(Note, I’ve changed the names of those involved.)
I’m in court and I call the next case. I call the mother on the case, and ask to speak to her in the waiting area, outside the court room. The mother is a middle age white woman. She is of average height, with slightly above average girth. She is wearing more make-up than she should. She explains to me that she just got the kids back from foster care. She does not tell me why the kids were there, but I can guess. She seems slightly unstable emotionally. She is worried that she will be evicted from her apartment, as she has been out of work and can’t make the rent. If she is evicted, she believes she will loose the kids again. The kids are there, playing in the corner of the waiting area (the toy area). I try to explain to her that we will try to get a support order for her today; but that it will be months before it starts, and that she should not expect anything right away. All this time, I am having trouble focusing her on the interview. She keeps going off on tangents, blurting out her personal concerns as they come to mind. My normally rushed approach to court is given pause by the thought of their situation.
I send the mother back into the court room and call out the father. The kids are still playing in the corner. The father is at least 50, a late middle age black man. He is the picture of a hard life. He carries himself like a man without any hope left. He is beaten. I advise him that we are here to legally establish paternity and establish a child support obligation. He indicates that he has doubts as to wether he is the father. He has never seen the children. The children are 12 and 10. I tell him I will arrange for a test which will determine wether or not he is the father, and he agrees to take the test. Until now he has paid no special attention to the kids in the corner. He has not seen the mother in the same room with the kids, and gives every indication that he has no idea who they are. As I am about to go into the court room, to get the forms needed to arrange the testing, the younger child approaches the man and asks, “Are you Donny?” The child is obviously biracial. “Yes”, answers the man. “Who are you?” he asks. The boy replies, “I’m Jimmy.” The man’s expression changes, and a look of shame takes up residence in his manner of being. He knows who the boy is. The boy asks, “Are you my daddy?” My heart breaks. I am frozen. These lives seem completely foreign to me, and I am saddened for the loss that they may never realize – because they don’t know how life could be different.
I’m not sure why this case effected me so. It’s not that these circumstances haven’t presented themselves in court before. Maybe it was all of them being present in this one case. Maybe there was something about me that day that made me especially prone. Whatever the case, it had an effect that has lingered somewhat. I wish them all well, and pray that they will make the best of what they have in the future. However, I’m not terribly optimistic.