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What Now?

Tough sledding, these days. Last July, Northampton County’s Domestic Relations Section (“DRS”) seized my emergency reserve.

Excerpt from Damned Good Sense

The following excerpt of my upcoming book Damned Good Sense chronicles the time I was shipped to Texas from New York City as a teen:

The Wakefield neighborhood borders the Westchester County town of Mount Vernon. By 1983, the neighborhood was in transition. West Indians and Hispanics were moving in and whites were moving out. Hattie’s house was on Murdock Avenue just north of E. 241st Street. A ranch number put up in maybe the ’50s, it had two beds, one bath, living room, eat-in kitchen and an enclosed porch. This would serve as my room for the length of my stay. There was a day bed and my paternal grandmother was kind enough to set up a 13″ TV for my entertainment. Not exactly the Waldorf, but I wasn’t picky.

I was vaguely aware that the adults were having discussions as to whether I should spend some time with my father, who had relocated to Arlington, Texas, a growing town sandwiched between the bigger cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth. I was not comfortable with this. I loved my father dearly and thought the world of his second wife and my younger sister, but Texas? I could not conceive of why they would ever want to move there.

As was my habit whenever I found myself in a neighborhood I didn’t know, I spent much of my days wandering, getting to know the place. My explorations revealed a solid, working class neighborhood, mostly small, single-family homes with driveways and carports rather than garages. I didn’t see many people on the streets but I appreciated the quiet. The place reminded of Teaneck, New Jersey where my grandfather once lived, though homes in Teaneck are generally larger and better appointed. I had overheard that my maternal grandmother was tired of dealing with me. If that were true, I figured Wakefield wouldn’t be a bad place to live. Texas? Not for me.

Troublesome fifteen-year olds with divorced parents have so few options in this country. One false move and a kid could wind up at an airport with a one-way ticket to…Texas. On the one hand, it felt good to be going someplace different. I am an adventurer at heart. I had not been on a plane since my grandfather took me to Disney World when I was five years old. I would be reunited with my dad, stepmom and sister! On the other hand, I was going to…Texas.

Regardless, I was brimming with anticipation the whole flight. I recall that the older white woman seated next to me struck up a conversation. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I was so poorly socialized, I didn’t understand why she would want to talk to me. She didn’t know me and she didn’t come from my world. The idea that some people simply talk up strangers on planes was alien to me, but she was so cordial, I had to drop my guard. I talked up the family reunion fantasy playing out in my head, how I was seeing my dad, stepmom and sister for the first time in maybe a couple of years and how they had relocated from New York and everything. She seemed so interested, I didn’t want to disappoint her by clamming up.

When the plane landed, she and I deplaned together. Just as I told her, my dad, stepmom and sister were waiting for me just beyond the podium. For God’s sake, there should have been a film crew there to shoot a commercial for the airline. When my co-passenger and I looked at each other, each saw a heartfelt smile on full display, eyes gleaming, teeth twinkling. We raised our hands in a universal gesture of farewell, and then I turned to face my adoring family. In my peripheral vision, I glimpsed the old girl dab a Kleenex against her cheek before I threw myself into waiting arms. And the music swells…“We’re American Airlines, something special in the air…” Cut and print!

The Simplicity of Transparency

There were two cars in my driveway last night. This morning, there was one. Collateral is beginning to disappear. Not a good sign.

When I noticed the missing car, I didn’t bat an eyelash. I had fallen behind on the note and the bank did what it had to do; nothing to be done.

September was an active month with the cleaning out of my grandmother’s apartment. October, however, has been a waiting month with hearings and their resultant decisions, hence I’ve watched the phone and the mailbox. The results haven’t been great, but as usual, I take the blows, heal up and get back at it. Now that I have the answers I’ve been waiting for, I can move forward.

Under normal circumstances I’d go into detail, but I know that all eyes that fall upon these texts are not friendly. I’m not a secretive person, but for now, my plans must remain my plans.

At the heart of my secret plans is significant self-determination and, paradoxically, complete transparency. There will be an unveiling of my intentions and actions before concerned parties, but no call for subterfuge.

At some point, the truth must prevail. Not only have I consistently told the truth, I have slowly collected evidence. More than that, I’ve done my part to garner support while not responding to petty provocations. Sticking to the facts might be old-fashioned, but it’s a gamble I am willing to take. After all, my kids are watching.

I’ve always preached to them the power of truth, but I gotta admit truth has taken one heck of a beating over the course of this divorce. No more. I am sick and tired of losing what I have worked so hard to earn for them and for myself. The bleeding stops here.

Lack of finances has forced me to research online how best to help my cause. Fortunately, a number of programs exist to help men in my situation. The challenge is wading through the plethora of information available. For example, a Google search for “emergency help” reveals a number of paid ads attached to “.com” addresses (a tell that such links are commercial come-ons) before the appearance of “.org” addresses, not all of which are legitimate. Nevertheless, “.org” is generally the way to go.

I am preparing myself to, yet again, face the bureaucrats sans personal, professional advice. In the past, this would not be a problem. However, this time, the stakes are much higher, the opposition never so motivated.

Of course, the personal bias of any bureaucrats or court officers involved is a factor, but I will keep coming back with the truth as long as there is a mechanism by which to deliver it.

My motivating factor is love for my children and the wish to teach them a way of life less complicated by distortions of fact and more dependent on faith and trust in others who have earned these. Haven’t we all seen enough of what secrets, duplicity and lies do to families?

How Did Things Get This Way?



No day without my kids is ever as good as it could be. The constant struggle to stay relevant to them has become a mental prison, a visit with them an occasional furlough.

The lack of hope that things will improve given the bias against fathers practiced by the divorce/support/custody complex is a weight tethered to the ankle of my spirit. I feel like I can never be the father I aspired to be with the limited time the kids and I share. It is a feeling I could not fathom at the birth of either child. It is a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

The best days are when I can suppress thoughts of the never-ending battle to rebuild after the needless destruction of divorce. I am able to immerse myself in things that draw my complete focus. Other days, thoughts of the kids, the time together we’ve lost, memories that we’ll never share and an uncertain future assail me like poltergeists.

The situation might be temporary, but that’s cold comfort as Halloween approaches and the theme of the season permeates the air. Even if I were lucky enough to have them this year, I am flat broke and struggling to hold on to the sole asset I can pass on to them, the house I bought to raise them.

Just five years ago, my life was on track and the future for the three of us was bright. I had a healthy 401K and owned a rental property to use as collateral to help with the kids’ college costs and finance their special occasions. Divorce changed all that. Deliberately, rapidly and irrevocably.

No one heard my regular and civil protests that the split could be amicable. No one cared how an acrimonious split would negatively impact the children. There was no attempt to reason, no consideration of a smarter divorce, just an all-out assault on decency by a depraved lawyer enabled by a woefully flawed system. Fine. What’s done is very done.

Yet the drama continues despite my lack of interest in reprising my role. Even as I focus on building a new life, I am still forced to endure repeated court appearances. The next one will be October 26th re custody. I can hardly wait.

There can never be a doubt that I love my children, but I am sick of being told what constitutes that love or what is proper proof of that love. I know how I feel about them and how they feel about me. When we can be together without the weight of the divorce/support/custody complex hanging over our heads, we are fine, have always been fine, will continue to be fine. But that weight is there and will be there from now on.

It was neither my choice nor the children’s to involve the courts in our healthy, mutually loving and supportive relationship. Now, we have no choice. We can only do our best to dance to the beat of a drummer with no rhythm.

15 Years of Hard Work = Nothing

It’s all up to the bureaucrats now. The questions have been answered, the forms filled out and the paperwork signed.

The effort I put into providing a decent life for my family has mattered little to any government agency I deal with. I guess now, it’s all in the hands of God.

Currently, I am dealing with Northampton County, Pennsylvania’s Domestic Relations Section (“Domestic Relations”) and the New York State Department of Labor (“Labor”). Domestic Relations regulates my child support and Labor provides my income while I’m unemployed.

I have not worked regularly since February. When my last employer terminated me, I was granted a severance package which expired in May. I had some money saved up that I intended to live off while I spent as much of summer as possible with my kids.

As of July 13, Domestic Relations discovered the bank account holding my reserve and froze it without notice. As soon as I knew, I scrambled to find a source of emergency income.

My research led me to Labor’s web site. The morning of July 14, I successfully applied for benefits with the effective date of July 4. This was wonderful, but any joy I took was short-lived.

I asked Labor to change my effective date of benefits to the expiration date of my severance package which was May 11. This would entitle me to benefits covering the period from that date up to July 4, roughly seven weeks. Labor denied this request after several weeks of wrangling. I appealed the determination and participated in a hearing by phone October 12. The decision is pending.

This past September 27, I attended a hearing with Domestic Relations to decide the amount of child support I would pay during my unemployment. My support was lowered, but Domestic Relations, again without warning, attached my Labor benefits.

My Labor benefit is $371 a week net. Of this, Domestic Relations takes $183, leaving me with $187. This princely sum barely covers the gas I burn on the 12-mile round trip from my home to the Domestic Relations office in Easton.

The upshot is that two bureaucracies charged with “helping” what is left of my family is actually destroying it with awful decisions that completely disregard my welfare. I am in jeopardy of losing the home I bought for my kids, the car that would transport me to and from work and the car I bought for my ex-wife (which she abandoned, though I remain responsible for the note). I am struggling to pay my auto insurance, utilities, child support and sundry expenses.

I am in the unique position of having one bureaucracy trying to lock me up for not earning enough and another putting a strangle hold on what I earn. The agencies do not work together to help me survive this ordeal, but each works to keep my pockets empty.

The challenge for me is to figure out how to remain a good father with no money, no car and no home.

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.

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?”

Learn more…

Forty-One Years Gone IX

My cousin Gladys has herself one heck of a guy in Curtis. He and I worked side by side to load and unload our rented, 17′ U-Haul 2 days in a row. What I like most about working with Curt is that we think alike. We developed plans of attack together, then executed them seamlessly. Our worst enemy was the clock. It was difficult to gauge how much time each of our tasks would take.

For the last two days of the clean out, management allowed us to work later than the established quitting times. The family took full advantage of the privilege. Without the extra time, we might still be there today!

Friday, September 30, our last allotted day, Curtis and I loaded the last piece of furniture sometime after 7:30 PM. Curtis and I had worked hard, but each of us had just enough in his tank to make the final deliveries.

Curtis’s and Gladys’s place was Stop 1. They live on the top floor of a two-story home with a narrow stair case. This means that each heavy, unwieldly object destined for that stop had to be not only unloaded, but schlepped up stairs and maneuvered into the apartment. What fun after a full day of moving furniture! Fortunately, a bunch of Curt’s and Gladys’ kids pitched in.

It was at this point I first noticed my mother’s mood was less than positive. This was not going to stop anything, but it could have made our remaining time together…unpleasant.

Curtis, the kids and I were unloading the truck when my mom informed me that she needed to use Curtis’s bathroom. I called upon my last reserves of restraint to not question or reprimand her. I knew that the restroom visit would be at least a 30-minute affair. The clock kept ticking.

Sure enough, once we got the stuff off of the truck and it was time to go, my mom was yukking it up in Curt’s living room. Did I mention restraint?

The next stop was my cousin Renee’s place. We understood that, by the time we got there, she would be at work, but she told us her grand kids would be there to open the front door. Renee’s place was also a second-floor walk-up, but sweetheart that she is, she told me we could leave her stuff in the first floor hallway.

Of course, when we got there, I pressed the doorbell and no one answered. I was — er — disappointed, but this was no time get emotional. I called Renee’s daughter Arrielle, who lives elsewhere, and asked her to contact anyone who might be in Renee’s place. Minutes later, my young cousin Corey, Jr. let us in.

Nine PM had come. I had been up since 4 AM. We still had to drop the remainder of the cargo off at storage, then return the truck to U-Haul. They had already called to ask that I bring it back. Curtis was rearranging the load in the cargo space. My mother and I were in the cab. I gingerly asked my mother how she felt about spending one last night in the Bronx.

“No way.”

I gripped the steering wheel and rested my head on the horn. For me, “home” had been transformed from a destination to a fantasy.

Learn more…

Forty-One Years Gone VIII

I bought lunch, but not enough drinks for everyone. All I wanted to do was get back to the family. Everyone was really hungry, it was already 3:30 PM and the building superintendent had given us until 5 PM to finish. Curt ran to the store to buy more drinks. I stayed with the family and wolfed down my food.

The salmon was overcooked and the veggies undercooked, but I didn’t care. From the looks of things, neither did the others. We got right back to business after the last fork full.

It was tough to gauge how much work remained, so we stopped trying. Our only collective thought was to get it out.

The clock crept toward 6 PM. There was still a fair amount of stuff to move from the apartment to the basement, and from the basement to the truck. Our clothing was damp from intermittent rain, but we were too focused on finishing to worry about it.

I was the only person in the group with a valid driver license and there we were with a U-Haul van, my minivan and six bodies. There was room for three people in the cab of the truck. The late hour dictated that I stop working, drive my cousins home and rush back to help Curt finish loading the truck. I did that.

Traffic was ridiculous. It took maybe an hour to make three stops along a ten-mile route. I drove with the sense of resignation that comes with trying to get around New York City.

Curtis had the truck nearly loaded by the time I got back to the building. We still had a sofa and hutch to move. Neither could be loaded into the elevator, so Curt and I had to lug them down the stairwell. The stairwell does not lead to the basement, but we had the super’s permission to carry the things through the lobby. It didn’t matter. We were going to get these things out if we had to secure them with rope and lower them out a window.

The building’s doorman made sure there was no thing or person to obstruct our path. We walked the objects out of the building and loaded them on the truck with surprising ease. The sense of relief Curtis and I felt at having loaded the last pieces on the truck was akin to having walked away unscathed from the Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall.

Miller Time was still a ways off. We had to make stops at three homes, unload selected things at each and drop the remaining cargo at a storage facility. Oy vey!

Curtis and I returned one last time to the vacant apartment to double-check our work. I asked him to take a picture of me before we shut off the lights and closed the door.

End of an era.

End of an era.

I’ve known the doorman for many years. I could not leave without saying to him a proper, emotional farewell and giving that big ol’ lobby a last once over.

It was now 7:30 PM. My mother and Curtis were waiting in the cab of the truck. I climbed into the cockpit, started ‘er up and we hit the road.

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