Throughout the summer, we held yard sales (aka “junk” sales) to raise money for basic necessities. Things such as utilities, food and gas could not be purchased without us selling our prized possessions for pennies on the dollar.
Up for sale, was my daughter’s brand new bike that I had I given her for Christmas last year. My daughter (Maria), taken aback that her shiny new bicycle was being sold, asked “why are you selling my bike Daddy, I love it!” “I don’t want you to sell it” she further pleaded.
I explained that it was necessary to sell things that we wanted to keep, but had to sell because we needed “extra” money to “do things” (like eat). I promised her that I would buy her an even better bike to make it up to her. “Is that okay honey?” “Yes, Daddy.”
For an eight year old, my daughter’s perception and analytical skills are impressive to say the least. Shortly after turning five, she informed me that “I don’t have an opinion” and that “the judge tells you what your opinion is Daddy!” That was in response to me trying to “explain away” why I wasn’t allowed to keep her home from school, but mom was.
Understand, she perceived my “lack of opinion” not based merely on things she was told (I go out of my way to protect her from this ugliness), but rather, based on what she’s witnessed with her own eyes. She followed the aforementioned up with “how come no one else in the family has to listen to what the judge says daddy? How come only you have to do what the judge says? How come everyone else in the family can do whatever they want and you can’t?”
Following that barrage of questions, and after I retrieved my jaw from the floor, I could only mutter “Because that’s the way it is” as I was thinking, “it’s because I’m a father and were all playing a game called “Family Court.”” Family Court is better known as the final sequel to Family Feud, and whose brutal episodes can run in excess of 18 years. Richard Dawson is replaced by the Judge as the show’s host in “Family Court.” Moreover, instead of the game being played on TV, it’s played in a court room. Another big difference between Family Feud and Family Court, is that in the Family Court game, the rules only apply to Fathers, and you’re never told what the rules are. It’s a challenge to say the least! Can’t say I know anyone who has won yet.
An unintentional rule violation (also known as a “contempt”) by a Father in Family Court can have severe consequences such as 30,60 or 90 days incarceration. Following his release, he’s “invited” back on the show and told not to worry about what happened. Sweating for the right answers to each and every question can prove stressful for the toughest of all contestants. If you “make” a woman cry, it’s best to just put your hands behind your back, and walk backwards toward the bailiff. Reason being, the longer you’re in that courtroom while she pretends to cry, the longer you sit in jail.
Finally, the last major difference between Family Feud and Family Court is that in Family Court, you have to play. There’s no “passing” or saying “I want to quit now” as the consequences of such “combative,” “confrontational”, “uncooperative” and “violent” behavior are guess what? You’ve got it, a jail sentence that’s passed out (to Fathers only) like Halloween candy. Simply put, if you refuse to play, you pay, if you play, you pay. See how great it is? You can’t lose when you consider incarceration a winner!
It’s with good reason that I nicknamed her “The Prosecutor” at age five. My daughter can “question me into a corner” and leave me stumbling for answers at times. So much so that I’m forced to whip out the “it’s because I’m your parent and I said so ” (as I’m shaking my pointed finger) card on occasion when I don’t know how to answer her, and as an escape while I’m running for cover from her hard-to-answer questions.
Obviously, I do not discuss our financial situation with my daughter. However, she’s no fool either. She can logically deduce when one of her requests after another is met with “we don’t have the money.” In the past, and despite me going down in flames financially, I had manged to buy season passes to a museum, a zoo, and a Paramount amusement park nearby. Understand, I didn’t have the money to purchase those things, I simply did it. I did so knowing if that I could find a way to pay for those passes, she’d have something to do for the next year.
Things were different in 2008 as I struggled to keep gas in the car, pay automobile insurance, and simply put food on the table. Keeping the electricity on was a bonus, not a necessity as it wasn’t winter. The same went for water. Hence, the reason I sold my daughter’s brand new bike two months ago. My wife became angry as I played down the idea of living in a tent in the woods by claiming “it would be fun.” The fact was, I’m not one to deny reality. I stare it square in the face and look for the most logical way to deal with with the inevitable. Ironically, I had a modest sum money in 401k funds, but could not touch them. Reason being, my last employer froze those funds pending the outcome of my divorce. I begged and pleaded with them to release my monies after explaining that I was losing my home. “We’re sorry sir, those are the rules of the Plan.”
We regularly went “garbage picking” to find items to sell in our yard sales. I turned that into a game for Maria so she would find it “fun.” She handled it well and found it rather enjoyable. Especially the time when some clown who couldn’t mind his own business told me he’d “call the police” if I didn’t stop picking through his neighbor’s trash.
“What are you doing” he asked sarcastically and in a very judgmental tone. I wanted to say, “are you really as stupid as you look, or should I answer that?” However, my daughter was present, so that wasn’t the time to teach someone a “life-lesson” in minding their own business. “Trying to put food on the table” I replied. “You want to go to jail” he asked. “For what?” I retorted. “For stealing garbage, it’s against the law” he said.
I stopped what I was doing and looked him right in the eyes. The incredibly bright beam from my headlamp illuminated what I considered to be a very frightening face, and he was squinting as he struggled to see through the blinding light that was piercing his “coke-bottle” glasses. At that instant, I immediately began sizing him up, “just in case.” I put him at about 8-9 months pregnant, and with twins, possibly even triplets based on the size of that “tummy” aka half-barrel. Therefore, I deduced that it was okay to proceed. Understand that with me at 6’1″ 220 pounds and very athletic, a “firm voice” usually causes most nuisances to vanish.
Mindful that my daughter was right there, I told him to mind his own business. “I’m a cop” he said. “No your not” I replied, “show me your badge” I continued. “I don’t have it” he said. At he end of my rope with this sanctimonious clown I said rather firmly, “get out of my face and mind your own business. Call the police if you’d like, I am not breaking any laws.” In some states “garbage-picking” is illegal, but in Ohio it’s not.
With that, he walked away and pretended to call 911. I yelled over, “tell ’em it’s a Black 2000 Explorer, and don’t forget to give them my license plate number!” I finished “stealing garbage,” got back in the Explorer, and began driving away. Apparently, my daughter found what I said rather amusing. As we were driving, she repeatedly recited a play by play of the entire conversation. Admittedly, I utilized a little more sarcasm in my responses, and my daughter repeated that as well. My language was clean, but considering this half drunk police wannabe was getting under my skin, I couldn’t resist slapping him around (figuratively of course) a little with my words. Not to be vindictive or hateful, but to make him think twice before he criticizes the next dad who comes along and is doing the same thing.
So what do garbage picking and selling my daughters brand new mountain bike have to do with being a father? “Everything.” There are times when as fathers we’ll have to do some things that will cause us to feel shameful and humiliated. Putting food on the table, keeping the lights on, and maintaining necessities may require doing things such as garbage picking, selling prized possessions, and making sacrifices whereby our children suffer from and feel the pain as well.
Nevertheless, we aren’t any less of a father than those who have money and can afford nice things. There’s much more to life than the material things we call “toys.” When we couldn’t afford to do anything, I made garbage picking enjoyable. I took my two stepsons along as well. The kids were enjoying it so much, that they’d fight over whose turn it was to get out at the next stop.
After explaining to my daughter why I was selling her bike, I asked her, “is that okay honey, do you understand?” “Yes daddy” she said. She knows that when I say “I’ll make it up to you,” that something much better will replace that which she lost, because I “always” keep my promises.
Being a father entails teaching our children. Through garbage-picking and yard sales, I taught my daughter that “you do what it takes” to “make it.” Ironically, what sold the best at our yard sales were not are own brand name and expensive items. Rather, and without fail, it was the latest truck full of “garbage” that yielded the most money for us. That, week after week. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.
Last week, and right after my daughter climbed into my Explorer after I picked her up from school, she reached into her backpack, pulled out a dollar, handed it to me, and said “here Dad.” “What’s this for” I asked. “It’s for you, to help you out because you don’t have much money.” She further continued “I was asking kids at lunch today if I could have money to help my Dad with.” “You didn’t have to do that” I told her. “That was very kind of you Maria, but you don’t need to worry about Dad, that’s not your job. I’m fine and I’ll worry about us. I’m the parent and you’re the child, my job is to take care of you and your job is to have fun and be happy, that’s what kids do.”
I further thanked her and further explained that although it was a nice thing to do, and that I really appreciated it, she shouldn’t do it again. “OK Dad” she said. Being the hyper-analytical person I am, I wondered if I shouldn’t have done a better job of hiding our financial distress. But then again, I can’t hide the fact that I couldn’t afford to heat my home during a brutally cold Ohio winter; Maria lived through those cold winters with us. Once, she asked me through the fog of her breath while sitting inside our home wearing a coat, gloves and hat, “why is it always cold over here daddy?”
That said, she did what she did (trying to give me her money) not out of fear or obligation, but rather out of a kind and loving heart. She’s learning the importance of helping others, as well as reaping the joyful reward of heartfelt satisfaction from doing so.
Ohio Council for Fathers Rights