Defending Dads

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Tag: pennsylvania

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.

Prepping for the Big Day

Here we go again.

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Forty-One Years Gone I

No one lives forever. Not even matriarchs. But when matriarchs die, those who had been under their influence are buffeted by shock waves long after the event.

My grandmother Ruby had been perched atop my maternal family tree for some sixty years. She had six children. I am the only child of her eldest daughter, born three years after Ruby’s youngest. Ruby had been my guardian for so much of my childhood that, in the eyes of many of our relatives, I am her seventh child.

Ruby had a strong personality. Her difficult life demanded that. While I understand and respect this, to hone my personality, I needed to escape the umbrella of hers. And I did. I estranged myself from my maternal family for seven years.

I relocated my former wife and children to Pennsylvania during the estrangement. Then, the unthinkable happened: My marriage began to fail. The tension in my home had grown so intense, even months before papers were filed, I was compelled to live elsewhere for a time. My grandmother gave me shelter, no questions asked.

Eventually, I returned to my home. Despite counseling and making every reasonable effort I could to heal my home, nothing improved. In fact, things grew worse. And in the middle of this were the innocent babies I would never have brought into the world under such circumstances. The only family they had ever known was a shambles. Then, the papers were filed. Soon after that, I was evicted from my home…though I was still responsible for the mortgage.

This was the cruelest blow to me because I understood the implications for my children of our sudden, court-imposed separation. I was crushed. I called Ruby. Once again, she gave me shelter, no questions asked.

I stayed with Ruby for over a year as I fought to maintain my connection with the kids, worked, paid down bills and weathered the storm of a needlessly contentious divorce. I could see even through this deluge of issues that Ruby was fading, but I found it difficult to accept. She had been in and out of the hospital several times before eventually succumbing to a variety of ailments last August.

Neither I nor my immediate family were prepared for Ruby’s death. She had been the heart and soul of our family for so long, it was all but impossible to imagine a world without her. Ironically, she had equipped us so well with the tools to handle adversity that we jumped right into that world, strange place that it was.

I moved back to Pennsylvania and focused on establishing myself there not long after Ruby’s passing. I left her apartment vacant and, as I continued to deal with grief, the divorce and sustaining my life, failed to maintain tenancy. I needed to be close to my children. The decision for me was easy.

In seemingly the blink of an eye, a year went by. Ruby’s possessions remained in the apartment. I was the member of her immediate family living closest. No one appointed me to any role. Clearing out her place was something I simply had to do.

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Learning the Curve

When I first relocated to Pennsylvania, I commuted between my new home and a job in Manhattan. Most of the commute was a 70-minute drive on I-78. I’d head east-bound early in the morning and, save for sporadic traffic, it was seldom a problem. It was even scenic what with hills in the background and farms off the roadside up to the I-287 interchange. The west-bound drive wasn’t bad either…except for what I once thought a nasty curve just east of the Delaware River Gap.

Look: I learned to drive in New York City. I haven’t been in an accident that was my fault for as long as I can remember. It was downright humiliating to be peering over the steering wheel into the darkness and slowing even auto transporters behind me to a crawl. If the curve was Moby Dick, I needed to be Captain Ahab. Well, maybe not Captain Ahab…Moby Dick took him to the bottom of the sea. I needed to learn to take that doggone curve already.

The first 2 months or so, that curve was my Moby Dick. It’s one of those unlit stretches of interstate with no visible terminus that inexperienced or older drivers take at 40 mph, especially in bad weather. As a kid, I was kind of reckless behind the wheel. I bet that curve would have chilled me right out. As it was, I found myself hugging the right lane and getting honked at by eighteen wheelers riding my bumper.

Look: I learned to drive in New York City. I haven’t been in an accident that was my fault for as long as I can remember. It was downright humiliating to be peering over the steering wheel into the darkness and slowing even auto transporters behind me to a crawl. If the curve was Moby Dick, I needed to be Captain Ahab. Well, maybe not Captain Ahab…Moby Dick took him to the bottom of the sea. I needed to learn to take that doggone curve already.

Although my life has been pretty much all about taking on impossible challenges, I have to be kind of nudged into action most times. God knows I never wanted to work as hard as I have had to. In the case of learning this curve, my motivations were to shave time off my commute and redeem myself as a New York City-trained driver.

These days, I take that curve at 90 mph…if I think I can get away with it. There’s a weigh station manned by New Jersey State Police just 5 miles down the road. But my battle with that curve mirrors the challenge I face now to restructure my world. Here I am:

  • a single parent who never even planned to have kids;
  • a former office worker who never had any business in an office;
  • a home owner who knows next to nothing about owning a home; and
  • an aspiring writer born and raised in New York City with only tangential connections to New York’s literary community.

If you were placing bets at Aqueduct, I’d be the longest shot on the ticket. I still wouldn’t bet against me, though; nobody’s better at learning the curve.

Jail for Justice — An Open Letter to the Media

I have forwarded versions of this letter to several media outlets. Please share if you care to.

To Whom it may Concern:

It is time for divorce law reform in the state of Pennsylvania. To bring attention to the clear bias the courts show against fathers, I am surrendering myself to the Northampton County Sherriff tomorrow before I pay another nickel to my ex-wife’s attorney, Bohdan Zelechiwsky.

Opposing counsel has a documented history of employing sleazy bait-and-switch tactics to not only separate me from my children for over a year, force the sale of a marital property at an irresponsible loss, but to evict me from my home on four days notice, all with impunity. Regardless of this scandalous behavior, the like of which might otherwise earn him a profile on American Greed, each time he files a motion, the court orders me to pay him.

I am already reeling from the costs associated with divorce and must continue to support my children. How does bankrupting and jailing a single father benefit the kids? If I feed, tutor, clothe and nurture them, provide them with a good home, make support payments and never once stood in the way of my ex-wife living as she pleases, why am I being punished?

In the end, my kids pay the price to boost the self-esteem of a bully who tries to do with paper what he could never do with character. Opposing counsel has done everything he could to defame me, dismantle what I tried to build for my children, plunder their college fund and haul me into court any time he knows I am not represented. Once we are in his playpen, he is free to say and do as he pleases. The judges, with whom he likely lunches on occasion, rubber stamp the boiler plate motions he files whenever he sees a sliver of opportunity to make a quick buck. Meanwhile, I have to stand mute as he lies, pontificates and pretends to be an esteemed officer of the court. If I so much as roll my eyes, I’ve found myself rebuked, insulted and even shouted at by the bench, then stared down by a team of deputies. Bohdan Zelechiwsky is nothing but a well-connected, long-entrenched shyster. Before I cleaned up my life in service to my family, I was a crook. I know one when I see one.

It is high time the media brings to light the plight of fathers routinely raked over the coals by unethical divorce lawyers such as he: Those who abuse the system, those who do the least to earn their fees and the judges who allow these shameful practices to continue. No responsible father, regardless of his past, should be forced to watch a slug hiding behind a law degree and connections destroy the dream he has for his children.

I have bent over backwards to support my family. Despite living for a time in another state, I have been active in my children’s lives. I never abused my ex-wife or broke my marriage vows. This is expected of me as a man and I have accepted those responsibilities, but I am truly perplexed that Northampton County courts seem determined that I end up bankrupt and in jail for refusing to be party to a corrupt system. It is time for change.

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