Know your rights, and God grant me the serenity

…as a divorced and non-custodial father, you don’t have any, even if you paid child support faithfully. In fact, it’s better to not pay it and be rich: this way you can re-enter your child’s life with larger wads of cash and buy his or her love: my guess this is what Steve Jobs did with his daughter Lisa.

From a public relations standpoint, small amounts paid regularly (interrupted, perhaps, when you’ve lost your job) simply don’t have the glamor, I’d imagine, of re-entering your child’s life dramatically with tuition for Stanford. You get, I’d hazard, to be a Big Man and buy their love, like Lear at the beginning of the old play.

As is public knowledge, Jobs (at the same time I was undertaking an open-ended commitment to pay child support to my ex) refused to make a flat one-time payment for his daughter. Rich people depend on their Daddies like Gates and stiff other people. Guys like me must be stupid. We try to pay our bills, do our jobs, only to get constantly blind sided, mocked, and disrespected for not somehow “getting it”, the Gospel of Wealth.

My second grown son has traveled repeatedly to SE Asia and will not stop in Hong Kong to see me. He has also blocked me on Facebook. I did not abuse him and faithfully paid his child support and my share of his university education. He does so, I believe, in following the lead of his Mom, who out of the blue in 2007 accused me of “stalking” her. This was the occasional phone call and email updating my situation in China and discussing the needs of our grown children.

I was a loving father when married to my ex-wife. When the marriage collapsed I resolved to handle the situation on my own rather than go to my well to do father to fix things: I figured that anything would be preferable to listening to my father’s complaints and for once in my life I needed to take responsibility for something. I resolved to maintain good if noncustodial contact with the kids.

The expenses of this contact (including airfare and long distance calls to tell them stories at bedtime), coupled with my plateau’ing and then declining income in software, caused me to ruin my credit standing and I wound up on a cash basis…in Asia, with seventy five dollars to my name.

By this time, I had no further legal responsibilities to the kids. However, after I found a good, full time (six day week, here) job in Hong Kong, I was happy to pay tuition for my oldest grown son (on the understanding it would be paid back) and half an emergency room bill for that same son.

However, owing to sudden and unexplained job loss in August of last year, my credit again went toxic. I’ve undertaken to pay what I owe over ten years and when this debt is retired I shall be seventy: but as Calvin Coolidge said of British war debt, “they hired the money, didn’t they?” I just don’t care quite as much as I used to about the things that money can buy, since I can make much nicer things including poems and paintings and dances. I just seek to live on a reasonably unspoiled subtropical island in a community of like-minded riff raff.

Not too much to ask? Ah, but it is, quite possibly. What Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm called, in Seize the Day, “the demon who wants my life” would be, I am quite sure, delighted to ruin that.

To help pay the bank debt I’ve requested a payback of the tuition from my eldest son. He is a good person who himself is a bit overwhelmed and has promised to do what he can.

I have received no word on the emergency room bill from my former wife pursuant to her decision to completely ignore all email from me. I am Nigerian spam to her, the Other, that disturbing ole black magic from her past…or something like that.

To add to these troubles, one of my current employers is being stroppy since teachers in this firm are burdened with secretarial and courier duties at which I suck, as opposed to teaching. It is true that I did not take work-to-rule seriously enough in lower tier Hong Kong schools where the students are given ersatz education that conforms to rules whereas at my previous job I taught “international” students being tracked to top schools, and my improvisations were more welcome. But I don’t much like being tacitly expected to buy file folders and other office supplies in a constant effort to be a “road warrior”, taking materials from school to school.

My former boss at Princeton warned me that world wide teachers get this shit. You can be a great teacher able to improvise. It just doesn’t matter to school administrations whose parents aren’t super-rich and won’t complain, as long as they can show that on such a such a date, the government-authorized and standardized (and test-oriented) curriculum was offered.

It is another view, the teacher’s rather than the student’s, of the system which confronted my eldest son, and which ignored the message of his near-perfect SAT scores (and my own): the high SAT scores, whatever else they may mean, mean that the student was prepared for the education provided by the high school and that the high school failed him. Not only a predictor of college success, high SAT scores from a failing student do NOT show he’s not making the effort. They show he’s being fucked with because he’s not athletic or popular, or, in my son’s case, doesn’t have a father at home.

God grant me the serenity.


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