I watched as Reverend William Summers slid out from behind the wheel of the three year old Chevy his congregation had recently purchased for him. From the way he was carrying himself, as he approached my office door, I could tell that he hadn't completely recovered from the car accident he'd recently been involved in. His previous vehicle had been totalled in the crash. The driver of the other car hadn't been insured, and the good reverend had carried only the state minimum coverage on his van. I suppose he'd felt that God would protect him from loss. Hadn't quite worked out that way.
"Gary, I came by to give you back the money you insisted on Danielle accepting. Jeannie and I are perfectly capable of meeting all her financial requirements, both here, and at the college." As he spoke those words, he casually threw the envelope of money onto my desktop. I didn't give him the satisfaction of bothering to count it. I was sure it was all there.
The Danielle he was referring to was my nineteen year old daughter, while Jeannie was his current wife, my ex-wife. Michael, my seventeen year old son, apparently wasn't going to be involved in this discussion. I'd given Dani and Mike $500.00 each a few days before, mostly to help them choose some clothing they actually wanted to wear before the new school year started for them both. Mike must have just kept his mouth shut, and not waved his money around in front of the good reverend's face. I could see Dani tweaking him by doing something like that. I wish she wasn't so much like me sometimes.
"The kids are both old enough to be able to choose the clothes they want to be wearing, Bill. Dani's going off to college in another six weeks, for Pete's sake. When are you going to ease up and start letting her be her own person?'
"Must I again remind you of where the court decided parental custody should be vested?" He was really beginning to get me somewhat hot under the collar with this senseless posturing of his.
"Dani is an adult, Bill. Unless she voluntarily handed that money over to you, someone probably broke the law by taking it away from her. I'm guessing it was her mother, but the two of you are really stretching my patience by all this senseless interference over what goes on between my children and me. I'd advise you to just give it a rest. The court has no say anymore over how much time Dani and I can spend together, and I've had restored parental rights with Mike, ever since I won, on appeal, over three years ago."
"I said custody, not visitation. Custodial parents make the kinds of decisions you seem determined to interfere with. Jeannie and I don't appreciate that kind of interference in our family from you."
"You could have saved yourself the trip, Bill. Dani is going to have this money, sooner or later, anyway. All you've managed to do with all this is to delay Dani's shopping trip, and to get more under my skin than usual. Nothing you've done, or tried to do, will have any real effect, not long term at least. The kids understand what role they want me to play in their lives. I'll always be their dad, and nothing you or Jeannie do or say will ever change that one simple fact."
He stormed out of my office, having to be satisfied with his temporary victory. I knew I could expect an angry phone call from my ex within the hour. That was how things worked with him. I'd always been more than a little fairly certain that Jeannie was a less than a truly committed soldier in the reverend's little army of righteousness, and in the continuing war he'd been waging against me. Half an hour after Bill had left, my phone rang. Caller ID let me know it was Jeannie.
"I guess you must think you've won some great victory, Gary?" As always, since our separation, and subsequent divorce, Jeannie's tone of voice with me carried an angry sounding whine. I knew that the good reverend was listening in to our conversation. He almost always did.
"Send Dani over here to get her money back. She needs to buy some clothes that don't make her look like some fifty year old spinster librarian."
"I'll do no such thing!"
"If she isn't here in my office before two this afternoon, I'm going to give her the money she's been asking for to be able to go over to Europe with those three girl friends of hers. I haven't done it so far, because I really didn't want to cause any further problems between you two. If she isn't here by two, for her clothes money, she'll be in Europe by the middle of next week. Count on it." I set the receiver back on its base and looked at my watch. It was just coming up on eleven o'clock.
I hoped Jeannie and her husband were smart enough not to push me into carrying out my threat about funding her trip to Europe. I really didn't like the idea of Dani being over there for a month, not with those three airhead girl friends of hers. I was more than half convinced that Dani had set up this whole confrontation over her clothes money with the hope that something like this might come out of it. Like I said, sometimes I wish Dani took after me less than she does.
At one forty five, Jeannie called me again, wanting to know whether Dani had stopped by to pick up the money yet?
"Did she say she was coming by?"
"I sent her to your office a little after noon. I was afraid she might try a stunt like this. You know a month in Europe, especially with those other three, could end up being a big mistake, don't you?"
"It could end up being a mistake, but you have to let her start deciding how she wants to live her life on her own now. She's an adult. You can't be hovering over her shoulder like you have been for the rest of her life. She has the right to decide things on her own. That is how adults do things."
"I sent her to your office, Gary. If she doesn't show up, it will be because she's manipulating the two of us. I tried to meet the demand you made to have her there before two."
I called Dani on her cell phone but she wasn't answering her phone. I left a message.
"Dani, nice try, kiddo, but it isn't going to work. You aren't going to Europe this summer, in spite of what I might have said to try to threaten your mother. You may as well come by and pick your clothes money back up. If you don't, I might not be willing to give it back to you. I definitely won't give it back if I start believing you were deliberately using this clothing money business to try to get around your mom and me on this European vacation thing."