CHAPTER 9 - INITIAL VERDICT
The months between hearings were pleasant but busy ones for me. It appeared that Judge Hickey had been favorably impressed, and there was every reason to hope that the final outcome would be positive. Gomez, however, had listed a troublesome letter in his pretrial catalog that would involve some research to answer. I had written the letter to the Shah of Iran just after The Great Christ Debate had been published. The correspondence was to be given to the Shah, along with a copy of the new book, in an effort to get the Shah to allocate some funds for advertising my work. The letter called Christianity a blasphemous religion, and it stated that I would do what I could to help ensure its downfall in America and its replacement by Islam. This wasn’t likely to endear me to the judge. In fact, as I read over the words now, thirty years later, it's hard for me to believe that I could have written such a thing despite the excuses given below.
What I needed then was documentation linking Maria’s stepfather (Raul) to Cuban Brigade 2506, for the key to answering the charges to be made concerning the letter was intertwined with Raul’s efforts to overthrow Castro.
It was true that I had written the letter that Raul had photocopied. But it was also true that the letter was phrased the way that it had been because Raul had asked me to help paint him as a Muslim sympathizer in an age before Islamic terrorism really took off with the fall of the Shah.
Raul was in charge of procuring illegal arms for the anti-Castro Brigade. Oh yes, they had once been the darling of the C.I.A., but not anymore. Now they had to get arms from whatever anticommunist source they could, and who was more anticommunist than the Shah? So Raul had asked me for a copy of my book and a letter of introduction that he would give to the Shah’s agents in London. The request had been granted by me in October of 1978, two months before Maria’s departure. I had written anti-Castro propaganda for Raul and his Brigade before, so I hadn’t suspected that a second purpose of the request was to make a chump out of me in court when the time came over two years later. Raul had stabbed me in the back. He was also now financing Maria’s legal costs. For this, I felt, there had to be revenge, and I had done much to make the man’s life as uncomfortable as possible during the preceding months.
When court was in session on January 20th, the judge started out by asking what the case was about. I knew right away that I was in trouble for the old man seemed to have completely forgotten every bit of testimony that he had heard four months before. Elenewski’s beautiful backing was now lost in the shuffle of papers on the bulldog’s desk.
John tried as best he could to restore the judge’s memory and then called in Mrs. Anderson. By now it had been eight months since she had seen me, and her memory was also somewhat diminished by the span of time, a fact that kept her support for me from being as solid as it might have been or even had been in her report.
Martha stated the major concerns of the parties as best she could recollect. The mother saw me as a dreamer with visions of being the Messiah or a prophet of some kind. Maria thought that I was trying to instill hate in the boy. None of these things were, however, apparent to her in the interview.
“The father,” she said, “was a responsible man who only wanted to get better access to his son. He stated that Mrs. Roffman kept the boy from him only to spite him. Mr. Roffman felt that the mother doesn’t truly love her son, which is why she often dumps the boy on her mother rather than allowing him to stay with his father while she’s out of town flying. He said that he would be more qualified to raise the child because he was more educated than Bobby’s mother and because his wife was too much a jet-set swinger to be an effective mother.”
John asked her if she found anything in her interview of Maria to support my concerns.
“I don’t know if Mrs. Roffman is really a swinger. I do feel that she has sincere affection for the child, but I’m concerned about her desire to keep the father from having any contact whatsoever. It seems that Mr. Roffman has to fight . . . physically fight with members of her family to get to see his son. It’s for this reason that I feel it would be best to place the child with his father. Bobby loves both parents, but he appears to have far more affection for his dad. I see so many men completely abandon their children when a marriage ends, probably due in part to the rough time that fathers have when they get to court. It’s refreshing to find a father who cares so much about his son. That’s why I don’t hesitate to recommend full custody for Mr. Roffman.”
John then turned Martha over to Gomez for questioning.
“Mrs. Anderson,” he started in, “You said that the basis of your opposition to giving custody to Mrs. Roffman was that she was anxious to deny visitation privileges to the father.”
“That’s correct,” Martha replied.
“Mrs. Roffman has now, eight months after you visited with her, adjusted to the fact that Mr. Roffman will have liberal visitation. She no longer desires to keep Robert from his father; in fact she realizes that such visitation is in the best interest of her son. Does this affect your decision?”
“‘Well, I guess so. Eight months is a long time. I’m glad to hear that she feels this way,” Martha said.
I turned to John and whispered, “My, isn’t it big of my ex to promise the visitation that the judge has already ordered now that the case is going against her? I can’t believe that Anderson is being fooled so easily by that crocodile smile of Gomez!”
John reassured me that he thought the judge wouldn’t be taken in so easily.
“So,” Gomez continued, “knowing what you do now, you’re no longer ready to recommend a switch of custody at this time?”
“I’m not as sure as I was last May,” she said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Anderson. I have no further questions for this witness, Your Honor. I’d like to call in Raul Gonzales at this time,” Gomez said with a heave of relief.
Raul was a G. Gordon Liddy type of man, a pilot who’d been only partially tamed by the airline industry. It seems likely that Rambo of later fame could have taken a lesson or two from the man. We were both ardent anti-Communists, and I really felt bad about spending so much time plotting against a guy that I really still liked, a man who thought like me. I had managed to dig up speeches that I had written for Raul, some of which had been published in America, others which had been broadcast from Samoza’s Nicaragua into Cuba with the hope of instigating an insurrection there.
Raul was sworn in and began to attack me as an anti-Christ when Gomez produced the letter that I had spent so much time preparing to defend against.
“I have here,” the Latin attorney said, “a copy of a letter addressed to the Shah of Iran. Do you recognize it?”
Before Raul could even open his mouth, John objected.
“Your Honor,” John said, “This is a Xerox copy of a letter. Under the Evidence Code, it states very clearly that photocopies are not admissible evidence. They are much too easy to alter. We must insist that unless Mr. Gomez can produce the actual letter, he be barred from discussing the letter or attempting to use it in any way as evidence.”
“Objection sustained,” Hickey bellowed.
I turned to my attorney and congratulated him on a job well done. “You earned your salary with that one,” I said.
Gomez was not, however, to be easily deterred. One way or another, he managed to drag out the general sense of the letter from Raul, thus forcing John to counter by presenting all the military aspects of Raul’s trip to the Shah’s representatives in London. After an hour it looked as if Raul’s testimony had been neutralized, but the truth was that Hickey had read the letter anyway for it was in Gomez’s pretrial catalog that the judge had studied before entering court that day. The old man didn’t like what he’d read, and he didn’t give a hoot about any excuses.
When all the witnesses had been called for both sides, Maria was asked why she wanted custody.
“Well, Your Honor,” she said, “I feel that I should have custody because at one time Bobby was part of my body. We were one. I was the one who had to carry him to term those nine months and I was the one that had to suffer the pain of a Caesarian section to deliver him. I got the scar, not his father. He only knew how to run off to Israel while we were separated, leaving me with his child and no support. If you give him my baby, he’ll run off to Israel, and I’ll never see my boy again. You must keep him from stealing my baby. The man lives in a fantasy world and he can’t be trusted. He’s irresponsible and a quitter. I don’t want my son raised to be a quitter.”
“What do you mean by that?” Frank asked.
“He joined the Navy, and then he quit it. He went to podiatry school, and he quit that, too. He quit the Reserves. His book has sold few copies, and he doesn’t believe in it anymore. The man’s a loser.”
“What kind of a husband was Mr. Roffman?” Gomez prompted.
“I don’t care what any psychologist or social worker says. I lived with him. I know him better than anyone else possibly could. He did think he was a prophet. He was terrible with money, too. We were always broke. He bought me nothing. I had to get a job when he sold the house to pay for the publication of his book. All he ever cared about was his ridiculous book.”
“Your witness, Mr. Oskowitz.”
“Mrs. Roffman, on the average, how many nights per week are you away from home?” John asked.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I’m not away at all. For nearly half the month I don’t have to fly. My work comes in concentrated spurts. When I’m home I have plenty of time to spend with the baby,” Maria said.
John pressed her again on the question but got nowhere, so he introduced a subpoenaed copy of her work schedule for the previous six months. He asked her if she recognized it as hers, but she said she couldn’t remember whether all the flights listed on it were really ones that she had worked.
“According to this schedule,” John stated, in the past two weeks you have overnighted once in New York, once in San Francisco, once in Seattle, once in Minneapolis, and twice in Chicago. Can you just conform that much?”
“No, one airport looks pretty much like another. I was never really very good in geography and I haven’t paid attention. A flight is just a flight to me. It’s no big deal,” she said as though bored by all the queries.
Annoyed, John turned and told the judge that the schedule had been certified by Northwest Orient as being hers. Hickey somewhat reluctantly agreed to have the evidence admitted.
Oskowitz decided to turn the Court’s attention back to the book next. He asked if Maria had read it, and she admitted that she hadn’t because she had no interest in it even if it was dedicated to her.
“Did you oppose selling the first marital home to finance publication?” he asked.
The woman said that she did, but that she went along with it because she knew the book was “an important expression” for me.
“You agreed to help him publish the book. Then why did you leave him when his dream had been realized?” the attorney asked.
“Because I got tired of hearing him fight with my mother about it all the time. I didn’t have to read it. He never let me forget about what was in it, not even for a moment.”
“Your attorney said that Mr. Roffman wanted all Christians in America to convert to Islam. Did your husband ever try to convert you to that faith?” John asked.
“No, he wanted me to become a Jew. He saw Islam as an adequate faith for the Gentiles, but Judaism as the faith right for us. He wanted me to be a Jew because he said that a house divided against itself cannot stand,” Maria answered.
“Did you become a Jew?” the lawyer asked.
“I’m Christian . . . a Catholic,” Maria replied.
John had finished questioning Maria, and now there was only one person left to be heard before the verdict was rendered, me. John asked me the same question that Maria had been given, why I wanted custody.
Although I normally prided myself in logic, my emotions got the best of me that day. I really blew my big chance by focusing on negatives.
“That woman over there wants custody for one reason only, to lord it over me. She doesn’t love our son one bit. In fact, the woman doesn’t even know how to love. But she does think she’s obligated to fight for our child in order to keep others from saying that she’s abandoned him.
“Look at the attendance record that Maria has had over the past year of legal squabbling. Twice she failed to show at the mediator’s, twice again at the psychologist’s and once again at a general master’s hearing. Until only this day, she has refused to budge from her anti-visitation stand though everyone kept telling her that such a position would cost her custody. Even now I’ve heard a change in position from her attorney, but not from her own lips.
“I want custody because Bobby and I have a love for each other that Maria can never match. She failed to give him a sufficient amount of physical nurturing when bonding naturally occurs during the first year. At that time Bobby was always on my chest or lap. I gave him his morning bottle; I came home to feed him lunch; and I put him to sleep on my chest every night. That’s why, despite the limited visitation my son and I have endured these past two years, I remain the primary psychological parent in Bobby’s eyes, and in the eyes of all the expert witnesses who have studied us. Bobby will never be truly happy until he lives under my roof, nor will I ever cease my efforts to make it so until it is so.” With that I sat back and waited for the next question.
“Do you think you’re a prophet?” John asked.
“Certainly not. I never claimed such a thing, but I do hope that somehow God will guide me to help all religions get along better. Maria has said she thinks I believe I’m the Messiah. No man, not even Jesus, and certainly not I, can in accordance with the Jewish religion claim to be the Messiah until he accomplishes the most important task of the Anointed One, namely delivery of the end of war to this planet and the ushering in of an everlasting age of peace. No, I’m not the Messiah, but I, and my son, and every Jew, and every thinking human being should probably strive to become the Messiah for what does it matter if billions of us fail so long as one of us succeeds?”
There were a few more questions for me to answer. I spoke of child support I had sent from Israel, of my need to finish the book so Maria would stop calling me a quitter, how I planned to take care of Bobby while I was at work, and the visitation I was willing to grant Maria should I win.
When it was Frank’s turn to grill me, I had to answer a number of questions about how I viewed women. Gomez tried to pain me as a male chauvinist because I had shown in my book that a similar attitude towards women had existed in the Old Testament, New Testament and Koran. Hickey intervened and told Gomez that I couldn’t be held responsible for what the Scriptures contained.
Gomez took a last shot before the judge ruled.
“Your Honor, this man has done a good job of fooling the psychologist and the social worker. He has not, however, fooled his wife. I hope that you too will not be deceived.”
Gomez sat down and Hickey began to speak.
“I’m ready to rule. I find that both parents are fit to have custody of the child, Robert Frank Roffman, and I am going to order joint custody, primary residential status shall be with. . . the mother.”
I felt like a meat ax had just split my head in two. The judge continued: “The father to have liberal visitation, namely every Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 until Thursday morning at 8:00 A.M. and every other weekend from Friday afternoon at 3:30 until Sunday evening at 6:00 P.M.”
That I immediately recognized to be a reduction in visitation rights from my previous weekend rights which had extended until Monday morning.
“Both parents,” the judge added, “shall have equal rights concerning the care, health, and welfare of the minor child. The father shall also have alternating holiday overnight visitation rights, and he shall pay the mother child support in the amount of forty dollars per week. This Court shall retain jurisdiction over this case should any future problems arise.”
I tried to challenge the return time on weekend visitation, pointing out that the mother lived one block from my Monday morning work place, but 25 miles from my home in Homestead.
“Visitation will be as I ordered,” bellowed the judge. “As for you, young lady, any future trouble and I reserve the right to switch full custody over to this man.” The judge then rose and started out of the Court.
I clenched my fist and yelled at Hickey, “I’m gonna appeal this damn decision. You make me pay thousands for a court-appointed psychologist, and then you don’t heed his advice or the social worker’s! I can’t live with these visitation guidelines!”
“Good day,” Hickey replied, and he was gone.
Maria and Gomez left the courtroom next while I just sat there in a state of shock, trying to understand all the implications of the new order. I was more furious about the visitation reduction than anything else, and I knew that Bobby would not be happy either about the early return to his mother’s place on Sundays.
It’s like I said,” John rationalized in a subdued voice, “The child’s of tender years, you’re a man and a Jew to boot. Give it a couple of years. When the boy is six or seven, you can try again.”
Outside the courthouse we began to walk back towards the attorney’s office. Oskowitz looked like he had just been through a war. He had forgotten to shave that morning, and had ripped his jacket under the armpit as he got out of his car just before the hearing started. He looked terrible, and I was now wondering whether or not such an appearance hadn’t worked against us in court that day.
About a block from the courthouse, a nun stopped me to ask for a donation for Christ. I ignored her, but felt like strangling the woman. I felt like telling off my attorney, too, but didn’t. We would never see or speak to each other again.
When I next picked up Bobby at his mother’s, Maria was waiting outside to speak with me. Bobby rushed into my arms and asked, “Did we win, Daddy? Can I live with you now?”
I picked my son up and told him, “We won some things, but you’ll still have to go back and forth and live most of the time with Mommy.” Then I turned to my ex and said, “It’s not fair. All the expert witnesses on my side and you get him only because you have female genitalia. Bobby won’t be of tender years forever. I won’t accept the Sunday return on visitation. I’m going to appeal the case for sure unless we can reach an agreement to restore the Monday drop-off. Look, if you give me what I want, I’ll pay for Bobby’s health insurance. The judge forgot to include it in the order.” Maria was too drained to fight on. She agreed to my terms.
In the car on the way back to my home, Bobby put his head on my lap and I gently stroked it. I tried to reassure my son that everything would be all right. “I guess we didn’t make out so bad after all. I’ve got joint custody now. You’ll still see me a lot, and Mommy and I have quit fighting.”
At home that night I decided to alter the usual sequence of bedtime events. Before I had always tickled and hugged my little boy, but now I would begin to indoctrinate him.
“What religion are you, Bobby?”
“I’m Jewish like you, Daddy.”
“Then,” I asserted, “You must start to learn Hebrew, for the power to be a good Jew lies in the knowledge of our language.”
The boy was curious about why that was, so I told him about how it was that the Torah had been revealed in Hebrew to Moses on the Mountain of God. I also informed my son that to be Jewish the boy would have to be willing to convert because Maria wasn’t a Jew. Yes, Bobby had received a Brith Milah, but the will to be a Jew had to be inscribed in his brain and on his heart even as it had been upon the token of his manhood.
“Repeat after me,” I urged. Shema Yisrael Adonoy Elohaynoo Adonoy Echod. Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. . . This teaches us that there is only One God. You will in your lifetime hear lots of people say different things about God. Some will say there is no God. These people think they were created by an accident. Others will say that God has three forms, or that there are many gods. But if you really wish to be a Jew like your father, you must never lose sight of the belief that there is One God, an indivisible super Spirit who made us and who always watches over us.”
“What’s a Spirit, Daddy?”
“It’s hard to describe. I guess it’s like a person without a body. But God isn’t a person. In fact, we aren’t even allowed to try to picture what He is. That’s one of His commandments. He told us not to make an image of anything in heaven.”
The boy eagerly repeated the magical words. On each visit I read another Bible story to my son before turning out the lights. The last words uttered by the lad each night and the first words he recited each morning were always the Shema. Who, but Maria in those days, would ever imagine that my indoctrination would one day prove so effective as to be a source of friction between my boy and I when he became a man? That I, as a future Orthodox Jew, would not be Jewish enough to please my son?