Women: Ever wonder what goes through a man’s mind during the end of a marriage, separation, custody battle, and divorce? Men: Does your ex consider you a deadbeat dad? Well, stay tuned as we discuss the Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad… on this edition of Frank Relationships.
FRANK RELATIONSHIPS: TODD L. BOTTOM, AUTHOR OF “CONFESSIONS OF A DEADBEAT DAD”
Guests: Todd L. Bottom
Date: November 4, 2013
Frank: Women, ever wonder what goes through a man’s mind during the end of a marriage, separation, custody battle and divorce? Men, does your ex consider you a deadbeat dad? Well stay tuned, as we discuss the confessions of a deadbeat dad, on this edition of Frank Relationships.
Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look into relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at: franklove.com. You can also download the podcast of this and other archive shows on iTunes or with your favorite podcast app.
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Today’s guest began studying the outcomes of divorce and non-custodial fathers in 2010. He earned his Master’s in psychology at the DePaul University and will complete his Ph.D. in community psychology this year.
He’s also the author of, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad, a candid account of the trials and successes of his separation and divorce. He’s the very interesting and revealing man, father and researcher, Mr. Todd Bottom. Welcome to the show.
Todd: Good morning, Frank. How are you, man?
Frank: I’m great. How are you doing?
Todd: It’s a little bit early here in Chicago, it’s a cold rainy fall morning, but I’m doing great, man. Things are good.
Frank: Yeah, suck it up.
Todd: I hear you, man. I can see the lake from my apartment, so I will suck it up.
Frank: Yeah, Lake Shore Drive, there are very few things that I find more beautiful than Lake Shore Drive in the morning. That is something special.
Todd: Yeah, man.
Frank: Why do you consider yourself a deadbeat dad or did you consider yourself a deadbeat dad?
Todd: You know, Frank, this is something I struggled with a long time. It’s been eight years now, almost nine maybe. I kind of lose track of time after awhile, but it’s something I’ve struggled for a long time. What is a deadbeat dad? Am I that guy and how do we define that and that’s one of the conversations that I want to have.
I have my perceptions, but when we think of a deadbeat dad, what are the characteristics that we assume to find in that type of a person. I think that’s a big question to answer.
Frank: Alright, we’ll knock it out the park. What are your perceptions?
Todd: I think what I usually hear is, a, the main thing is someone who does not pay child support and, b, someone who does not see their children as regularly as people would like to see them-too see that parent to be with their children. I think those are the two main characteristics that we associate with the deadbeat parent.
Frank: Does that turn out to be your perception also? Is that how you see it or you just relaying what you’ve heard and what you get from the community at large?
Todd: You know what? I abhor the term in general.
Todd: Men or women, I think it’s extremely derogatory. I relate it to that the “n” word, a lot of other things which characterize people based on what we see in their behaviors or what we perceive them to be, if that makes sense. I hate the term.
Frank: What about “being a real man?” You like that one?
Todd: I mean, what is a real man?
Frank: Yeah, I’m with you. I just hear people talk about “what a real man should do” and wonder if you can weigh-in there too?
Todd: What’s a real man do? Should a real man pay child support? Should a real man see his child everyday, every two weeks, like the courts allow? When we’re talking about defining a real man, relative to fatherhood, I have a hard time believing that a lot of men can live up to the expectation that people label a real man when we get to fatherhood.
Frank: I’m going to weigh-in with my bias. I wrote a blog on franklove.com, sometime ago, talking about just that–the perceptions of a real man and I’m not one to use the term or buy into the concept of what a real man is or isn’t–
Frank: But the general landscape of that is–I have five children, love them, raise them, all that good stuff and–
Todd: Good for you.
Frank: Yeah–and that’s fulfilling for me. But I also accept that there are people and men who will have children and that will not be fulfilling for them and I don’t think that they’re any less of a man than I, because of what I do. I think we’re just opposite sides of the same coin.
In fact, I believe that if there is a child or children that need to be raised or fed, that I have access to, I am happy to do so without batting an eye, without asking anybody for a dollar, I’m happy to take a child in and raise that child and I’m no better than anybody else for doing that. It’s just what I enjoy doing.
I enjoy raising children. I enjoy my children. I enjoy my experiences with them. I enjoy my experiences with my nieces, nephews and all of that good stuff. But again, it doesn’t make me any better than someone who doesn’t. So, when I hear the concept of real man, I’m not a fan of it, because it’s insulting to my brothers and I don’t believe that that gets us anywhere. Any thoughts there?
Todd: First of all, I really appreciate your take on it and where you are. Unfortunately, there are a lot of us out there–a lot of us dads that are just not in a situation where we’re allowed to do the things that you have everyday. I think that’s a big misconception is that people perceive–people like myself and dozens and dozens of other guys like me, that we want to do the same things that you do everyday, we’re just not allowed and there’s a lot of reasons for that.
This comes back to the deadbeat dad. There’s nothing available, nothing interesting, not being with their children and everything else. A lot of times, it’s not that they don’t want to, they’re just not allowed. They’re not given the opportunity to and that’s, I think, one of the biggest misconceptions in public that a lot of us have a disagreement with.
Frank: I’m going to give a little history on my own scenario and my own situation. My oldest two children are with my first wife and my youngest three are with my second wife and the disillusion of–what is it? Is it disillusion? Is that right? Dissolve? Yeah, disillusion of my first marriage–
Todd: Disillusion. Yeah, absolutely. Right.
Frank: It was not an easy one. Neither was the negotiation of how to raise the children in terms of time and that sort of thing, but I fought in court to have access to my children and it’s worked out very well for me.
So, I have my youngest three. My youngest three are with me everyday and my oldest two are with me and their mom. That has not been an easy scenario to navigate, so I get some of the dynamics. I understand what can go into a divorce or what can go into navigating who the children are going to be with or even some of the doodoo that gets thrown as a result of navigating that scenario. I get it very well.
A few moments ago, when we started, you talked about eight years. You said it’s been about eight years and you said you’re not even sure–seven, eight years, what has it been? Is that a good thing, that the time has passed now where it’s not drudgery, you’re no longer counting the days since you’ve split your marriage? You’re now into a zone where it’s just been kind of awhile or it’s been a long time and I’m glad it’s over. Where are you with your scenario?
Todd: You know what? Actually Frank, that is a great question. Nobody’s actually asked me that question, maybe ever before. Here’s my situation, I, like a lot of guys, when my divorce came to an end–and anyone who wants to read my book, I’m going to plug it, if you don’t mind, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad, is available on Amazon right now only as an e-book, but that book is a–I wrote 900 handwritten pages. It was my journal for 27 months.
At the time I was absolutely devastated and we were a Christian family, teaching Bible study, very involved with our church. At the time I was so freaked out, I had no idea what was going on. She had one-night stands and confronted her and she told me that she did that so that I would leave her. It was a passive-aggressive kind of thing. For eight, nine months, I was just beside myself. I didn’t know what to do. I contemplated suicide.
As a way to occupy my time–we had three kids–I went back to school. I had nowhere to go, I had no where to live, so I went back to school. I lived in a dorm, in a little bedroom that was eight by twelve, almost like a prison cell, I guess if you would.
I was like, “I’ve got nowhere to go, I’ve got no money,” so, I occupied my time with that for a few years and then after awhile, I was just like, “Okay, I’ve occupied my time and now what am I going to do,” and over the last three years or so, I dedicated my life to my research to my research, to what’s going on and “What are the experiences with divorced dads?” What do they feel? Where do they go to live? Where are they working? Where do they go for counsel? Who are their friends?
Frank: And what did you find?
Todd: I just cleaned and organized my data. I don’t have my dissertation stuff ready yet and I’ll share a couple of things with you that I’ve found so far, just don’t tell my advisor, but one of the things that we found was, one of my undergrads of my research team was interested in, “Does it make a difference how much education and how much money I have? Can that buy me custody of my kids?” We took in consideration divorced fathers’ education and their income and that we assumed that would give them power and the ability to hire attorney’s and go into courts and everything else and what we found is it makes absolutely no difference. It doesn’t matter–
Frank: That’s interesting.
Todd: How much money you make, how much education. It’s a crapshoot.
Frank: Now, is there a difference in terms of how much money a man makes and how much they want to raise their kids? If you are filthy rich, are they okay with walking away from the kids or letting mom raise the kids and seeing them once a month or twice a year or something like that?
Todd: That’s a tough question to answer. My guess is “no.” I don’t think money has anything to do with how much dads care about their kids. I think what money’s influence will do is, buy you publicity and it will buy you TV time, radio time, so that you can in front of an audience and advocate for your case. I think that’s what it will do for you. It will not do anything in the courts or as far as how much time you get to see your kids though.
Frank: Any examples of a man who has gotten in front of the public, advocated his case and has worked out to his benefit?
Todd: I don’t know for sure. The immediate case that comes to my mind is, Alec Baldwin. This guy in the last couple of years has been through a tremendously emotional divorce for him.
He’s been on Twitter and we’ve all heard his voicemail to his daughters on TMZ and everything else. But Alec Baldwin has money, he has the notoriety, he’s been on Larry King, to defend himself. But unfortunately, there are not a lot of us out here. There’s millions of us dads out here that are struggling everyday that just don’t have the resources to get in front of an audience like he does.
Frank: What’s been the result for him? I know he left a nasty voice message or what people consider a nasty voice message on his ex-wife, Kim Basinger’s–
Frank: Message service and that got played in public and the daughter–actually, he was talking to the daughter. He called her “a little pig” or something like that. How did it work out? Where is he thus far?
Todd: Outside of the media, I don’t follow his case really closely. My perception is that it’s not gone tremendously well for him, although he has gotten his media attention about parental alienation. My understanding is that he’s not able to see his kids as much as he wants. My biggest with a situation like that is, who among us would not be upset? Who would not call and leave an irate message? Who would not send a text message that says, “You know what? I’m pissed off. Please let me see my kids.” All these kinds of things.
I don’t think it’s worked out really well for him. When you get right down to it, how much time does he get to spend with the kids? I don’t know that his extreme vocal messages have done him any good. I haven’t heard them by any means, I don’t think. My biggest thing is with guys like him is in a lot of us, why would you not expect somebody like him or a lot of us to be really upset?
Frank: You know the thing there is given the creation and the desire to present evidence to one’s case, if you were to ask me whether he should do that or if either I would do something like that, there is no question–knock on wood–that that’s not the smart thing to do. That voicemail is a recording that’s going to end up in court. If it’s been that acrimonious, it’s gong to end up in court, and it’s not going to end up in court in a way that’s beneficial for him.
It’s like the first thing an attorney will tell you to do is “shut up. Just shut up. There’s nothing you’re going to say that’s going to benefit you, so don’t give opposing counsel or anyone else anything that can be used against you.” I assume he’s a smart guy. That’s an assumption. Admittedly, I don’t know him. However, we do know that that voicemail has not gone over well for him.
Todd: My response to that, Frank, is that is, “Has done any good or bad for him?” It’s a wash. He’s gotten some bad publicity, but I will tell you, even if it was a detriment to his own case, what it’s done for guys like me and others that are fighting for custody and everything else, it’s a great asset for us, because it got people talking. It brings it to media. It brings discussion, like, “Wow, this guy’s really pissed off. He’s really angry and everything else.”
Frank: Yeah, I agree.
Todd: “Maybe there’s something going on here,” so it might not help him unnecessarily, but for the cause, for those of us who want to be more involved, it’s done a lot of good for us.
Frank: I can see that.
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You’re listening to Frank Relationships. We’re talking with psychologist and the author of, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad, Todd Bottom. Todd, please tell our listeners how they can find you and your book.
Todd: My book is available on Amazon.com. It’s available in an e-book right now. Just get on there and look for, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad. It’s only $3.99. If you don’t have a Kindle, as long as you got the app on your phone or your tablet, you can get it. Find me on Facebook-just my name, Todd L. Bottom, I’m on Twitter @tlbottom. Happy to talk about anything to do with fathers and helping them get more reconnected with their kids.
Frank: Your passion is clear.
Frank: Let’s talk about your personal situation, because that’s really what your book is about.
Todd: Yeah, right.
Frank: You said that your wife was passive-aggressive and she did certain things so that you would leave her. I’m going to relay this back to my book, How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship. One of the things that I discuss is how we, as people, communicate differently and many of us are the types of people who want our partners to leave. This is our history. We want our partners to leave. We’re typically not the leaver. I don’t necessarily see a bad thing with that.
I think it’s important for us to listen to our partners however they’re speaking to us, whether we like what they’re saying or not. In this scenario, clearly you didn’t like what she was saying to you. However, I think what she was saying is no less valid than if she just came to you and said, “Look, I think that we should end this relationship.”
Frank: Given where you’ve been and the pain that I sense that you’ve experience, you probably don’t agree with me, but I’m opening the floor for you to weigh-in there.
Todd: I don’t know if I would necessarily disagree. If somebody doesn’t want to be with someone, that’s fine. It took me a few years to realize it was a marriage that just wasn’t affectionate. There was no romance. It was that we got married early and–
Frank: How early?
Todd: I just turned 22 and she was 19 and we were married for 11 years, so I understand how relationships just reach a dead end. I get it, but it took me a few years to accept, “You know what? I had a role in that as well. I didn’t do things that I should have done. I wasn’t romantic [with frills] 23:51. I took responsibility after a few years, after the hurt went away.
Then, I started to realize–and I teach this in my classes as well–there’s a right way, just like you say. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way to leave a relationship. There’s the mature away and there’s the, “I don’t want to be responsible. I want it to be your fault.” I don’t have any problems with the marriage coming to an end. I have a problem with the way it came to an end.
Frank: Tell us about that.
Todd: I don’t know what you want to hear,
Frank: I want to hear whatever you want to say.
Todd: I mean all the details are in the book–leading up to it and everything, but she was the breadwinner, I was a stay-at-home dad, working a couple of nights a week in a restaurant. I’d put the kids off to school, woke them up in the morning, made them lunch and–
Frank: What was her profession?
Todd: She’s a banker and she always has financial-I can’t fault her for her profession. She’s always done very well. At the time, when we split eight or nine years ago, she was making 40k. She’s up around $80,000 or $90,000 now. She’s always done very well, but at the same time I was making $5,000 a year working part-time and she just decided she had enough, so she started messing around and said, “Oh,” and eventually I started following leads.
I listened to your shows from the past few weeks. You notice the signs: the distance, the changes in behavior. I confronted her and she likes, “No, what are you thinking? I wouldn’t never-” blah, blah, blah. I said, “Well, who’s this guy?” “Oh, he’s,” whatever and finally she came around. She said, “Okay well, you know what? Yeah you’re right.” I was like, “Okay that’s all I needed,” and then there was about another six months of–
Frank: That’s all you needed for what?
Todd: That’s all I needed. All I wanted was the truth. Getting to the truth was half the battle for me, half the emotional of agony. After that I just had to deal with absorbing everything and coming to acceptance with that.
Frank: Was that a deal-breaker for you or were you willing to stay in the relationship?
Todd: Oh no, I wanted to stick around. I mean, not stick around, but it was a family. I made a commitment. We had three kids and I wanted to work it out and she was just like–I was going to counseling. I wanted to take our kids, our three daughters and she wouldn’t go. Later, I would find out that maybe because she was still with one of the guys. So, I went through that process by myself and eventually I was like, “You know what? This is not going to work out. I’m not going to take anything. You have the house, you have the possessions,” and I loaded up my car and moved in with my parents for about six months.
I was 33 at the time and then I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go back to school. I’ve got plenty of time and I’ve always wanted to go back to school.” I wanted to set an example for my kids, to get a college education, because she doesn’t have one. It was really hard and for about the past eight years I’ve been in school and worked my way towards this Ph.D. It’s been really hard, but hopefully it’s a good example for my kids.
Frank: Tell me about your earlier agreement. How did she become “the breadwinner” and how did you end up being the stay-at-home dad?
Todd: We were probably mid-20’s or something like that and I had an Associate’s degree and I was working some sales jobs. I was selling at one time, copiers and printers, like a sales route and working selling stuff on the road. She had, at about that time, I guess started working at a bank and she had the continuity. She stayed working at one place, where I tried to further my income or my ability.
I worked for two years at one job and then go to another place. I worked at a call center where I was a supervisor for salespeople and things just didn’t work out. She just always made more money than I did. Then, when our kids were small, you put them in daycare and that takes a big chunk out of your paycheck and you get to a point and you’re like, “Well–
Frank: “I can watch the kids myself.”
Todd: Yeah. Is it more effective where I’m supposed to work or one of us work part-time and be home with the kids? She made more money. I figured, “You know what? I’ll just be home with the kids and work in the evenings and that way we don’t have to pay a $1000 a month in childcare for daycare. It just evolved like the way that it was.
Frank: What about–okay it came time to split. You decided you were going to move in with your parents? Was that the same time a divorce came into the conversation or were you just moving temporarily, you’re splitting, you’re separating and “We’ll talk and see where we go next?”
Todd: Good question. It was never my choice, like I wanted to do this. We went through the process where we’re living together, we got this marriage and then I confront her. I was like, “You know what? I have some suspicions about your infidelity.” She denied for about six weeks and then finally she admitted. Then, we went through this process where “Okay, let’s do the separation where we don’t have to live in the same area 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because that’s not good.”
Frank: Area, meaning the same house?
Todd: Yeah, in the same house. We just needed space from each other at that point. We worked out an agreement where on the weekends, three days, Friday through Sunday, something like that, I would go stay with friends and she would be in her house with the kids and then the other four days, we would alternate.
Frank: Okay. You shared the house?
Frank: That’s creative.
Todd: Yeah, so we did that alternating. I would stay for three days and then she would stay for four and we did that for about six or seven months and then it got really uncomfortable. I knew that she was looking for a new place to stay. She didn’t like being in the house and that was really uncomfortable for me. It just got to a point where I was like, “You know what? I realize that this is not going to work out well.” The marriage is not going to work out. I came to the realization that if it’s not going to work out, the best thing for me to do is to leave.
Frank: Alright, so you went to stay with your parents and what–
Frank: Happened–and a divorce was clearly where you were going?
Todd: Not where I was going. I didn’t want it.
Frank: It’s where the relationship was going.
Todd: But that’s when I realized that’s where that was going, right.
Frank: Alright, so let’s go to divorce court, day one. Do you want alimony? Does she want the kids? Do you want the kids? You want to share? What are you all asking for?
Todd: That’s a great question. I was so blindsided and so ignorant as to how all this stuff happened–
Frank: Did you have an attorney?
Todd: I had no idea. No, no.
Todd: I was still making $5,000 a year.
Frank: Okay, did she?
Todd: She did.
Frank: Not a good start.
Todd: Right, and I had no idea what would happen. She had her attorney draw up the papers and I was just like, “You know what? It’s over.” So, I just signed them. I did not realize–and this is one of the things that I tried to talk to people that are in the same situation now–I didn’t even realize at the time, what custody meant.
Todd: I didn’t have any idea.
Frank: What did the papers say that you just signed? Was that a full agreement? Was it full terms of the split?
Todd: It outlined that our daughters could be with me every–I think–every other weekend and then alternating holidays, which is fine. I shouldn’t say its fine. That’s normal. I’ll say that. It’s normal. What I did not realize at the time, and it took me several years to realize, was that I was signing away my right to be involved with the decisions about their upbringing. So now, I have absolutely no influence about when they can start dating, can they wear make-up, earrings. When do they start driving? Can they have a boyfriend? What’s their curfew? I have absolutely no influence about any of that. Are they going to be Jewish, Catholic, Muslim? No influence at all.
Frank: When did it–
Todd: And that’s when–
Frank: When did it become clear that you had signed that away and that you had missed the boat by signing it away?
Todd: It was about three or four years, maybe even a little bit more than that. It was about two, three years ago.
Frank: When what happened?
Todd: When you talk about custody–you probably are familiar with this–but through your listeners, we have to realize that custody is a couple of different things. Where are the children living most or the time?
Todd: And then, right the physical custody and then you have the legal. These are the decisions things. For several years the physical custody was fine. They were with me every other weekend, a couple weeks out of the summer. It was not, actually until about a year and a half ago, maybe two and a half–not quite sure, that I was like, “You know what? My kids are getting older.”
Right now they are, their ages are 10, 12 and my oldest will be 16 real soon. About two years ago I started to realize, “You know what? I don’t have any influence about any of these things.” Like I said, dating and driving and dances and curfews. I filed a motion to hopefully have some influence on those kinds of things to have joint custody and that’s when I started to realized, once they started to get a little bit older when some of these things really matter, is when I started to realize I have no input on any of this.
Frank: And mom didn’t want you to?
Todd: No, she didn’t at all. In fact, I had drawn up a six page parenting agreement. I went down to a Borders down here in the loop in Chicago and I bought eight or 12 books. I spent $140 on every book that they had on parenting to learn about this stuff. I’m a psychologist, but I still don’t know enough about this, so I bought every book I could and I drew up a parenting agreement on everything, all the recommendations that all these people had and I wrote it up and I sent it to her and she sent it back and she just absolutely ripped out everything–any influence that I had.
I put in there that we would discuss–I’ll just give you an example–like what is the curfew for the girls or when could they have a cell phone and then she crossed it out and this is actually in the book, if you read it, I actually put the parenting agreement in there and then her edits.
Todd: She crossed it all out and she said, “W will discuss it,” like she would have the final decision. “Why are we even putting together parenting agreements if we’re not going to discuss it?” It was just crap, it was horrible. It was a very, very bad experience for me.
Frank: Okay and what ended up–so she didn’t want it. You wanted it? What is it, time to go to court?
Todd: Yeah, we went to court, and she said, “I will not share custody,” and at that point, I don’t even know what I can do. Here in Illinois the process is if you want to change custody or whatever, you have to go to mediations first before you can go in front of a judge. We did that. As far as the physical custody, she was fine. She was like, “Okay, you can have more time during the summer,” but she just would not share the decision making. And that’s what I wanted. That’s what we did and she’s like, “No, I’m not going to share custody,” and I spent $5,000 at this point.
Todd: Believe me, and I know you know other people, that’s not a lot of money–.
Frank: Yeah, at this point, what are you making each year?
Todd: At that point I was making $17,000 a year.
Frank: Got it.
Todd: I spent $5,000 on attorneys and her court fees. I paid for that too.
Todd: “You know what?”
Todd: “I don’t have anymore money. I can’t keep doing this.”
Frank: Why were you paying her court fees? Was that part of your original agreement, that if you go to court-
Todd: I just did it, because it was my choice to take her to court and she spent about $2,000 in court fees and I dropped it. I was like, “This is my fault. I brought this on you. Here’s your money back.” I paid for hers.
Frank: Nice. Okay.
Frank: Yeah, that was mighty nice of you. What did the court say?
Todd: We actually didn’t get to that point. I gave up.
Frank: Whoa. Alright, and then what? You gave up and took what action?
Todd: And then I just gave up. This was about a year and a half ago since this whole has been done. Since that time, I was seeing them every other weekend. Since then, I see them about every two months now, maybe every three months.
Frank: So you gave up and you gave up. You gave up the court–
Todd: I gave up.
Frank: Case and you gave up wanting to fight about it.
Todd: No, I didn’t give up wanting anything.
Frank: Okay, alright. You gave up fighting about it and you–
Frank: And you just walked away? “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
Todd: It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s, “I can’t.”
Frank: Okay, got it. What’s going on with your relationship with your kids? What happens when you talk to them? How do they feel about you right now or can you speculate on that?
Todd: I can speculate. I have good communications with them. I don’t talk with them on the phone as much as I used to, but my middle one who is now 12, we’re on G-chat all the time–emails. My oldest one, she’s got her cell phone, so we’ll text.
We have the kind of electronic communication going on. I don’t know what they suspect about what’s going on. I know that my oldest is on Facebook and I’m very vocal on her Facebook and very active with a lot of father’s groups on Facebook, so I know that she sees a lot of the activity that I promote on there. The younger one, I don’t know and I’m going to have to cross that road at some point.
Frank: Why do you feel you could no longer go forward with the court piece? Why just say, “I can’t do this any longer?”
Todd: The biggest part is–there’s too much. One, I couldn’t afford it anymore.
Todd: It cost a lot of money to do this stuff. I put down a $6,000 retainer on my lawyer and now after about five weeks she walked away. She was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t give you what you want.” She walked away and she took about $2500 of my money, and then apparently, “This is done,” so I paid my ex’s attorney fees. But then the other part is, I’m sure you know this and a lot of your listeners, it’s not a really good place out there for guys in court. For what I understood, whatever I would pay, I would not get a benefit. My return-on-investment would not be worth it.
Frank: Why not represent yourself and if the attorney’s fees were a big no, no, if that was a big problem? Why not represent yourself as you pretty much had done in the past?
Todd: Right, right. I had done that in kind of support cases view that we had before. A good part of it was the custody thing goes on and on. The support, you can get that done in maybe two appearances in front of a judge. The custody can drag on and on, because now you’re dragging in psychologists and guardians that *(inaudible) 41:27. All of this other stuff and then you have a continuance. For me, I live in Chicago, In, fact I’m on the north side up town. I’m near the–
Frank: [Everson] 41:36 area.
Todd: Right and she’s just on the outside of [Jolia] 41:41, so it takes me–
Frank: I don’t know that part. I know [Evanston] 41:44, take Lakeshore drive all the way down to the Southside. That much I know.
Todd: Yeah. So, from my place to drive out to where our case is held, it takes me about two hours to drive there. So now every time, if I want to pursue custody–of course I could represent myself, but now I have to drive out there every six weeks, every four weeks, two hours that way and have court and then come back. I have a job. I can’t take every Wednesday off or anything like that. I understand that people will say, “It’s your kids. You’ve got to do what’s right.” But at the same time you’ve just been beaten down for so long. I’m like, “Why is this only my responsibility? Why do I have to fight to be with my kids? Why can’t you just share and then it’ll be fine?”
Todd: Go ahead.
Frank: Are you saying that at this point, it’s just not worth it?
Todd: Yeah, absolutely.
Todd: I’ve gotten criticism from my book, the title itself and mostly from people are literally judging a book by its cover. “Why would you give up?” And my response is, “Until you experience it, you have no idea what it does to you.” I know and in the last three months, I’ve spoken on the phone with guys from Alaska, California, Texas, Minnesota, Colorado. What else? From Massachusetts. And we’re just beat down. Part of this, Frank, comes from–I’m a behaviorist. As a psychologist, I understand the importance of rewards and punishment.
If we continue to do something, for example, we want to be with our kids, we want to spend more time with them and we’re willing to spend money in a court or in the system to be able to get that. We understand that, but if over and over we try to do this and over and over we’re punished and told that “we can’t do it,” eventually we’re going to stop. We can wrap this back up. That’s where the deadbeat dad comes in. If you don’t mind, I’d like to turn it a little bit back to what is a deadbeat dad and why are they what they are.
Frank: Do I get it correct that you’re not under a court order right now?
Todd: I’m under a court order right now for support. I have to make child support every month.
Frank: Okay. You care to share what the number is?
Todd: Actually, well, I’ll share it with you. I’m actually pretty lucky. So for the first five years–and when you’re a producer, you know questions to prep for the interview–and this is in my book. One of the questions was, “Why did you not pay child support for the first five years and why were you happy, if that was the case?”
So, for the first five years, I did not pay child support and yes I was happy that was the case, because after that, again, when we divorced I was making $5,000 a year working a couple of nights a week. I went right back into school. I had no income. I was immediately gaining something like, $10,000 a year in student loans. I was working at a Buffalo Wild Wings waiting tables and I was working weekends and that’s where all the money is.
Even then, working 25, 30 hours–whatever I could pick up, it was barely enough to feed myself. I was sometimes coming home from a six hour shift with $28.
Todd: There’s no way I could afford to pay anything. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I was glad I didn’t have to. That’s the point that I want my readers to know. It’s not that I didn’t want to support my kids. On $28 a night, I was glad that I didn’t have to pay $20 of that in child support.
Frank: So, what are you paying now?
Todd: So we went on. We had a case a couple of years ago and at the time I was making $27,000–I’m sorry, $17,000 a year. Fortunately, I had a decent judge, he’s not great, but he understood that I was working towards an advanced degree. So, now I pay $250 a month and my income is somewhere around $25,000 a year. I’m paying–what’s that? Three or $4000 thousand a year.
Todd: Here’s where a lot of people don’t understand too. I’m paying taxes on that and when I send it to their mom, that’s tax-free income for her. The girls don’t understand at this point that when they get new clothes, when they get new shoes or their school books, all this other stuff, that that money is coming from me, because I can’t tell them that. I can’t say, “Oh, that I’m paying child support and I paid for that,” and even though you don’t know. I can’t tell them that.
Frank: Do you think that fathers should be allowed to see their children while not paying child support?
Todd: Absolutely, why wouldn’t they be able to?
Todd: Let’s get back, again, if you don’t mind. Why do we have what we call deadbeat parents? There are a lot of reasons that parents cannot afford the child support, especially in today’s society if they get downsized, they lose their job. I don’t know if this is the time or place or whatever, but a lot factors in there as to why people cannot afford to pay what they’re ordered to and just because they can’t does that mean they shouldn’t see their kids? I think time is more important than money any day.
Frank: I’m not clear when you guys–so with the first separation and divorce and custody issue, you basically signed whatever she gave you. Then, later on when you found yourself wanting joint legal custody, you just walked away. What happened in the middle where you ended up in court and the judge ordered you to pay $250 a month? When did that occur?
Todd: It’s actually two separate things. For your listeners–you may know this–the support and the custody are two different issues.
First we had the issue where she took me to court. She’s like, “Okay, now I want money.” We went there and the judge said–a six month process, but we went and the judge said, “Okay, you’ve got to pay $250.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” Then, it was not until a year later, I said, “Okay, you know what? We’ve got the support figured out, now let’s work on custody.” I want to be an influence. I want to see the kids more. I want to be able to make decisions. There was about a year difference between the two of those things.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but I went into that and like I said, I was like, “You know what? I’ve spent too much money and I see where this is going and I can’t afford to do it anymore.”
Frank: You have any pointers for dads who are in the process of working through a child custody issue?
Todd: One mantra that some of us in this issue have is that you lose for free. You bought this up earlier, Frank, is you don’t have to go to court with a lawyer. As long as you understand and you can get support from other people that have been through this process and you know how to fill out a modification of custody or a modification of support, you don’t have to pay $5,000 to a lawyer, because that lawyer is not going to do–for the most part, they’re not going to do any better job than you can do all by yourself. You don’t have to spend $5,000 to go lose. You can do that for free. That’s usually the advice that I give to people, is that you can do this and not spend any money.
A lot of people don’t like to hear that. They think a lawyer is the best way to go. I, for the most part, disagree with that, as long as people are willing to do there homework.
Frank: What’s your take-away message for the audience, to the men listeners and what’s your take away message for the women listeners?
Todd: My take-away is, here’s a little bit of background on the education, so I’m going to-I’m about to wrap up my Ph.D. here at DePaul in psychology. But I’m not a clinician. I don’t do therapy. I don’t do clinical work. I don’t do patients. I don’t do groups and stuff like that. My training is looking beyond the individual circumstance and trying to help one individual try to figure out how to live their life or give them advice on how to approach different things. My training–and this is why I love what I do, is we look beyond that.
We look at the macro system, if you will. Why is it that that person is the way that they are? We look for, for example, one of the things in one of my classes that we teach is, “Why homeless people, homeless?” And a lot of people will say, “Well, they have drug problems. Well, maybe they were batterers or they’ve been kicked out of some place else.” Actually, the main reason that people are homeless is, because of the lack of affordable housing. They just can’t afford anywhere to go. So, now we have to start looking at, “Okay, what is it about the affordable housing?” Then, we start looking at local and larger policy issues
My training is, not to look at the individual debt and “Why is he not paying support? Why is he not seeing his kids, but what systems are in place and preventing him from being there?”
For your listeners look beyond the individual and start, please, for the love of God–start looking at what systems are in place that are preventing him from doing exactly what you want him to do. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, he just can’t do it for one reason or another.
Frank: Nice. You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking with psychologist and the author of, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad, Todd Bottom. Todd, last time, tell our listeners how they can find you and your book.
Todd: Alright Frank, my book title is, Confessions of a Deadbeat Dad. You can find it on Amazon for your Kindle. If you have a kindle app, you can get it on any tablet or any phone. I have no intentions of making it available as physical book. I just want to make it real cheap and really available, so it’s only $3.99. You can reach me–please send me an email at email@example.com. Or reach me on Twitter @tlbottom and that’s about it. I love having conversations. After I do interviews, I get responses and I love to talk to the listeners, so please send me a message.
Frank: Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed self representation in court, child support and Todd’s individual experience in negotiating a healthy child rearing arrangement with his ex-wife. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had discussing the relationship complications that can come with divorce and working out a child arrangement-child-rearing arrangement, shall I say.
As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that’ll help you create a relationship that’s as loving and accepting as possible. Let us know what you thought of today’s show at facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. On behalf of my producer, Phileta Legette, my assistant producer, Anayza Stewart and the man on the boards, Jeff Newman. Keep rising. This is Frank Love.
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