"My God, Vince, I had more money working as a gofer on the wrestling circuit that summer after High School than I do now."
That was my brother Tommy. We were sitting at my kitchen table and going over his finances for the umpteenth time. Tommy had not fared well in the two years since his divorce.
"OK Tommy," I tried to explain again, "you pull in $52K a year after taxes. That is about $4K a month you bring home. Now, gone first off the top is the $500 a month you pay in child support, for Tommy Jr and little Frank; after that you have $3K a month left"
"I do not have a problem with that, " Tommy interrupted. "Anything for my sons."
This was true. Tommy's ex-wife Brandy had used every trick in the book to keep Tommy from his two boys. Brandy always had an excuse when it was Tommy's weekend with the boys.
When Tommy was coaching their little league team, Brandy pulled the kids off the team; she claimed it was hurting their grades. When Tommy volunteered as a Lunch Room Monitor at his son's school, Brandy called the owner at the company that Tommy and I worked at. Brandy reported Tommy was skipping work and not clocking out. However old man Alverez who owned our company respond by not only paying for Tommy's time, but lending him the company van. Mr. Alverez made paid time assisting a school company policy. Heck, even I got involved doing lunch room duties three times a week.
"Pay attention," I instructed Tommy. "Next up the $1K a month court ordered maintenance for Brandy. Now you have $2K a month left."
"That is such BS," Tommy blurted out then slapping the table. "Brandy had only 6 months left on her nursing degree when we married. Why do I have to pay her alimony?"
"Excuse me, MAINTENANCE. I worked my butt off so she could stay home with the boys. Why can't she get her f'ning degree and get a job! No, she screwed around on me, and now I gotta to pay the freight while she keeps screwing around."
"We went over this. The maintenance –or alimony payments -is only for six years. It is the court's way to let Brandy get skills needed to enter the tight job market. It is common when one spouse has not been in the work force for a while. You are two years into that maintenance with four years left."
Tommy leaned back in the chair. "Six years. She could get another degree in less than four years. Besides, she has not even gone to one class yet."
I tried to continue. "Then you have the house payments- mortgage, taxes, etc. That comes to another $1K a month. You have left about $1K in your monthly paycheck at this point."
"Great," Tommy said, looking up. "Brandy picks out some McMansion that I bust my hump for, then I gotta pay for that place and I sleep in my car."
"Tommy, you do not sleep in your car, -although, seeing where your apartment is, your car may be a better option. Brandy only gets to stay in the house until little Frank turns 18. Then you can sell."
"Yeah, and she gets 50%. I pay for the house and she gets free rent and 50% of the profits. How is that fair?"
"The court's concern is a stable place for the children. That is why you were ordered to keep making the house payments. Brandy gets 50% of your future sale because she is expected to keep your house maintained while you make the mortgage, insurance, and tax payments."
"That is even more BS," my brother Tommy countered. "Every time something needs to be done I get a call. I would tell Brandy to go to hell, but it is one of the few times I can see the boys without a battle."
"Tommy out of your last thousand dollars left you must pay health and dental insurance for Tommy Jr and Frank, about $300 a month."
"Nothing is more important than my boys' health. But I got two beefs. Number 1-:why do I have to pay Brandy's heath care?"
"Because our company family plan's cost is same for the two boys with or without Brandy on it. Court Judge said you have to carry Brandy also for the same time period as the maintenance payment. Judge cited it was not any additional financial burden."
"Easy for him to say." Tommy replied. "That burns me is Brandy uses that health insurance against me. Every time it is my weekend to get the boys, they are always too sick. It takes me a month to get on the court docket and drag Brandy before the Judge. Brandy waves all these doctor bills, which I pay for by the way, as proof the boys were too sick to see me. Damn, Vince, it is nothing more than sniffles, sore throats, skinned knees and such. The week I am to get the kids, if either one of them coughs Brandy rushes them to the doctor. The only weekends I get the boys is when they need something, new shoes, haircuts, school supplies, that kind of stuff. Where is my child support money going, and the half of my 401K Brandy got? How is that fair?"
"Tommy no one said Justice is fair-, just blind."
"So I am left with $600 a month or $150 a week. I should just quit and say screw it all."
Just then my wife Lisa walked in and put two grocery bags on the table.
"How did quitting work -work out for you last time?" Lisa piped in, hearing the end of our conversation.
Tommy just looked down at the table. A year after the divorce, Tommy had quit his job and stopped making any of the court ordered payments. Too bad for Tommy, our state had a stiff Deadbeat Dad law that allowed the state to lock up those behind on child support for 60 days up to a year at a time.
Two months after Tommy's own personal strike he was thrown in county lock-up. Tommy lasted 12 days before he agreed to comply with the court orders. Good thing Tommy was such a great tech, old man Alverez gave him his job back. Tommy was a natural techie and craftsman; he could fix anything, as well as do anything. Drywall, concrete, home repair, whatever. Tommy really shined with complex electronic machinery. Even senior engineers came to Tommy when they were stuck, even though Tommy did not have a degree. Tommy getting his job back was fortunate, as not only did Tommy have to make up two months payments, but court costs also.
"Well I had plenty of company in the joint," Tommy grumbled. "Lot of turnips in lock-up"
Turnip was the term used for Fathers who could not pay child support or alimony. As in "Cannot get blood out of a turnip." At any time up to 13% of the county inmate population was "Deadbeat Dads –or Turnips." It is form of debtor's prison sentence handed out like contempt of court. But as it was a civil penalty, the state would not provide a lawyer. Not that it would have done Tommy any good.
My two boys came running in after their mother Lisa and ran right to Tommy.
"Uncle Tommy! Uncle Tommy!" my 8 and 10 year old shouted, jumping all over Tommy. "Did you bring Candy!? Did you bring Candy? Where is Candy? Where is Candy?"
Tommy laughed and pointed at the sliding glass door leading to our backyard. On the other side of the glass, a large Doberman dog was dancing on his hind legs in excitement, and whining loudly on seeing the two boys.
Candy, a 110 pound black and tan male Doberman pinscher, was a dog my brother had adopted after cops had rescued him from a fighting house. The dog was called Candy because he was used as cannon fodder for the Pit Bulls to chew on to get them ready for a match. Candy had survived –but with serious injuries and Tommy had convinced the veterinarian not to put Candy down. Tommy had traded the Vet the labor on a new outdoor deck in return for Candy's surgery costs. Candy looked like hell with one chewed up ear and scars crisscrossing his body from muzzle to tail. However, while Candy looked like hell and would follow Tommy thru the gates of hell, Candy adored my boys and Tommy's sons. Candy let the boys do anything to him, sticking to them like glue.
"Boys," Tommy said, "do not feed Candy too much," as my boys raided the fridge for hot dogs and meat products to give to Candy. While Tommy may be the boys' favorite and only Uncle, Candy was their favorite dog.
Lisa opened the sliding glass door for the boys to rush out. You could see she was hesitant. "Vince, you sure they are going to be OK?" Lisa was not a big fan of dogs. Candy still frightened her a little, and seeing Candy's scarred muzzle and big teeth so close to her children made Lisa uneasy.
Lisa was watching the boys with Candy, and both Tommy and I looked at her. Lisa and I were opposites in more ways than one. At just under six foot with light features and blue eyes, Lisa still looked like the star volleyball player whose skills had gotten her a full college scholarship. Lisa had legs that went on forever, and her gams would make any Las Vegas dancer jealous. While not vain, Lisa was proud of her legs and always wore outfits that showed off her leggy figure. She was small busted, barely an A cup. While two births had filled out her hips a bit, Lisa still had the looks of her northern German ancestors and could turn heads at 38 years of age. Even after 12 years of marriage I could not get over her. Tommy and I resembled our Italian forefathers, both of us standing no more than 5 foot 6inches, with the dark features found in southern Italy. While not a Greek god, I did not frighten children either. Coaching the boy's sport's team had kept my expanding waistline at bay, harder to do now that my 40th birthday had just passed.
As far as personalities, Lisa was stubborn as a mule, and would not back down once she had taken a position. I was more laid back, and felt life was too short to sweat the small stuff. We had long ago gotten used to the looks our Mutt and Jeff appearance made.
.... There is more of this story ...