Despite myself, I am optimistic.
My job brings me to court twice a week to work on child support cases. The cases we see are predisposed to be the the worst of the lot. They can be the ones which no other form of persuasion has prompted someone to be a good parent. We are taking the action of last resort, we are going to court. If that were not enough, the atmosphere is charged by the inherently difficult issues of money, children, abandonment, and love unrequited.
Recently I was working on a case which was tragically typical: a man was summoned to court to legally establish paternity and child support for a child he had not met. Only after learning the results of a DNA test, six weeks prior, did he even know that he was a father to this two year old child. We worked out an agreement to pay support without having to go to an actual hearing. As we were finishing up he asked a common question: “what do I have to do to see this child?” I gave my usual answer: “the easiest way is to work it out with the mother.” He allowed that they were not on the best of terms, and I noticed that they both had new “significant others” in attendance, to give them moral support. I’m no great authority on anything, and having just sat on the opposite side of the table on a deal to take an additional couple hundred dollars from his paycheck, I didn’t feel I was in the best position to give him friendly advise (and have it heeded). However, I could not help myself. At this point the meeting usually ends one of two ways. After I tell the parent that the payoff may be worth the try, I get a look which says “yeah, sure”; or, I get a response that goes something like “you may be right” – followed by the mother and father ignoring each other on their way back to their lives. This time however neither happened. It was a busy day, so I kind of hurried off to the next case and didn’t notice what they did right after we were done. However, about twenty minutes later I noticed the four of them in the hallway outside the courtroom. The mother, father, current boyfriend and current girlfriend were all talking together. I heard the mother say to the father, “give me a call. . . .” I saw the father and the current boyfriend shake hands. I saw what looked like a sincere, friendly wave mirrored by the mother and the current girlfriend.
The cynic in me would say that it was but a brief moment, and it will be awfully tough – maybe too tough – to keep that up for very long. But there was something about them all, something that I can’t put my finger on which makes me feel that they have got a chance. It is moments like these that make my job worth while. The thought that if I had anything at all – however small – to do with something that may enrich the lives of several people, it would be special beyond explanation.
Optimism ruled the day, and I am hopeful for a good start.