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Driven by the fear of being a deadbeat
I was recently working on a project with another young dad, who also has a three-year-old daughter. We talked about traveling, missing our kids, and how -- especially at this age -- children seem noticeably older if you don't see them for a week.
But I hardly ever travel. The only reason I know what it's like to miss my kid is because, until recently, I only saw her on weekends.
So I had to explain why that is -- the same way I have to explain it to all the parents I meet. I always try to relay the story to these relative strangers without emotion -- as if I wasn't painfully aware of the social monster I was supposed to be.
A coward, a quitter, or just an unbearable a**hole -- because a normal, caring father would never let his family fall apart.
* * *
When you're a potential deadbeat, your relationship to your child isn't official until it's outlined in confusing legalese.
For that, you go to your local Attorney General's office. It's not in a courthouse, or some official-looking legislative outpost, but in a faceless office building -- the kind of place you'd find the Department of Motor Vehicles (or the training center for a nearby real estate college). And, like at the DMV, you avoid small talk, awkwardly awaiting your turn as you repeatedly read the poorly-hung, fear-mongering government posters.
In this case, it's a list of the Top Ten Most Wanted Child Support Evaders, followed by a more emotional declation of why it's important to pay child support (for your child's sake), and a third poster outlining how you can effectively pay said child support (presuming you were convinced by the first two documents).
When you're not reading, you can eavesdrop on the nearby conversation between a young man and an office employee, who's politely but firmly explaining to him that, because he didn't pay child support, and he failed to appear in court, there's now a warrant out for his arrest.
You finally see a counselor, who could give a rat's ass about you or your kid, because this is their job, and they do it every day for 9 hours so they can feed their family and have health insurance. They work out how much you owe, get you to sign some forms, and then re-iterate the basics:
"If you don't pay child support, we will come after you, and put you in jail. If she doesn't provide you access to the child, we won't come after her -- you'll need to get a lawyer. But even if that happens, you still have to pay."
Because, let's be honest, that's all you'll ever be good for, deadbeat.
* * *
More recently, I was explaining to a friend of mine the now emotionless story of how I became a separated parent. When I told her the part about moving to Texas (to ensure I'd have at least some relationship with my child), she told me it was "noble."
But that's not how it felt -- in fact, at the time it seemed like I was grasping at straws. I was desperately chasing speculation, head down, charging forward without stopping to think -- because, if I had stopped, I almost certainly would've turned back. I was clinging to my responsibility -- hating everyone who told me I shouldn't, and petrified at the person I'd become if I let myself walk away.
Even now, long after that first stomach-churning meeting at the AG's office, there's a little voice of doubt that pushes me to spend more time with Edan -- to have more fun, to impart more wisdom, to a be a better parent.
So much so, that sometimes I worry that I'm driven by the fear of being a deadbeat.
And I say this knowing that there are countless divorced or separated parents who actively participate, and are essential to their children's lives. The idea that our families -- just because they're split into multiple households -- are "broken," is outdated, archaic, and just plain wrong.
I don't believe in the myth -- and I certainly don't want to parent in fear of it.