September 8, 2014
A father's story: Steven Rutledge of Pawleys Island
Steven Rutledge fondly remembers the time his father spent with him and his brothers when they were boys. Every Friday night, he took them to McDonald's, and then to a movie. Every Saturday, he took them to a softball field and taught them how to play the game.
"We had a lot of fun," he says of those days growing up in Brooklyn, NY. The whole family was together -- Mom and Dad, the boys (sisters came later). "In my opinion, those were the best years." And when he talks about them now, the first thing he mentions is those weekend outings with his father.
The family later moved to Pawleys Island, SC, where he graduated from high school in 1981. He moved back to New York for a time, but eventually, he came back South. He was married, and he and his wife had four children of their own.
Things were good, his marriage was solid. Even today, he says, he can't imagine marrying anyone else. "I don't know what happened," he says, but then remembers: "Well, I got laid off."
When he lost his job as a painter, things fell apart -- his marriage, his relationship with his family, everything that mattered.
One day last year, he found himself at the courthouse, at the end of his rope. He was unemployed, living alone on practically nothing. His unemployment check, miniscule to begin with, was garnished for child support payments, leaving him with "peanuts."
"I lost my vehicle, my apartment. I lost everything, rock bottom. All the money I literally had."
On that fateful day last November, Gamble Anderson, an attorney with the SC Department of Social Services, asked whether he could make a payment. "No," he said. "I'm flat broke." He hadn't made a payment in five weeks. "I was expecting to go to jail that day."
But something else happened. "She sent me to Mr. Adams," and that was when things started to change for the better. "Mr. Adams" is Cregory Adams, an intervention specialist in the Georgetown office of A Father's Place, one of the programs across South Carolina under the aegis of the SC Center for Fathers and Families, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity.
He was enrolled in the program's Boot Camp, in which he started learning and relearning the skills he needed to get a job, meet his obligations, and get closer to his family again.
The boot camp was tough. "Oh boy... you couldn't miss a day. If you missed a day, you went back to court." He didn't miss any. He learned how to find a job. He was taken to job fairs, after being told what to expect -- how to network, how to treat every conversation as a potential job interview. He learned to manage a budget -- to do without the unnecessary, and find a way to pay for the necessary, starting with his kids.
Armed with new encouragement, he searched harder for a job -- "I rode my bike all over, both sides of this island." And he ended up with not one job, but two. In the mornings, he's in the management program at a Hardee's that's just yards from his mobile home. In the evenings, he's the nighttime supervisor at the Oceanfront Litchfield Inn, a few miles away. He feels good about his future with both jobs. He tells of how he nagged the boss at Litchfield into giving him a chance on a temporary basis. "Now, I'm permanent."
More importantly, he's now completely up-to-date on his child support payments. And better than that, he's able to be a Dad to his children again.
"I was always a loving father to them," he says. But the program at A Father's Place helped him to be a better one. "Now, I ask more questions" in talking to his teenaged girls, one of whom is starting college this fall. The program "taught me how to talk with them -- be more direct." He's learned to model correct adult behavior for them. He speaks proudly of a recent incident when he was out with his daughters and his car broke down in the July heat. But he kept his cool, showing then how an adult copes and improvises in the face of adversity.
"They might think I'm too strict," he says. "But mostly, they think that I'm a great Dad."
His children live about a mile away, and he goes and sits with them for an hour a day between his jobs. "After a frustrating day, I love to come home and listen to my daughters' problems, and say, 'It's OK, sweetie. It's going to be all right.'"
As for his relationship with his ex-wife, "for our kids' sake, I go with a positive attitude. I speak, pay her a compliment. Try to keep the peace."
Before A Father's Place, with the course he was on, "I probably would have been locked up, doing something stupid."
Now, as he says, he's permanent. "Things just look good on both sides."
"If someone asks, 'Who was your father?', you need to have a long list of things to say." Good things. Now, he feels that his daughters will have such good things to say about him.