Sunday, April 30, 2000

Hartwell dad: 'I finally got my boy back'

        Jim Ries told everybody. Co-workers. Neighbors. Even strangers. He couldn't help it. He was just that happy. And surprised, really.

        “I finally got my boy back,” he says. “I've been waiting 11 years.”

        He lost him in an untidy, contentious divorce. After Jim's ex-wife obtained custody of their 4-year-old son, David, she moved to Florida.

        “I lost everything trying to get my son back,” Jim says. “At one point, I had nothing. No job. I was living in my car. I wasn't paying support. Visitation was terminated.”

        For a time, he “didn't know where they lived. Or even if my son was alive.” When Jim got back on his feet, moved out of his Pinto and began paying child support, they exchanged the occasional phone call.

        “I never forgot that I had a son. Never. I'd always write in my journal when it was his birthday.”

        He gives a little self-mocking shrug. “Even put up a Christmas stocking for him. But I guess I had this fantasy that he was living a happy life without me — something better than being in the middle of legal battles.”

        Jim, who makes microfiche for Federated Department Stores, lives in Hartwell with his wife, Rita. Not a big house, but nice. Rita was thinking of turning the second bedroom into a sewing room.

        Then they got a call from Florida.

        David's mother was putting him on a bus headed for Cincinnati with $10 in cash, three bags of clothes and some CDs. They had 18 hours before the bus would arrive. Instant family.

        So much for the sewing room.

        “There was an incident,” Jim says. “David got in trouble with a couple of his buddies. They sprayed some ducks with a fire extinguisher. His mother gave him a choice. Grounded for six months. Or off to Dad's. I think she was bluffing.”

        If so, David called her bluff.

        Jim passes a snapshot to me of a little blond boy sitting on his dad's lap. “This is just before I lost him,” he says. The boy's hair is dark now, and he would be a lapful for anybody. He's a husky 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

        “We weren't sure we'd know each other,” David says. He climbed off the bus here on April 8.



        They went home and sat up every night for the first week until 1 or 2 in the morning. Just talking. Comparing notes. “I've been catching him up on some of his history,” Jim says, “taking him by Christ Hospital, where he was born; the first apartment where we lived. Most of all, I wanted to show him he's never been far from my thoughts.”

        To be sure, there are two sides to every story, and I have only one of them. And doubtless there will be some bumps in the road, perhaps some “incidents” for this new family.

        But this little news story reminds me of a big news story about a 6-year-old Cuban boy. If Elian's father had died and his mother awaited his return, I'll bet we'd have shipped him home so fast his little head would still be spinning.

        Although we talk a lot about equality under the law and we liberated women expect our liberated husbands to take an equal interest in our children's piano recitals and homework, I think most people still don't believe a father can love children as much as a mother can.

        Sometimes they are wrong.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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