CHAPTER 11 - THE BATTLE RESUMES
There was peace until that November. I decided to attempt to put together a teen tour to Israel for the following spring so I called my ex to find out if she would allow Bobby to tag along. The response wasn’t a friendly one.
Maria argued that it wasn’t safe to travel to Israel and, although it was still before the crazy terrorist outbreaks to follow in later years, no amount of arguing by me could sway her from that conviction. I warned her that I was so serious about my desire to show our son the country that I might consider court action to gain permission. That made the woman see red. She let me know in no uncertain terms that she was as much opposed to the trip as I was in favor of it. To get the point across, she started to cut into my unofficial visitation rights. At first she’d leave messages at my school. I’d be all set to pick up my son on a Friday afternoon, only to find out at the last moment that the woman would be keeping Bobby for the weekend. If it was supposed to be her weekend, I didn’t mind too much. It’s good, I reasoned, that she’s finally taking more of an interest in our son.
But it wasn’t long before she began to also keep Bobby on weekends that were supposed to be mine. That made me angry. True, I’d been given visitation for the past few years that was far in excess of what the court ordered, but we were accustomed to our time together.
In mid-December, 1983, my folks invited us to their Miami Beach condo for dinner. Kathy put on her prettiest dress, and we drove over to Theresa’s to pick up Bobby. When we got there, Maria and the boy were waiting out front with Raul, who was washing his car. The ex-mercenary took one look at my new wife, who he hadn’t seen before, and then congratulated me for finding such “an exquisite beauty.” Now though it was true that Maria was then living with her Catholic boyfriend, Ricardo, it was also true that it bothered her to see me so happy with another gorgeous woman who was six years younger than her and fourteen years younger than me. Maria had bragged to me about how she enjoyed breaking the hearts of her former boyfriends. She knew I had been deeply hurt, too, but now believed that I was flaunting my new love. It rekindled all the hatred of the last custody fight. When I picked up my boy the next time, he bore ominous news.
“Mom took me to church for Christmas,” he told me. “Not only that,” he continued, “but she forced me to eat pork. She said God gave us pork to eat and it was no sin if I ate it. Besides, she told me that I’m a Catholic because the Jewish religion says the child must take the religion of the mother.”
Maria had never before expressed an interest in the Church. I wondered why the sudden change had occurred and postulated that her new love might have had something to do with it. Maybe the guy didn’t care to have a little Jew running around his house.
The following weekend was Maria’s. I had to wait until the subsequent Wednesday to learn how serious she was about her new faith. It wasn’t good. She took our son to church again for a regular Sunday Mass, and was going back on her pledge to raise him as a Jew. I realized I’d have to go to war again.
Bobby was more than a bit distressed. He hated looking at the Cross because he had begun to view Jesus as the cause of his parent’s divorce. Now it seemed like the Nazarene was keeping him from seeing me as well.
I tried to understand Maria’s motives. The Church had never recognized our marriage. Perhaps she decided to get right with God and the Vatican by attending services. Since she had primary residency what, (I figured she thought) could I do about it if she took Bobby along? After all, she could argue that she certainly had as much right to expose her child to Catholicism as I had to take him to synagogue. She must have thought that even if she were a bit slow to exercise that option, it was still hers. She viewed the circumcision as a mere medical procedure that I had tricked her into. No longer married to me, I guess she thought she only had to abide by the court order now and that didn’t include anything about Bobby’s religious upbringing.
A few weeks passed. In late January I drove over to Theresa’s to pick my son. Bobby wasn’t there and Theresa hadn’t heard from Maria. I drove back to school, checked my message box and found nothing about her keeping the boy that weekend. There was no answer at Ricardo’s when I called. Bobby’s school told me that the boy had been in attendance that day but was now nowhere to be found.
For five nervous hours I drove around the neighborhood trying to find my son. Maria had never kept Bobby before without notifying me. Darkness set in and still there was no sign of the lad. I drove home and tried to call my ex once more. At last she answered the phone.
“I’m keeping Bobby for the weekend,” she told me.
“You didn’t leave a message,” I snapped. “I’ve been driving around for hours half scared out of my wits that he’d been kidnapped or something. You know what’s been going on lately with all the child murders in Miami. Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“‘I don’t have to tell you anything,” she retorted.
“Look, Maria,” I said, “I won’t stand for the crap you’ve been dishing out lately. And what’s all this Bobby’s been telling me about going to church? You promised to raise our son to be a Jew!”
“I promised nothing,” she said.
“And,” I added, “It’s time you started respecting Bobby’s feelings about food. I’m talking about pork.”
“Bobby eats it all the time. He loves it,” she insisted.
“Loves it, hell!” I argued. “He throws it out every time you pack ham for lunch. He’s been buying fruit and salads for lunch at school for a year now with the allowance I give him. You know damn well that Jews aren’t permitted to eat pork, shellfish, or meat mixed with dairy. If Bobby wants to eat only kosher food, why do you have to make it so hard for him?”
“I don’t have to answer you. I’m enrolling Bobby in a catechism class. You can’t stop me,” she told me.
“I’ll see you in court, lady. You just bought yourself a new custody suit. Enjoy.” I hung up the phone on her so hard that I cracked my own receiver.
I took a good look at Kathy and wondered whether she’d stick with me through the stressful and expensive legal campaign that was sure to lay ahead. Her relationship with Bobby was marginal on a part-time basis. He looked at Kathy more like a big sister than as stepmother who should be an authority figure. If Bobby was going to live with her on a full-time basis, that would have to change.
Kathy wasn't overjoyed by what had transpired, but she let me know that, so long as Bobby would start listening to her, it was O.K. to file the suit.
There was one other person to consult before I took decisive action, Bobby himself. On Monday morning I drove over to the boy’s school and had him pulled from class. We walked out to a park bench and sat down for a man-to-man talk.
“What happened this weekend?” I asked.
“What do you think? They made me go to church again and they hit me when I wouldn’t kneel there. I said the Shema in Hebrew instead,” Bobby told me.
“That’s my boy! Bobby, listen to me and listen good. We have to make a big decision. You’re only six and a half, but this is going to be one of the biggest decisions of your life. What do you want me to do about your mother?” I asked.
Without hesitating Bobby said, “Fight for custody, Dad. I can’t live with her like this. She used to be nice, but ever since she started going to church she’s been horrible.”
“Do you know what another custody fight means?” I asked. "It means that I’ve got to spend thousands of dollars that I don’t have . . . and so does your mother, all for lawyers again. There’s no guarantee that I’ll win. We’ll probably be fighting in the court system for a year, maybe longer. During that time your mother will reduce my visitation to what Judge Hickey decreed last time, and she’ll fight to reduce it even more . You’ll be on the front line of this war all the time. Ricardo and your mother can beat you again or deprive you of food whenever you don’t want to eat non-kosher meals. We’ll have to start all over again with the psychologists and the social workers, too. Every adult you talk to or who asks you a question is a potential witness in court. You must trust no one and be very careful of everything you say until the whole mess is over. For a kid your age, a year can seem like a lifetime. The last battle left me a nervous wreck, and I’ll probably get my nervous tic back again.
“It won’t be easy for Kathy either. Right now she says she’s with us. When the months start to roll by and the legal bills start to mount, I won’t be able to buy her any more pretty dresses. She may resent you for it.
“I don’t like to have to tell you all these things. But you’re my son and I love you too much to lie to you. You have a right to know just what’s involved in the decision that we’re making here,” I said.
By now Bobby was in tears. Still, through all the sobbing, he managed to tell me, “I want you to fight for me. I don’t want to live with Mom anymore and I don’t like Ricardo. If you love me, you’ll do it.”
I told Bobby that our chances would be better if we’d wait another six years until he was twelve, but the boy wouldn’t stand for such a delay. He then told me that he had started catechism class and asked how to behave there.
“If you’re well-behaved, your catechism teacher will be in court to testify that you enjoyed the class. Do you want that?” I asked.
“No way, Dad.”
I then told him, “To win the case you must become like Daniel, who wouldn’t, as a boy, eat the King’s food because it was non-kosher. You must be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who walked into the fiery furnace and were unharmed because they wouldn’t worship a false god but were instead ready to risk all for the real One.
“When I went up to the mountain of God, Mount Sinai, I asked God to deliver you into my hand. Perhaps He heard my prayer and just maybe He’s about to do what I asked Him to do. But God demands a price for His intervention. When our forefathers were at the Red Sea, it wasn't until we had enough faith to wade into the waters to the level of our very nostrils that God saw fit to part the sea and let us pass. And before that, it wasn’t until Abraham had raised the knife to sacrifice his son, who didn't try to escape from the altar, that God chose to send the ram instead. We must wade into the waters now ‘till they reach our very nostrils. You must be prepared to lie upon the altar, and I must be ready to raise the knife. Then, and only then, will God honor our request and free you from your mother’s bondage. There are two people coursing through your genes, the Chosen and the Gentiles. The Chosen were picked not because God is biased but because we were prepared to serve Him. Abraham overcame the idol worshipping influence of his father, Terach." I could not then imagine how those words would come to haunt me when Bobby grew up, but we're not there in the story yet. I continued by asking him to find that same spark of our forefather and to let it dominate his thoughts and actions.
“I won’t let you down if you won’t let me down Daddy,” Bobby promised. With tears still in his eyes, he returned to class.