Lessons from Deadbeat Dads
Throughout my life I've tried to take a look at the things that happen to me or around me and determine what lessons I can take from that experience. I recently wrote a story about parents who do not financially support their children. When a fellow reporter suggested "deadbeat' parents" as a possible story, I immediately thought about "The Maury Povich Show."
Many episodes begin with a paternity test and, in some cases, end with a woman running off the stage crying because she got it wrong. What people don't see on the show is the woman who struggles to meet her child's basic needs.
I wasn't prepared to hear from a mother who smiles when her children give her a Christmas list she knows she can't fulfill.
I struggled to get just one voice who would share their story. I came across a few people who politely declined an interview, until a Monday a few weeks ago. A fellow reporter had received a phone call from Terri Martin, a mother, whose ex-husband, Toby Meadows, was behind on child support.
I met with Terri and her husband, Art, who were no different than many other struggling parents. The couple went without so their children could have what they needed.
I talked to investigators, a judge, social service supervisors, and pored over dozens of court files of parents who owe thousands in child support.
I didn't write about the court file I pulled in which a man owed child support on a case that began in 1988. He owed a few thousand dollars, but what amazed me was the daughter that he never supported and I shared the same birthday. In a different world, I could easily be her, hoping for some financial support that may never come.
I didn't interview her or the mother seeking child support, but I wonder how different her life would've been if her father had paid $100 a month or even $50.
I sat in court on a bench, and Terri was seated on the same bench when a judge sentenced Meadows to jail for non-compliance. It was a small victory for Terri, who just needed financial help.
We sat in court for much of the day, she waiting to see if she would be given money before the day was done. I waited, too.
I had never covered child support court and, frankly, I didn't know what to expect. One after another, parents were hauled into court, some in handcuffs and others on their own accord. Some fathers and mothers pleaded for more time to pay, while some left happy because they knew they'd finally caught up their payments.
I couldn't help wondering about the children.
There's always something from a story reporters wish they could include or maybe wishes they didn't write. As I looked back over my notes, I wished I had the opportunity to talk to Terri Martin's three children. I knew from talking to Terri and Art they struggled so their children could have some sense of normalcy with regular activities - basketball, sleepovers and attending high school football games.
The couple said the children participate in school activities most often because the children have done the occasional odd job or because the Martins have saved enough money.
I thought the story would elicit some talk, maybe from some of the "deadbeat" parents or their families in disagreement with the Post's publishing their photos.
What I got was parents saying "my ex-husband owes $40,000," or , "my ex-husband never paid." I was surprised by the number of people who, like Terri, just want financial support for their children.
I am grateful to the people who allowed me many hours to interview and, in some cases, re-interview them about this topic.
What I didn't put in the story was my struggle to find parents willing to tell their story. I came across many names - names of mothers and some fathers - who will never have their stories told. A few mothers I asked to share their story politely declined because it would upset their children.
I'm grateful to Terri for being willing to put herself and her family out there. I would have loved to talk to a father who paid. His story may never be told either.
I don't have children, have never been married and hope that I never have to plead with someone for child support. I hope that if I'm ever faced with any situation, I'm able to show resolve and fortitude like these parents who work to provide for their children.
I salute the parents who are willing to endure all for their children and say a prayer for those who forget what being a parent means.