He smiled and sat there long enough for me to repeat what I thought was a direct, succinct question …
… with no immediately discernible purpose mind you, but simple in its own way.
I asked again.
He honest to God looked at me like I was speaking Aramaic.
With a lisp.
And a stutter.
With a lisp, a stutter and a monstrously heavy Filipino accent.
And I will never forget his response till the day I die:
Very similar, only much more highly evolved and a hell of a lot better looking.
And that was his only response until he could actually make eye contact with me.
Nothing at all verbal. Just a blank stare.
I had to go for it again:
“How much for a box of Froot Loops?”
There was a certain amount of comprehension to be seen in his eyes, wildly exceeded by monumental incredulity.
If you Googled Webster’s, under “WTF”, that would be the only possible example they could show that would thoroughly impart the magnitude of the profoundly confounded expression on this man’s face, and there was almost an unbearable amount of guilt rampaging through my soul at the thorough mindfuck which I had perpetrated. There are no words for either his expression or my guilt. We are nowhere even close to inventing new words for them.
But again … nothing except silence.
“How much for a box of Froot Loops?”
And this poor, loving, concerned fatherly countenance sitting before me starts going all Ralph Kramden on me:
“Hummina hummina hummina hummina ….”
“Please, brother, try to work with me on this one. I’m not making light of your situation or your concern, I … I … I … I’m really heading at something here. I’m trying to make a point. Work with me. Please.”
A pause. A long pause. Seemed to last longer than some Hollywood marriages. Somewhere between Britney and Kim’s first. Or was that actually Kim’s second.
I forget, and I digress, but it was that fucking long until …
“I don’t know. I don’t know …” and some clarity returned to his eyes … “I don’t know how much … and… I … don’t know what the hell you mean.”
I gave him enough time to bring his heart rate closer to that of homo sapiens.
“Okay. Okay. You don’t know how much Froot Loops cost. What about children’s Tylenol?”
“Okay. How about a large box of crayons to bring to Kindergarten?” and I’m starting to feel like Jack fuckin’ Bauer here.
“I dunno. Maybe, uhhhh ….”
“A three-pack of boy’s shorts – boxers or briefs, your call – for, say, Boy’s size 5? Maybe he’s a 7? A pair of cheap-ass sneakers for the one playing in the mud during recess? A pair of solid Nikes for the one playing basketball on the concrete? Spiral notebooks. Loose leaf notebooks. A few packs of paper, two hundred sheets, three holes, narrow lined?”
“Girls’ tights for when it gets cold? A ‘Hello Kitty’ scarf for the younger girl, a training bra for the older one?”
“I don’t know. Really. I don’t know!”
“I DON’T KNOW EITHER, BROTHER! DON’T HAVE THE SLIGHTEST IDEA! I NEVER HAVE, NEVER DID, NEVER NEEDED TO!”
“My ex did all that shopping!”
“So did my wife!”
“I never did the food shopping or the kid shopping ….”
“You know how much a good set of drill bits’ll run you?”
“Yeah, actually. Maybe around ….”
“Well I don’t know that either, man, ’cause I haven’t needed to get any, and if it was something we needed for the house … screw that … if it’s something we still need for the house that doesn’t involve speaker wire or jock itch, I don’t know. My wife heads to Save Mart for mustard and some Lysol spray and some red bell peppers, asks if I have a twenty, I give her thirty just to make sure. Our kids are in their twenties, man, and I still don’t have the slightest idea of how much our son’s chonies set us back, and if you don’t have any idea how much a box of freakin’ BREAKFAST CEREAL costs, how the hell you gonna figure out how much it costs to raise a kid? And you got three of ’em already. So far. Up to now.”
And it all calmed down.
“You’re already doing better at this than most of the guys I see here. I don’t see that changing.”
And he started to grin.
I went on to assure him that if he had another kid or two come along, if it started to get a bit closer to uncomfortable or overwhelming …
… he could bring it back to Court. That’s the only place the numbers can get changed.
If and when the exact numbers ever became a problem, we’d deal with them ourselves whatever way we otherwise could.
It’s about what he as an individual father could reasonably and realistically contribute to the kids financially.
The idea was / is not to drag some guy off to the poorhouse in an over-sized Radio Flyer while Mama passes him on the street doing 85 in her Escalade.
“Hey, guy … I’ve seen the papers. I know what your ex is making ….”
“So do I, pretty much. I know what the company pays and she pretty much tells me how much she has to work with.”
“Cool. We both know what she makes. And we both know that neither you nor she could do it alone. That was never the plan anyway, was it?”
All I did was take the exact numbers out of the picture, made it about being a father, not a monthly subsidy.
Less confusing. Sometimes the details have a way of stepping in front of the truth of the matter and grabbing all the attention.
“You both do your part, only you do it from under separate roofs.”
It all went back to being about the family.
He’s still Dad, she’s still Mom, and the kids are still eating them both out of house and home.
Both fortunately and unfortunately at the same time in different respects, it was from two comfortable houses and two loving homes.
And so it goes.
It was just a matter of keeping it going as simply as possible.
Keeping it real.
Keeping it a family issue, because for the kids … they were still a family.
The problem with the so-called “deadbeats” is not that they don’t have the money, or don’t have the desire, it’s that they don’t have a clue.
Last I saw or hear, this guy and his wife had two sons along the way and the family – all eight from both branches, including both mothers – were all doing well.
Kinda hope he got that stereo for the family room.