You got kids?” Robert asked.
I shook my head. The closest I’ve ever come to fatherhood is cleaning dog poop off my kitchen floor.
“Lucky you,” Robert said. “I’ve got four boys. It ain’t easy.”
So I’ve heard. Friends with kids tell me being a father is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree with a hammer. And I understand motherhood is the same—minus the hammer.
“My sister-in-law,” said Robert. “Now there’s a terrible parent. She’s got no business being a mother. The state of Georgia took her son away when she got hooked on crack.”
Crack. And I thought dog dookie on the kitchen floor was bad.
“They took my nephew to some kinda social services place,” Robert went on. “I went to get him back. It was a damn mess.”
You’ll note: I’ve cleaned up Robert’s language considerably. He has a vocabulary reminiscent of a commercial truck driver. In any case, no matter which words he uses, they come up short. His nephew hadn’t eaten a square meal in over a month.
Robert arrived at the state office five minutes before closing. He found the boy waiting in a detention room about the size of a walk-in closet.
“I was so mad,” Robert said. “My nephew didn’t do nothin’ wrong. He’s a KID. I don’t know why they didn’t put him somewhere nicer.”
When Robert went to greet his nephew, he noticed a seven-year-old girl waiting in the cubicle next door. She sat holding a plastic Walmart bag in her lap, staring straight ahead. Robert couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Who’s she?” he asked the social worker.
The social worker explained that the girl’s parents were meth-addicts. She was waiting for a taxi to carry her to a foster home. The girl would probably bounce through the foster-machine like a pinball.
Robert asked to see her.
The social worker refused, reminding him the office was about to close for the night.
Robert insisted, using an array of colorful South Georgian adverbs for effect.
She told Robert he had five minutes.
“I sat down beside the girl and introduced myself,” he said. “She had them big brown eyes, she just kept looking at me without saying anything. I tried to get her to talk, but she was shy.”
Well, Robert eventually won her over. It ended up taking the whole five minutes just to get the child to speak. It took another two to get her to smile.
One minute to sign papers.
And one week for her to start calling him, Daddy.