This is a story about the American way of life.
Back in the late 1980's, before the Berlin Wall fell I learned of a sad and heartbreaking story. This is the story of Josef. Josef was a young officer in the Soviet Navy.
Josef's specialty was logistics. He had been on two submarines and the Navy was impressed with his possibilities and had even sent him to Naval University to get a graduate degree.
Josef was very happy. He had married the sister of one of his classmates in Navy Officer Training. They had been married for about 8 years and had two wonderful children. The oldest a boy, the younger a little girl.
Just after receiving his graduate degree the Soviet Navy launched their biggest ship yet, an aircraft carrier to rival those of the American Navy. It was a plum job to get assigned to this ship. Josef's superiors thought the world of Josef and got him assigned to the ship.
Just after Josef got settled in to the government assigned housing on the Navy base is when things started to unravel. Josef would work 12 to 16 hours a day on the ship getting it ready to go to sea. A great deal was expected of him, many of his superiors had put their reputations on the line to get him this assignment and he could not let them down. Failure was not an option.
Josef was a devoted father and spent as much of his precious "free time" with his children as he could. Living on the Navy base and being the children of a respected officer, gave them ease and comforts that could never be had just outside the gates. Josef tried to be at home every night for dinner. He played with the children, read them stories and gave them their baths. Unlike many of his friends, if he wasn't on duty or out at sea, Josef was home with his family. It could have been idyllic. It wasn't to be.
Tat'iana, Josef's wife, had grown bored and restless. She was college educated and after a few years of "playing housewife" she was ready for something new. Slowly Tat' (as she was called) began to hang around the onbase bar where the enlisted sailors and their wives went for fun. Just for lunch or in the afternoon for a little while at first, never at night when it got rowdy. Soon, however, Tat' was drinking with the enlisted wives in the afternoons and ignoring the children. Inevitably it lead to going to the base club at night and partying and hanging out with the crowd that seemed "always to be there".
Josef continued to burn the candle at both ends working hard on the ship and being both mother and father while he was at home. Shortly after Tat' became a "regular" at the base watering hole, her father, who had had a heart attack a couple of years earlier, but couldn't put down the vodka bottle, had a massive stroke.
Something in Tat' snapped and she was either racing to her hometown to help her mother with her father or she was partying like there was no tomorrow. Josef and the children had become such a burden to her.
By now the Aircraft Carrier was ready to go on deployment. The load outs and exercises had been smashing successes and Josef was held in very high esteem. All the while Josef's home life was crashing to the ground all around him.
Just before the ship deployed Tat'iana informed Josef that she "wasn't sure she was in love anymore and not sure she wanted to be married". Josef begged her to go to a counselor with him to try to work through this before the ship deployed. Leaving like this would surely kill him with worry. No way, she said. They agreed at least to put all this sort of talk on hold till the ship came back from it's six month deployment. They would deal with it then.
Josef left very uneasy about his family, but he had a job to do and many, many people were counting on him. His ship was state of the art, it even had some of the latest and greatest technology. Soon they learned that they could send and receive email messages with their families back home. What an immense relief to Josef. He could stay in touch with Tat' and keep "the home fires burning" until he could get back and "fix" things with her.
Funny thing that email. What Josef thought would ease his worry became an incredible burden. About a month and a half into the deployment, Josef got the late 20th century version of "the dear John letter", an email from Tat'iana. In it she stated that she needed to "make a change in her life" and that she had moved out of their safe and comfortable house on the Navy base and was renting a small house out in town. She had the kids and thus needed to take nearly all the furniture and well, starting a new house took allot of money so she had spent nearly all of their savings and taken out several loans to cover all her expenses. She said she was sorry that she couldn't wait, but she had to "get on with her life".
About three weeks later one of the other officer's wives, Anya, sent Josef an email with the most devestating news yet. Anya knew Tat'iana because Josef had arranged for Tat' to work in the same office part time with her. Josef recognized that Tat' was bored and felt unappreciated staying at home with the kids, so before he left on cruise he had arranged for Tat' to get this job. At the time Tat' had been very, very grateful. Anya's email informed Josef that Tat' had not simply moved to a place in town to "start over". She had moved in with one of the gate guards who had left his wife and two kids. Apparently they had been having an affair for quite some time after meeting and partying at the on base bar. Josef had been niaive and clueless. Now he was devestated.
Josef told his superiors on the ship what was going on and what had happened. They were incredibly supportive of him and even offered to send him home to get a handle on the situation. Josef knew that if he left now, his career was over. Josef stayed on the ship and his performance was exceptional. He did not let his ship, his superiors or his sponsors down. He stuck it out and came back at the end of the deployment to any empty house.
After getting back, Josef discovered that Tat' had filed for divorce and that she wouldn't let him see the kids till he took the papers. As he began to put the pieces together he was appalled to learn that the base commander had been made aware that the enlisted gate guard had been coming to visit Tat' in Officer Housing and that the commander had ordered him to stop. Tat' and the guard ignored the order. Finally, when pushed the guard was near the end of his enlistment and Josef was due back soon so the base commander let the guard out of the Navy early. Tat' and the guard moved out into town and the Navy no longer had any involvement. Josef complained to the base commander, but was told that it was done. The Navy and the command has avoided a scandal and he should be glad to be rid of her. She was only going to hold him back in his career. Josef read that thinly veiled message loud and clear. Make a stink about this and kiss your future in the Navy goodbye.
Josef was from the interior, very rural except for the chemical plants where his father worked as a common laborer. Josef had been very, very fortunate indeed to have come so far from his humble beginings. He knew that if he left the Navy in disgrace, he would spend the rest of his life laboring beside his father in that chemical plant and that only if he was lucky. He could end up in a gulag, if he really pushed it.
Having given up any hope of help from the Navy, Josef sought out a lawyer to help him navigate divorce and custody. He thought it would be simple. She wanted to party and be irresponsible and he wanted to raise his children. Not quite that easy. When Tat' moved out and got all the loans and took all their savings, Josef had his pay stopped from going to their joint bank account and had the pay come to him. The courts called that abandonment on Josef's part, and he owed her spousal and child support for all those months. Never mind that Josef had used the money to pay the debts Tat' had racked up in his name, or to buy a few humble pieces of furniture for his now empty house. No, Josef owed his family and he owed it now. Didn't matter that he didn't have any money, the courts docked his pay. Now Tat' was living with another man, partying all the money away and Josef was reduced to a near pauper.
Josef's family and friends rallied around him and gave him financial, emotional and even spiritual support. He obtained what he thought was a good lawyer and began the fight for his children. His lawyer never bothered to learn about the Navy and what Josef did. He never really paid much attention to Josef's case at all until a court date was upon them. The courts laughed at Josef, asking how a military man who could be sent off to battle at a moment's notice could raise two children? Foolishness. He must put this folly aside and let their mother raise them, afterall that's what mother's do. However, mother's cannot be expected to raise his children for free, so he must pay about 1/2 his salary in child and spousal support. Doesn't matter that she lives with a married man. Doesn't matter that she only wants the children for emotional and financial support. She is the Mother, didn't he know anything? The studies have all shown that fathers simply cannot do it. Especially one in so dangerous and transient a job as the Navy.
So in the matter of a little less than 2 years Josef goes from king of the world to loneliness, misery and near poverty, while Tat' parties it up and ignores his children. With all the blessings of the military and the government. Josef realized that he did end up in the gulag afterall, it just wasn't called that and the weather was a little more pleasant. Victim of a heartless, souless, Godless Soviet system.
Think that couldn't happen here?
Substitute Alexander for Josef. Substitute Mary for Tat'. That is my story, with the hell years from October/November 1995 through August of 1997.
Why talk about this? Why bring this up?
BECAUSE IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME!!!!!!
I blame Glenn Sacks for dredging this all up. Glenn Sacks wrote a column in The Los Angeles Daily News in May and posted about it on his website about a week ago. What was the column about, you ask?
From the article:
When Gary, a San Diego-based US Navy SEAL, was deployed in Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he never dreamed that his service to his country would cost him his little son. Gary's son was not taken from him by a terrorist or a kidnapper. This 17-year Navy veteran with an unblemished military and civilian record was effectively stripped of his right to be a father by a California court.
Boy did that sound eerily familiar. In reading the whole article, I found that Glenn was focused on RESERVE military personnel. Like the whole thing only started after 9/11 or Desert Storm when we needed to call up a bunch of reserves.
I sent an email to Glenn somewhat sternly reminding him that from my own personal experience, this is not a new phenomenon and it is certainly not isolated only to those in the reserves. Glenn, to his credit, acknowledged that he really hadn't expanded the story or his line of thinking beyond the plight of the reserves and was kinda shocked to learn that the active duty guys and gals go through this on a regular and frequent basis.
Why bring this up? Why go "open kimono" as we say in the Navy, on something as personal as this?
I'm glad there are people like Glenn Sacks out there who are telling this story. I get sick and tired of hearing all the "Dead Beat Dad" stories out there. You cannot imagine how difficult my ex has made it for me to be part of my kids lives. You cannot fathom how slanted and unfair the courts were and still are when it comes to fathers.
Now I'm headed down to California yet again, to deal with the fallout of her short comings. Naturally, her short lived marriage to the gate guard blew up and last summer she got yet another divorce. She flat refused to let the kids come stay with me while she got her act together and would not even listen to suggestions of counseling for the kids. So, being the dutiful father, I had to drag her to court to force her to agree to counseling. Older and wiser, I have a much better lawyer and I've learned a few things from all this and got her lawyer on my side from the start. Of course, she wouldn't lift a finger to get it set up so I have to do it all by long distance and even fly down there to get it started.
Family court in America is the most evil and perverted system in our country. I only wish Oprah would do a show on all the guys (especially those of us in uniform) get screwed and how the kids are the ones that pay the highest price of all. Then maybe things might have a chance of changing. For now, I just keep pushing that boulder up the mountain, hoping that it doesn't roll back and crush me while I try.
I thank God every day for bringing Mrs. Hamilton's Pamphlets and me together. Her and the other little Pamphleteers are what keep me strong.
Thank you sweetheart.
I Love you!