CHAPTER 20 - THE DECISION
Two and a half weeks passed. On a Friday afternoon I found a note in my teacher’s mailbox requesting a call to my attorney
“Let’s see,” Bennett said, “It just came in . . . the good stuff starts in paragraph 2. Quote. The report of Dr. Goldberg discloses that the child is experiencing an excessive amount of emotional conflict concerned both with pleasing both parents and fearing that he may permanently lose one or the other at the conclusion of this fight. That Bobby identifies himself as a Jew. It further appears that the husband had fervently embraced Conservative Judaism in which he had deeply involved his son; to the extent that the child had adopted the dietary laws of that faith and refused to eat in the mother’s home until the mother began trying to provide for his dietary needs.”
“What else?” I asked.
“It rambles on about the baptism . . . the expert witnesses disagreed . . . both parents are fit . . . here it is.”
“What?” I pleaded as Bennett took a moment to read on.
“Since the dissolution of the marriage, there has been a very substantial change in circumstances on a temporary basis, to wit the continued conflict of religions. The effect this conflict has on the child Bobby, the considerable alienation that has occurred from his mother, his identification with his father, all indicate there should be a temporary change from the present joint custody to temporary residential responsibility to be vested in the father with both parents retaining shared responsibility. This change is conditioned upon both parties and the child participating in family therapy. It’s subject to review not earlier than December 15th of this year.”
“What visitation does he recommend?” I asked.
“Here it is,” Bennett said. “During the period of family counseling the mother will have her weekly visitation at 5:00 p.m. every Friday to return the child to the father at 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays. The father should find some way for the child to eat non-kosher from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening or provide proper dietary food when Bobby is with his mother.”
“She gets him for the Sabbath! And what does he mean about finding some way for Bobby to eat non-kosher? Only God can change the dietary laws! Still, overall, it’s a tremendous improvement over what I had,” I said.
“Do you want me to file an exception about the Sabbath visitation?” the lawyer asked.
“I guess not. She has to get him sometime. If I give the boy to his mom on Sunday, she’ll have him back in church. Dixon wants to downplay religion on both sides but I can still take my son to the evening service at an Orthodox temple on Saturday at the end of the Sabbath. He gets to go to our Sunday school, and he’ll be in the Hebrew class I teach on Thursday nights. We’ll appear cooperative. Let Maria’s side file their exceptions. From here on, the burden has shifted to Schmidt’s shoulders. Well done, Bennett. Just try to delete the phrase about eating non-kosher, and leave in the part about my providing proper dietary food for him while he’s at his mom’s home. How long do you think it will take for Judge Hickey to sign the order, assuming he’ll sign it at all?”
“About a week. Schmidt’s ten days to file exceptions start from then, but don’t be shocked if he files them earlier than that,” Bennett warned.
“At this time,” I said, “I don’t think there’s anything that can surprise me.”
Bennett assumed that I knew enough about the law to understand what rules accompanied the filing of Exceptions. That turned out to be a poor assumption.
It took three weeks for Hickey to get around to signing the order. I called the judge’s secretary not less than five times, but the calls made Hickey angry and only served to give him reason to put off the signing until he was “damn ready.” At last, on a Friday afternoon, Bennett called to inform me that the deed was done and that he expected to have it in his office by the following Monday. It happened to be a normal visitation weekend for me so I drove over to pick up my son and give him the good news.
When I arrived at my ex-wife’s home, she was gone and her husband was outside mowing the lawn. I had never spoken with Ricardo before, and didn’t like to be put in the position of asking the fellow for the whereabouts of Bobby.
“His mama take him eshopping,” the Latin said in broken English. “I no have no idea when they comma back.”
That made me furious. She knew full well that it was my weekend. Enraged, and worried that Maria might abscond with the child, I drove off yelling that I’d be back soon enough with the cops.
With my blood still boiling hot, I called my ex on Monday afternoon when I had the signed order in my hand. I wanted to know if Maria would obey it. True to form, she told me that she wouldn’t. At that point I took the order over to the local police department and requested their assistance in enforcing it. There was some confusion and reluctance on their part at first, but when I threatened a lawsuit if they refused to “do their duty and enforce the law,” they decided that they’d do their best to get me my son.
The police positioned two unmarked cars near her home, in spots where they could quickly block off any escape. Then a sergeant called Mrs. Estavan and pleaded with her to obey the law. She hung up on him, grabbed Bobby and raced for the car. By the time she got the garage door open and had started to back out, the cops were all over the place and had blocked her attempt to pull back into the garage. They showed her the order, but she produced another one, that which had been signed years before to originally give her primary residency. “Yes,” the sergeant said sympathetically, “but this one’s newer and replaces that old thing. You’ll have to turn the boy over.” While all this was going on, I sat nearby in a patrol car. Bobby was jumping up and down for joy, sure he was going to be living with his daddy. We waved to each other, and I tried to reassure him by giving him the thumbs up sign. Finally, with the first true tears that I’d ever seen her shed, Maria agreed to release our son. Bobby ran to me shouting “Yippee!”
Though the taste of victory seemed sweet indeed, I was able to empathize for Maria as Bobby and I drove off. A month after Maria had pulled out in 1978, denying me visitation rights, I had forcibly taken my son from Theresa’s house, only to wind up handing the child back to the police a few hours later.
In the car Bobby learned the details of the court order for the first time, as his mother had denied him access to me from the day that it had been issued until then.
“It sounds pretty good, Dad. But I don’t like the part about missing Friday nights. How am I gonna see Rachel?” he asked. Rachel was the rabbi’s daughter, and though Bobby was just seven, and she was only six, the two had already promised each other their hands in marriage (a promise never fulfilled).
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that if I were you, son. Look, the order covers only a six-month period. I’m sure the visitation will eventually change. In the meantime, it’s important for you to be nice to your mom. The order says that each parent must foster a loving attitude by you to the other parent.”
“I don’t want to see mom at all anymore,” Bobby said.
“I don’t believe that for a moment, Bobby, and even if it were true, you’d better know that an attitude like that might result in the court awarding final custody right back with her again.”
“I hate her and she hates me,” the boy said.
“That’s not true. Your mother loves you."
“Then why’d she baptize me?”
“Any good mother would do whatever she thought necessary to try to hold on to her child,” I answered.
Bobby said he understood and promised to be well behaved when his mother had visitation. We then went home to celebrate.