Welcome back. This is a writing process – it’s like the alleyway behind the fancy restaurant, where the dishwashers gather to smoke spleefs and drunk wedding guests bang each other by the dumpster. You’re welcome to hang out and see what happens, you can comment, you can witness, you can share, but don’t interrupt me by telling me what you’d rather read. Especially don’t tell me not to be so angry or bitter, because we writers have to get through shit, sift through the turds, pick some out, polish them, then crush them into the carbonized diamond that is the finished book.
Now, I want you to know that there is a reason for shit. Even if, mid-shit, you are wailing into the air wondering what the reason for all this is, as I did. Because I could not put it together. I kept asking, often out loud, what was the lesson here? I was a good mother, loved my daughter, provided for her. I didn’t drink, do drugs, fuck around, anything. Often while I was asking this out loud, it was directed at the social worker trying to take me from my child.
“Please, I love my daughter,” I’d cry.
“This isn’t about you,” she’d cooly reply, eyes like Formica.
Today those words detonate in my ears AS SUCH A FUCKING LIE. If you are ever the object of a campaign like this, driven by a young, incompetent officer of the court like this, who obviously has both a bias and an agenda and who obviously doesn’t mind lying to the judge, then it’s all about you, and this person doesn’t give a single moldy shit about your kid. To take a statement like the above — a fucking plea, from a fucking mother — and twist it to fit your campaign is goddam demonic.
Again I was not the person then that I am now. Now I am older, stronger, angrier and, most important, not afraid. Then I was terrified. I could not understand why a social worker had tried to take me from my child, and in the wake of staving that off I was left paying a staggering monthly ransom and facing an abuser who was now so emboldened by this social worker’s adoration of him he was doing everything he could to interfere with my livelihood – contacting my clients, readers, editors, publishers, producers, studio executives to tell them, falsely, that a judge had found me unfit as a mother. Sometimes these people let me know of the barrage of disparaging propaganda, but often they simply decided to overlook my bid for work in favor of someone else who didn’t come attached to a wack-ass wingnut whose full-time job, it seemed, was to vilify me in the eyes of my audience.
I know it seems ironic that the person to whom I paid all this money every month did what he could to keep me from making the money to pay him every month, but you have to consider values, here. This man valued the humiliation I endured paying him this money every month more than the actual money I paid him every month. And just think – oh my God, just think – how delicious it would have been if I wasn’t able to make those payments. The humiliation of having to go back to court to answer for this inability to pay, that scenario seemed to be irresistible to this person. So he did everything he could to interfere with my means to make those payments. Because, you know, people go to jail for missing child support. All this time he’d been telling everyone I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, mentally unstable, you name it – and here I’d come close to losing my daughter, I mean what better evidence to back up all these rumors than to have my ass thrown in jail?
So not only did I never miss a single payment, I was never late. I paid that ransom first before mortgage, groceries, utilities, you name it. And don’t forget I still had physical custody of my girl throughout all of this. She spent more time with me than she did with her dad, the man who took this money from us. So he got paid first, and with the pittance that remained I’d take my girl to EATS to share a vegetable plate.
Whenever a producer who had been contacted by my ex came to me and and asked me to “explain myself,” as though paying child support were something to be ashamed of, I always answered, “I am proud to provide for my child, and if what I pay her father enables him to spend almost as much time with her as I do, then I’m honored to do it.”
That worked pretty well, and I recommend this approach to anyone in a similar situation. Because, people, it does not help to defend yourself. Defending yourself just makes you look guilty — like how not drinking makes you look like an alcoholic. It’s just how things are in our fucked-up, internet-truth, lazy meat-sack society. Often the truth is not better served by shouting it in people’s faces. Often the truth is better served by simply being a quiet and reliable example of it for years and years — and in a case like this these years will be the hardest years of your life.
Eventually I learned to pre-empt my ex’s harassment by simply telling any new producers and publishers working with me, right out front, “Look, you should know I am dealing with a stalker situation. So if you receive any communication from anyone claiming to have sole custody of my child, please don’t respond and forward all correspondence to me immediately so I can notify the authorities.”
During this time, I became obsessed with movies in which the main character was underestimated and came back to kick the shit out of everyone. To this day I love the movie Haywire, and I loved to rewatch Poltergeist, in which the mother character was all, Fuck you, Satan! Don’t fucking dare fuck with my kids! I even repeatedly watched The Excorcist, a movie that terrorized the holy crap out of me to the point I could never even get to the end of it when I was a kid. But once I watched it while relating to the mother character in the story, it was a story of fucking triumph. Satan had nothing on a mother. Fuck Satan! The Long Kiss Goodnight with Gina Davis? Love it! And this episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine, called “Sad Dad.” And Spy with Melissa McCarthy? I could watch that on an endless loop. In fact, I’m watching it right now. I keep it running like visual and audible wall paper. I love that movie so much.
Because here’s the thing; I got tricked by a terrible person pretending to have my daughter’s welfare at heart, the result of which created a loophole that allowed my ex to go back, post-divorce, and hoover any money he didn’t get the first time around. (I promise you, I will detail the magic formula soon, but beware it involves lots of lying). So after that it became imperative that I fucking focus on my values. Like what did I value more than anything in the world? Of course the answer to that is – well I think you know the answer to that is my daughter. The contract for the Hollywood film rights? I made sure it didn’t require I move to LA in order to fulfill. That job opportunity as editorial director for a television channel in New York? Unless I could commute from Atlanta and work it during my ex’s three consecutive days a week, that will have to be a no. Because I wasn’t going to “be out of the picture” when it came to my kid, especially since that’s what my ex was telling everybody I was.
Like when he enrolled our girl in a strange elementary school without telling me. By the way, this is something he liked to do a lot, enroll our daughter in schools without telling me, then show up at those schools holding her hand and being the “sad dad” left to raise his daughter on his own, the mother having been found unfit by a judge and now “out of the picture.” Once, after Googling my daughter’s name (a minimum-maintenance internet safety measure all parents should do regularly), I discovered she’d been enrolled in a middle school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I actually flew there to walk into that school’s administrative office myself, because what the fuck?
After some firm persuasion — because I was only the child’s custodial parent and all, why should I have access to my kid’s file or anything? – I finally got a copy of my daughter’s enrollment form, and on it, under “mother,” was the name of my ex’s new girlfriend. It turned out they were planning to move out there together, and I guess they’d forgotten my daughter wasn’t a piece of furniture they could pack up and take with them.
But the first time he did it, enroll our girl in a strange school without telling me, I didn’t learn about it until I contacted her dad to say it was time to enroll her in the school we’d detailed in our custody agreement, to which he replied, “I already enrolled her in this other completely different school a few blocks away from me. You didn’t know?” No, I didn’t fucking know. And since he’d enrolled her without giving them my contact information, there really wasn’t any way for me to know, because what father signs a custody agreement in which it clearly states his daughter will go to one elementary school, only to secretly enroll her in another?
I didn’t find out until he’d spent considerable time with her there at the school, showing up at summer socials and whatnot, new-student parent gatherings, holding her hand, the sad dad with the adorable daughter whose “mother was no longer in the picture.” When he enrolled our daughter there he’d volunteered to the administrator a copy of just the child-support portion of the judge’s decision — which is weird enough, because why should the school have to give a shit about what the parents pay each other? But ,you know, he had subtracted all the other pages that would have shown I was a custodial parent and that we shared custody. On the enrollment form, under the mother’s information, he had given the school an incorrect address and phone number.
I know what you’re thinking; Back to court! Sue! Sue! Sue! But I swear to you, the judge would have been furious if this came back before the court. Not furious at my ex, but at me for digging in my heels and putting “principle” at a precedent over my daughter’s well-being. Because, and this is true, the court sees it as your responsibility to protect your child’s stability at all costs, even against the stupid decisions of your co-parent. I have seen horrible parents get custody of their kids because the kinder parent failed to protect them from the horrible one. Get it? The argument was presented thusly: If the kinder parent didn’t have the emotional strength to protect the kid from the horrible parent, then how can the kinder parent possibly shield the children in the future from other horrible people? Especially if the kinder parent has a pattern of getting involved with horrible people, even if that pattern consists of just one person; the horrible parent now making the argument. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the horrible parent has gone and officially apologized and all, and admitted wrongdoing, so this means the horrible parent has “changed,” get it? So, between the two parents, the judge gives custody to the “changed” parent. It doesn’t make sense, but Family Law World is not a sensible place, it’s a dangerous place and you should do all you can to keep your kids away from it.
So, long story longer, I decided, Jesus fuck, I guess my daughter is going to start school at this other school instead. So I visited there with her one day to check it out, because I’d never even been and my kid was set to begin class there in a few weeks.
I tell you, when I entered the administration office, the poor lady at the desk didn’t seem to know what to do when I showed up acting like a normal parent asking normal questions — with my daughter no less, unsupervised. Or correction: She must not have known the right thing to do. Because the right thing would have been to just show me my daughter’s file. What she did instead was call my ex. Then my ex in turn called me while I was there and berated me for throwing a kink into his carefully cultivated image of “Sad Dad Who Stepped Up to Raise his Daughter on His Own Because the Mother was Out of the Picture.” I just remember actually hearing sentences like this come from my mouth: “It’s a cooperative charter school, for God’s sake! The parents are expected to be involved! Of course I’m going to show up here.”
When I finally was able to look at my girl’s file, aside from the incomplete decree and the incorrect contact information, my ex had provided an enrollment form stating that our daughter came from a “single parent” family. Back then they still used the term “broken family” in an official sense, like on school forms and things, which is a terrible way to describe a kid’s family just because her parents aren’t married. Anyway, to this day I still feel really bad for the teachers and administrators at this small charter school, because my ex really did his best to railroad them, and at first they didn’t know what to make of us. (I came up with a magic formula of my own on how to deal with this, which I’ll disclose later.)
Looking back I recall myself as being so saint-like in the face of all this, hands folded neatly during the school’s daily morning meetings, so accommodating and nice I was, never raising my voice, never stepping over any lines, never being inappropriate, always clearly having my daughter’s needs at a priority. But I know that is not how others may recall me. But I tried, people. I swear I fucking tried.
I’m pretty sure my girl’s dad picked this school because it was new, the parents who ran it were good-hearted people with admirable objectives, and, most important, they had zero experience dealing with a situation like ours, so obviously my ex thought it would be easy to manipulate them and enlist them in his harassment campaign. And at first it worked. They didn’t know not to be scared when some lunatic showed up waving a meaningless piece of paper claiming it gave him the power to sue them if they dared treat me as though I had the same rights as the other parents.
Well, listen, people, all divorce decrees are court orders that contain a judge’s signature. So imagine how crazy it would be to take one of these mundane documents and wave it around as though it were some scary court order deeming someone the power to impose on the rights of another? That would be like some asshole waving around his driver’s license claiming it was a government-issued decree that cleared him to commandeer your vehicle.
Well, whaddoya know, it turns out it’s kind of effective, this bombastic waving around of meaningless papers while claiming they mean something they don’t, because people don’t read, remember? They just see the judge’s signature and figure they better do what the crazy man says they should do or they’ll be breaking a court order.
For example, the teachers took “informal” attendance by having a family gathering in the auditorium each morning, where the parents are updated on school news and events, and then the kids go off to their respective classrooms to start their school day. But in the World of Family Law, records and paper trails rule the land, and my ex wanted a record showing I was bringing my girl to school late.
So what to do when you live in Family Law World and your child’s elementary school is a sweet-natured charter school that isn’t that regimented, record-wise, when it comes to marking tardiness? You do what my ex did: You stand at the opening of the auditorium ever day, monitor the arrival of your ex and child, decide their arrival was tardy (it wasn’t), then complain to the school that the child was not marked tardy. That way, if you can’t get a record of your ex bringing the child to school tardy, at least you have a record of you complaining that the kid was not marked tardy when you thought she should have been. See? It doesn’t even have to be the truth. It just needs to be a “record.” Family Law World thrives of records.
That is why, when you find yourself a parent living in the real world, while your child’s other parent is living in Family Law World, you are faced with certain struggles. And for the sake of your kid you need to figure out how to exist in both worlds. There is no time for crying or bitching that things are unfair – shut that shit down and fucking figure out the game board you’re standing on.
For example, if you’re a mother, you’re probably at a disadvantage because courts are in love with the idea of “going against the grain” and awarding custody to fathers, even if your kid is still fucking breastfeeding. Courts foam at the mouth and fall all over each other to appear progressive like that. So stop bitching about how unfair everything is and get it together for your kids’ sake. And it does not help if you get remarried . . . unless! you have another child with the new husband. Being the parent of a half-sibling puts things in your favor. But if you pop out a sprogette just to dick your ex out of custody, you’re kind of a cunt. But whatever, I told you I’d provide the magic formulas, what you do with them is the corrosion of your own karma.
If you’re a father, you need to know that if you fight for custody you will win 70 percent of the time. So fight if you really want it, because you will be awarded at least shared custody, and shared custody commonly means you won’t have to pay child support (it didn’t mean that in my case, but more on that later). So for Godsakes stop complaining that you had no choice but to turn over custody because you didn’t stand a chance just because you don’t possess a vagina. That’s bullshit and your kids will figure it out eventually and hate you for it. So my advice is to not fight if all you want is to get out of paying child support, or, do this not-uncommon dick move: Agree to shared custody with no child support, then dump the kids on the mother most of the time, showing up maybe every other weekend just like a normal visitation schedule. Your ex will be too terrified from her last experience in court to do anything about it.
And also, beware to you single fathers who remarry, because this could be a double-edged sword. Just make sure your new wife isn’t a fucking fishwife who will rub the court the wrong way or something. Because if that happens, she will overshadow your shiny single-sad-dad status with her “bad mother” status, and believe me, it takes almost nothing for family court to toss a woman into the bad-mother dumpster – she doesn’t even have to be a mother, for chrissakes.
One mistake single dads often make when petitioning for more custody is to remarry thinking that alone will garner them favor in the eyes of a family-court judge. Wrong. If custody is your true goal, stay single, sad, pathetic, and it pays, too, if you can convince the officers of the court that you are still in love with the wife who rejected you.
(Okay here’s a tip, one way my ex did this was to tell our guardian ad litem that he still set a plate for me at the dinner table on each of his custodial nights, telling our daughter, “Your mother can always come back if she wants.” This was over a year after our separation. First, how fucked up is it to set an empty place at the table? That is some sick shit. If I did that, it would have been seen for what it was, a terrible way to screw with a child’s head. But it was my girl’s dad who did it, and the 25-year-old guardian ad litem fell for it like the sack of toxic waste that she was.)
Again, these are all ingredients to the magic formula, people, I warned you that the formula is like the fucking cursed monkey paw. If you use it, you’ll get what you think you want but no good will come from it. More ingredients to come.
But more on that later. Stay tuned for the next installment when I detail how that strange little charter school — remember that place? — turned out the best thing that ever happened to my daughter and me. Like I said, when life throws a fucking meteor shower of shit at you, you’ll be surprised by the things it will also give you to shield yourself from it.
That’s it for now! In the meantime, yes I am going there, below is a button you can use to tip me if you liked this installment. All proceeds will go to the publishing of this book and/or my evil plan to take over the world. THANK YOU!