Thursday, May 14, 2009

Being Heard

I love writing angry letters. Once or twice a year, I feel pissed off and passionate enough to write a letter to an editor or a corporation or a hospital or an ex-husband. OK. For the last one it's definitely more often than that.

I heard a WBUR story last week that prompted such a letter. I posted the letter on this blog. The thing that pissed me off was that the story talked about how terrible it is for non-custodial dads when they lose their jobs and their terrible ex-wives insist on getting child support. (Since I'm aware of my biased opinion, I will post the link here so you can read it for yourself.)

The same day I sent my email feedback, I received a note from the reporter, Monica Brady-Myerov. I have a lot of respect for her. She agreed that the story was missing the perspective of a custodial parent and asked me if she could interview me for a follow-up story.

Well, in addition to being a good reporter, Ms. Brady Myerov is a woman of her word. She came to interview me yesterday for a follow-up story she's doing for a national public radio show--Marketplace Money. Unless there is some breaking economic news, the story should air this Sunday.

My favorite part of the interview wasn't even on tape. We were talking about how she found many groups that represent the interests of non-custodial dads but none that are for custodial parents. I told her that there were no such groups because we didn't have time to organize them or attend the meetings!

I did not bash non-custodial dads in my interview. I just pointed out that, as a custodial parent, I would be charged with neglect if I didn't provide my children with food, shelter, clothings, etc. so why should a non-custodial parent not be liable when they don't contribute their fair share toward paying for those expenses.

My interview will probably be edited down to a sound byte or two combined with other voices, but I'm still pretty excited. I disagreed with something I heard, sent a letter that clearly expressed my anger in an appropriate way, and my voice was heard. I love having a voice.

"An activist is someone who makes an effort to see problems that are not being addressed and then makes an effort to make their voice heard. Sometimes there are so many things that it's almost impossible to make your voice heard in every area, but you can sure try."
- Joanne Woodward

Friday, May 8, 2009

Still Sad

I realized today that my MS denial is fading. You can read all about it on my other blog, if you're really interested. 

Dead dad and boyfriend breakup denial is alive and well, though. 

I pass my dad's phone number in my cell phone contact list all the time. At least a couple times a week I see "Dad" and think  "I need to call him!" 

And then I remember and feel sad, and it's kind of like he just died.

I Facebook unfriended the newly ex-boyfriend to stop obsessively checking his status and it worked. After more than a month of no contact, I started feeling like I was OK and could maybe transition to a friendship.I remembered how much I enjoyed his company even with all our clothes on and missed his friendship. I sent an email and really, really, really believed I was just saying "hi" with no expectations.  

And then I got a response that did NOT say, "I love you, I miss you, and I am such a jerk for breaking up with you. What do I need to do to get you to trust me with your love again?"

And then I remember and feel sad, and it's kind of like he just broke up with me.

I know, because people tell me and I really, really need to believe them, that the level of grief that I feel is in direct proportion to my capacity to love now and in the future. I know how to open my heart and that's why it hurts so much right now. But that's why I will also feel that joy and warmth throughout my life.

I was able to repair my relationship with my father. Over the years, in our own way. I made amends, allowed him to make amends to me, I loved him, and told him so and allowed him to love me and tell me so. I said all that I needed to say and was with him when he was alive and well and when he was dying. There is nothing I could/would do differently. That's huge and I'm grateful.

With the boyfriend, I have some regrets but not tons.  I didn't pretend I didn't love as much as I did and I didn't pretend I didn't want to be with him as much as I did. I loved as fully and completely as I could and I was much more present and honest than I was in my marriage. I walked through fears, I learned to disagree respectfully, and so much more that I can't think of right now. I was not the perfect girlfriend. There are things I would do better, but I would not take back the realization that I wanted us to live together and blend our families. I would not take back sharing that realization with him. 

What I would like to change is that he didn't and still doesn't want the same things. That's sad. Still.  

I want a dual grief timer. I want to set one for Dead Dad and know that I have X amount of time left on the grief clock. I will stock up on tissue and when I start tearing up at odd times, I'll just tell people, "Oh sorry! I still have 9 months left of the acute Dead Dad grieving." 

The other grief timer will be dedicated to the Boyfriend Breakup.  I don't want to keep being surprised by my sadness. I want to know, "Oh, don't even worry about it! You're going to be sad for 6 more months and then you will be able to meet him for coffee and talk about your dating experiences with other people."

With or without the time, I'm still grieving and it sucks.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Crying Hour

I had my first session with a grief counselor today. I called hospice looking for a group and they suggested I start with an individual counselor. I think they send you there first because they want to sift out the crazies before welcoming them into the group. I'm going to start the group next week. I guess I fooled her.

I spent the entire hour crying and apologizing for being pathetic. It was incredibly cathartic. I got validation that the circumstances surrounding my father's death were pretty awful and traumatic, that I was treated horribly by my sister, that I have a right to grieve just as much as people from normal families, that all of my conflicting feelings are completely normal, and that I have a lot on my plate what with the cat dying, boyfriend breakup, MS, full-time job, single parenthood, yada-yada-yada.  Apparently, my self-esteem has taken quite a beating and I need to give myself the time and support I need to grieve.

Who knew I didn't need to be Ms. Pollyanna Superwoman every single moment of the day?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sounding Off on Child Support

I wrote this letter to the editor in response to this story on WBUR, Boston's NPR station.

To Whom it May Concern,

I just listened to Monica Brady-Myerov's story about non-custodial dad's struggling to pay child support after losing a job. Actually, that wasn't how the story was described in Bob Oakes' intro. I thought that the story would be a balanced look at how the ailing economy is affecting both custodial parents who receive child support and non-custodial parents who pay child support. The interviews, however, included one non-custodial dad, one spokesperson for a dad's advocacy group, and a spokesperson for the family court system. There were no comments from custodial parents who rely on child support to cover just a fraction of the extraordinary cost of raising children.

Ms. Myerov mentioned that ONE custodial mother (the ex-wife of the dad interviewed) and her attorney did not choose to comment but what about all the other custodial moms AND dads out there who are struggling? Surely, she could have searched a little harder for at least one person to talk about how they've been affected by the loss or impending loss of child support.

I am such a person. I have a job. I consider myself incredibly fortunate in this economy to have a steady paycheck. But that security does not allow me to breathe a sigh of relief. I don't only have to worry about MY ability to earn a steady paycheck. I also have to worry about my ex-husband, who pays $984.66 per month in child support. And, when he lost his job two weeks ago and told me he would TRY to continue to pay child support, I started sweating.

The money he pays is supposed to cover half the cost of raising my 2 children, ages 5 and 9. I have rent, groceries, utilities, health insurance, medical and prescription co-pays, clothing, child care, and numerous other expenses. My full-time job gives me a living wage in the mid 5 digits, but I am, by no means, rolling in the dough. I would never insult the truly indigent and suffering by describing myself as poor. I get by but I don't live large and I have nothing extra at the end of the month.

Years before my ex-husband lost his job, I wanted to file for a support modification since the children's expenses and my ex-husband's income and expenses have changed dramatically in the 4 years since the original support order. (The kids are getting older, camp and child care is getting more expensive and my ex-husband received several raises and moved in with someone who owns her own home since our divorce.)

So, why didn't I file for that modification? My ex-husband has a friend who is an attorney advising him, I'm assuming for free, and the courts have not served me well in the past when I've tried to represent myself. I've allowed that fear to keep me from asking for a more appropriate amount of child support. My bad.

But now I'm really scared. With advocacy groups representing the interesting of poor non-custodial dads like the one Ms. Myerov profiled in her story, I know that I have to have protection before facing the courts. This is why I have opted to use my tax return check to hire a reduced-fee, legal representative who may or may not have the experience or time to advise me. I planned to use that money to pay for summer camp but now I will have to use my credit card to leave a deposit and hope that I still have support coming when the balance is due.

I am neither a victim nor a villain, nor are the male friends I have who are also custodial parents.I have a sustaining faith in the universe that I will be OK no matter what. But that faith wavers at times like these. Custodial parents cannot call and say, "Sorry, ex, I can't see the kids tonight." Nor, can we suggest that the after-school program contact our ex-spouse to collect an overdue payment. We are responsible for being the primary caretakers of our children and making sure that they have everything they need to support their growth. This is a truly awesome responsibility. It is a responsibility I willingly take but I don't think I should have to be vilified for not wanting to bear the financial burden alone when their father is in the picture.

Ms. Myerov's imbalanced report did nothing to educate or inform. It only added to the existing bias that non-custodial dads are victims of the merciless and greedy ex-wives trying to milk them out of everything they are worth.

Next time, I hope you try a little harder to tell the entire story.

Julie Baker