Friday, February 15, 2008

The Lives of Neighbors

We have a neighbor across the street. Supposedly, he's in his late 20s, which makes him a decade or so my junior. And not to put too fine a point on it, he's a deadbeat.

Deadbeat has no visible means of support. He lives in an apartment above his mother's house. By all accounts, he spends his days drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and watching television. He's been doing this for the two years he's lived with his Mom, since his sister kicked him out. (Sister has since taken in their Dad. We're talking about multigenerational dysfunction.)

Obiter Dictum: if it matters, these are all white people. If it matters.

Normally, none of this would involve me. Deadbeat poses no threat to the community. But, Deadbeat has custody of a daughter the same age as mine. No Mom is in evidence.

My heart breaks over this. After Spungen's moving observation that a child's peer-group status is often driven by her parents' status, and that a missing Mom is particularly hard on children, I'm now seeing that dynamic playing out in real life.

Here's the way the system is supposed to work. Moms talk with other Moms and coordinate visits, enforce standards of behavior, kinda-sorta ensure some level of reciprocity. That kind of Mom stuff. Dad's role is . . . actually, I'm not sure what Dad's role is! The truth is, if it wasn't for my family, I wouldn't know if my neighbors disappeared from the face of the earth. At least until summer, when the lawns weren't cut.

So here's what happens: Deadbeat's daughter (DD) just shows up. No call-ahead, no escort across the street. Nothing. And she's usually hungry. And her presence is just marginally extra-maintenance intensive. The other children, they can play for hours with little supervision. But DD can only go for a half-hour without getting into some sort of spat, nothing major, but that requires adult invervention (which we hate). And it doesn't help that Mrs. Ф suspects her of stealing from us, only doll clothes, and unfortunately she didn't confront her at the time, but in any case now she doesn't fully trust her the way she trusts the other children.

Now my daughter has a big heart. She likes DD. Actually, she loves everybody she's ever met, including DD. And I don't mind feeding DD when she comes over, and I'm much more willing to let 'em fight stuff out on their own, unless physical injury or property damage is imminent. But then . . . I only have to deal with this on weekends, and only during Mrs. Ф's absence. So it's really easy for me to moralize about how we should show charity to a child with a crappy home life.

Mrs. Ф has to deal with it every day. And she's already tired of it. Tired of the extra maintenance. Tired of the suspicion. Tired of the lack of reciprocity.

What to do . . . .

I suppose I should man up, go talk to Deadbeat and try to create the kind of dad-to-dad relationship that performs the functions of the normal mom-to-mom ones. But frankly, this would broadcast a "we're having a problem with your child" vibe, and I can't think of a remotely plausible cover story that would soften the blow. Plus I would suck at it.

Please post suggestions in the comments.

1 comment:

Dr.D said...

One thing that you might try is to plan to take DD to Church with you next Sunday. This will create a situation where you will almost certainly have a talk with the DB, and you may learn more about their situation, gain some insight, and see what your next step ought to be. And by all means, do take her to Church with you if possible. Everybody wins on that.

If this does not precipitate any conversation with the DB, you still have not lost anything and you may have done some real good. Give it a try.