Outside the law: Derelict Dads of the Department of Defense
(US expat living in Seoul)
Like a vast number of expats in Korea, I came here with the promise of new uncharted experiences and the hope to travel the world. I came to teach English, learn about a new culture and to enjoy opportunities that many young American women only dream of.
For several years, my dream was a reality. I traveled. I met lots of new friends and I indeed had experiences both in and out of the work place that I would not have been afforded had I simply stayed home as my family insisted. I was proud of my decision to come abroad and I quickly became quite accustomed to the life I was leading.
Listed among the people I would come to call my friend was Robert Nathaniel Wiley Sr. a man, many years my senior, who was nearing retirement from the Army and stationed at the Yongsan Garrison, in Seoul. During the course of our friendship we developed an on again/off again intimate relationship as is so common in a place where true romantic relationships often take uncommon turns.
It was, just “one of those things” you do in Korea. Our union was nothing to be ashamed of…just nothing to write home about either. In fact many of my friends didn’t know much about him and my family had never even heard his name. I openly admit, it just wasn’t the kind of a relationship that I expected to last outside of Korea.
In the fall of 2008 our relationship became more on than off and after nearly three years of knowing one another, we fell into a more regular pattern. In the winter of 2009, in spite of being told by doctors at age 16 that it would not be possible for me, I became pregnant. Despite being quite afraid of what this would do to my life and not to mention wondering if I would be able to keep my job, stay in Korea or any in many other ways handle a pregnancy, I decided to carry my child and remain in Korea during the pregnancy.
I informed the father of both my pregnancy and later (after much discussion and debate) my decision to keep the child. He stated that he was not in the position to be emotionally tied to a child and as such, his final word on the matter would be that I should terminate the pregnancy as he did not plan to be involved. He simply promised that when the time came, I would be given what I needed financially and medically for the child…nothing more and nothing less.
As my pregnancy continued, the distance between us grew.
Eventually, it reached a point where he was no longer communicating and had never provided any of the previously promised, financial nor medical help. Although I tried to contact him, he simply ignored me. As I got closer to my due date and the financial toll of my prenatal care and impending delivery were more pressing, I sought help from the Korean legal system. They told me that although they would try, the process would be lengthy and expensive. In addition they informed me that because he was working with the US military, there was probably nothing they could do.
Our son’s delivery in October 2009 was met with many complications which landed him in the NICU for 10days and myself in the hospital for 7. My financial resources quickly became completely exhausted and friends began to contact the father as I was incapable of doing so. After our recovery left my son and I more stabilized, I decided that I needed to get help from outside sources and began to contact him (and those who I was told were his supervisors) via the Yongsan Garrison as the lawyer suggested. The word back from the Garrison was that because he had already retired and was only in Korea working with on Department of Defense contract, he no longer fell under the jurisdiction of the military. They encouraged me to file for child support through my own means and sent me on my way, with their regrets.
The winter of 2010 found us on vacation and back in America. I used this time to file for child support through state agencies as I was instructed to do. However, the process came to a halt when the state agency discovered that the non-custodial parent was living in South Korea. Due to agreements (or the lack thereof) between Korea and the United States, they were unable to continue working on my case. I informed them that although he was living in Korea, he working with the AMERICAN Department of Defense (company name Computers Universal), that he was also US ARMY retired and was getting paid in AMERICA and technically, he worked IN America, I asked them to again see if there was something, ANYTHING they could do. They told me that as long as he was physically in Korea, they could not do anything. They suggested I either wait for him to return to America (information I would have no way of obtaining) or if I went back to Korea, I could maybe file a case there. Unfortunately, I had already tried that avenue and I left America to return to Korea in the hopes that now that he had been given several months to think about the issue, he would voluntarily step up to the plate.
When I returned to Korea in February 2010, I again contacted the military and with a few choice words told them that I felt they were allowing him to use the military and his contract as a way to avoid taking responsibility. Within an hour of receiving my email, the office I was sent to was able to “encourage” the father (who balked at the idea that the child was his) to contact me. We agreed to take a paternity test that HE would be responsible to pay for. Several months later, I was forced to contact the military again because the test had not been paid for and thus the results had not been released. After they again “encouraged” him to take action and he paid for the test which confirmed paternity, I was again left to handle the situation on my own as the office I was working with stated they had done all they could do.
In addition to costly childcare and the basic needs to sustain a single parent household on the salary of an English teacher, my son has ongoing medical concerns which often require expensive tests and medication. The last few months have found me financially strapped and facing the decision to quit my contract prior to the expiration date, and return to America with no job and living with my family, while getting state assistance in order to make ends meet. Though he is aware of his obligations, the father refuses to step up with an amount that is reasonable and knows that because he is here under the protection of the Department of Defense and a Garrison that is not willing to get involved, he doesn’t “have” to.
Even if I returned home to try to get legal assistance, he falls outside of their jurisdiction both physically and legally to the point that an attempt to contact my state Congressman has failed to elicit much more than apologies, because of jurisdictional limitations.
While I am sure the vast majority of military service men and DoD contractors are good, reliable men who take care of their responsibilities, I am also sure that my story is not new. I am sure there are many women and children who fall between the cracks of a system that is not designed to help them. These women are often from different countries and haven’t even gotten as far as I have, given that I am an American citizen. These women meet men who get them pregnant and leave them behind without any recourse.
Not only do they not know where they should start, many of them do not possess the language or educational resources that I do and even these have only gotten me so far. Most of them wouldn’t even be able to write a letter like this, but because I can…I have.
I write to bring light to my story…their story…our story so that we and our children are not forgotten. I write this so that someone can give us a voice as we struggle to get only what’s right for our children even though they may not be in the position to fight for it. I write for my son who doesn’t yet know the full impact of financial struggle and should (with the help of his father) not ever have to know it. I write because it is the only tool I have left. I write in the hopes that someone is listening and I thank you, even if you are the only one.