The Bastard Chronicles
Updated: Jun 27, 2019
Fatherhood and Everyday Blackness for Everyday People
On July 20, 2018, I found out that I had been awarded an incredible distinction for an educator; I was selected for a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classroom fellowship. The fellowship is named after a Senator Fulbright from Arkansas and has been in effect for a considerable amount of time. There were only 70 or so educators chosen, and only three came from Georgia. I was part of those three. A pretty dope way to birth my 9th year of teaching. (Yeah that’s that 3 dollars and six dimes shit…)
I’ll spare you the insignificant details about a semester of digital coursework that felt like I was starting a Master’s program. I’ll stop to say that we did convene at the (insert hotel name) in D.C. for a Global Education Symposium and that the representative from the State Department referenced me, by name, during both her opening and closing speeches. I imagine this was the kind of life Bigger Thomas once dreamed he could have; fully Black, fully present, and fully engaged in global discourse that neither discounted nor made too much of my race.
The third component of the fellowship; and the component upon which the fourth and culminating task hung, is the International Field Experience. I would join a cohort of educators who would travel abroad, study culture and education, and find a way to mix in our American ideals and return home learned, wise and cosmopolitan. And I had the dopest assignment: I would be traveling to Morocco. My first foray abroad and I would get a chance to see Charles De Gaul (layover in Paris) and dip my feet into the Motherland. This had to be by divine design.
Nigga, we made it!
Actually, this is one of the few times that Drake might be wrong, even if he was accompanied by Big Draco on the record. No… the reality is much like D’angelo and his Vanguar; It ain’t that easy. I, in fact, did not make it… because I can’t renew my fucking passport!
So, you can consider everything above as a preamble of sorts; the framework is important, but the devil hides in the details. I have a passport. I got it the same day in 2008 when I registered to vote in the primaries to elect Barack Obama. That was also two days before Douglas County politely banged on my door and escorted me away for a forced, two-month vacation. But that is besides the point. All this is to say that I was a visionary over 10 years ago when I secured a passport on the off-shoot chance that I would miser away enough money to leave U.S. borders. But… what I didn’t know… what I didn’t realize… by the time I would need to renew that passport, a certain thing called child support arrears would the veritable Thanos, smashing those international dreams to smithereens.
This is the part that reveals exactly what I’m writing about. You have to forgive me; I am a child of the 80’s, Hip-Hop, and old men conversations: I take a while to get to the point.
The Department of Homeland Security mandates that anyone with a child support arrears balance of $2,500 or above is ineligible to obtain a passport. This aligns with a variety of other penalties levied upon non-custodial parents like both drivers and professional license suspension. Oh yeah, and jail or prison. And while I understand the idea behind these tactics, I completely disagree with the tactics themselves. I definitely watched the Maury Povich show in the 80’s and early 90’s hoping that one day my mother would bring my dad on the show and I’d be subject to a $50,000 child support windfall. I was gon stunt on them fools with all the Z Cavaricci and Cross Colors I could afford. Alas, that would not be the case as the man I thought to be my father was not... Yeah, that’s a thing and the reason for this whole series of writing.
Most states calculate child support under a mythical number of how much it costs to raise a child. I do not know if this number is arbitrary. I do know that as a non-custodial parent, I am charged with 70% of that figure. I also know that an overwhelming majority of custody cases support the mother as a custodial parent with gender being the primary (and sometimes only) basis for that decision. I also know that if you are not smart and are not a diligent receipt-keeper, you will find yourself having to take a financial ‘L” for undocumented support payments. And something else I know, on paper, I owe an absurd amount of back child support; however as arrears are being deducted from my check, the state will ensure that I pay until that balance is zero. They are 16, 17 &18, but I will be paying well until they all reach the age of majority. Until then, I will be denied the privilege of international travel: even if that travel is academic, educational and aligns me with more opportunities to better provide for the children for whom the state is so concerned.
But that’s the thing about bureaucracies. The system exists to support the system’s existence, yet the reason for the system’s existence is rarely questioned. Equally rare is an actual audit of the system’s practice to determine if the system is actually aligned with its own goals. So, the child support system is designed to ensure that mothers; those physically straddled with the responsibility of childbirth, are not also straddled with rearing those children on their own. And, if the modern family unit does not remain intact, the child support system ensures that fathers cannot run away, leaving the mother to fend and child to starve. This is all well and good. I support that. What I do not support is a blind application of each and every ordinance connected to its enforcement.
We live in a turbulent economy where anyone may experience money trouble. Essentially, the child support system is designed under that premise, particularly for the mother. And we accept that she can be well-meaning and totally devoted to her child without always having the wherewithal for all of their (attempting to be pronoun conscious) needs. We give almost every mother the benefit of that doubt. Yet, with fathers, the exact opposite is true. And while I previously acknowledged that mothers are often left to raise the children, one of the reasons is because the child support system wills it as such. The problem with a bureaucratic approach to child support is similar to mandatory minimums for crimes: it allows for no interpretation and no specificity. Some things require more spirit versus the letter of the law.
But, hey. Maybe I’m just exercising my constitutional right to be selfish. Maybe I’m bothered by the fact that I’ve actually paid arrears since 2013 from an order established in 2011 as a result of a 2007 divorce and a not-so-truthful affidavit, and that almost 9 years of timely payments (albeit check drafts) is not enough to afford me the privilege of a passport. I’m also pissed that I’ve attempted to dodge stereotypes like landmines and still found myself squarely atop yet another target.
I got a letter from the government the other day. I opened and read it, it said they were suckers. Because apparently I need ID to get ID (ask Common). Because I’ve survived incarceration, probation, depression and nine years as a public school educator in urban environments, yet I still have not earned enough stripes to secure a passport.
PostScript: The organization was even nice enough to allow for a time and location change. I was offered a chance to visit Indonesia in July of 2019. I’d get to say that line from “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre over and over again. It’s June. 2019. I am not packing my bags. I am in the same position as I was on July 19, 2018. Man, this system sucks.