie, New York. It was after 10 PM.

There was little traffic, but the rage I suppressed at having to make the trip in the first place made it a white-knuckle drive. I made three stops along the way: One for a Whopper Jr. and two for naps.

My mother and I spoke very little along the way. I let SiriusXM’s comedy channels do the talking. God knows I needed to laugh to keep from crying. Kevin Hart was on. He’s a funny guy, but he barely got a chuckle out of me that night.

We arrived safe and sound at my mother’s apartment building, but there was still the matter of taking her things upstairs. Fortunately, the building makes shopping carts available for just such occasions. My mom grabbed one, I loaded it, delivered the cargo and bid my mom farewell. Mom offered to put me up, but I told her that I needed to be alone for a while. She said “I can respect that.” I didn’t have the energy to read into the comment.

I jumped back in the minivan. It was 1:30 AM. Driving back home would be foolhardy. I chose to drive back to the Bronx.

Fatigue plagued me on the drive down state. By the time I reached the town of Nyack, just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge, I had to pull into a commuter parking lot to catch a nap. It was 2:30 AM. I set my phone’s alarm to 5:00 AM and fell asleep to SiriusXM’s “Just for Laughs” channel thinking to myself “When will this end?”

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