By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Jessica Amador was smart. She understood from Healthy Families that her son needed his father. "I would watch them play and talk and Gilbert would read him books. I wanted to encourage that." When Amador chose Isaiah and Martinez over caring for her stepbrothers, her mother threw her out. But Martinez took them in, which caused Amador's caseworker to make her home visits at Martinez's house and convinced him to join the Monday-night dads' group. "I figured what the hell, I'm changing anyway. And it turned out to be real cool. Eating chicken, shooting hoops, hanging out. I met a lot of dads who were going through the same stuff as me."
"We focus on couples working together on what is best for the child," says Gardner Wiseheart, director of the Healthy Family dads' program. "By creating empathy for the child, the parents feel more connected."
Martinez learned how to hold his baby, how to make a bottle and change a diaper. And the more love he felt for his son, the more love he felt for his son's mother.
"Forty-four percent of our families end up getting married," Wiseheart says. "But it's not because we tell them to; it's because they realize it's what is best for their child."
Both Martinez and Amador have earned their GEDs, both are working and neither is on welfare. But broach the subject of marriage and Martinez cringes. "What if it didn't work out? I would have to get divorced. And I sure don't want some other dude raising my kids."
They met through friends at work in Dallas. She was 19 and naïve; he was 34 and divorced. He was persistent, and even though she didn't want to get involved with an older man with two kids, she finally gave in. "Mark refused to take no for an answer," recalls Christi Beach. "I think he just hated being alone." Christi admits that she did love him, at least in the beginning, though it's hard to remember the good times after all that's happened over the past 13 years. Never did she imagine she would fall victim to divorce-reform crusaders and their pro-marriage morality play. Never did she think she would be stuck in a loveless marriage with a man who refused to change.
"Mark would do this thing where he would get mad and stay mad for days at a time," she says. "You never knew what set him off because he refused to talk about it. He would just get all silent for days."
Things got worse in 1993, after she got sick and the doctors told her she couldn't have kids. She wanted to adopt, but he refused, she says. "He wasn't very compassionate and would get angry again." They both decided to divorce; she packed her bags, a lawyer drew up papers. A few months later they decided to reconcile: He agreed to consider adoption, and she didn't want to put his kids through the agony of a second divorce. "Right away, he reverted back to his old position," she says. "He let it be known that adoption was out of the question."
Caring for another child, she admits, would have been difficult for someone who needed so much attention himself. Six knee surgeries had made him overly dependent on both her and pain pills. When he couldn't have either he grew irritable, difficult and controlling. "All he wanted to do was watch TV 24-7," she says. "He would make me feel guilty for just wanting to get out of the house."
They agreed that living in the country might be good for them, and they bought 24 acres outside of Canton. But he kept his job with Sprint in Dallas and would return home on weekends; alone she had time to think. She took a job at a nearby cafe, baking pies and pastries. It had been years since she felt appreciated, and the long hours she worked were no bother, except to her husband, who grew jealous and repeatedly insisted she quit. When she finally did, she resented him for it and questioned what, if anything, she was getting out of the relationship. "I had no feelings for the man," she says. "I was having panic attacks every Friday before he came back from Dallas. One day on the phone, she told him she couldn't take it anymore. She wanted out, a divorce. "For years I had begged him to go to a marriage counselor, but he wouldn't. I had just gotten past the point of caring."
Because they had no children, a divorce should have been fairly simple. Only problem was, Mark didn't want one. "It rocked my world," he says. "I just didn't see it coming." The way he tells it, they never fought, they never argued and in the days before she left, "she was telling people we were best friends." That the Beaches might have benefited from some marriage education, something to enhance their communication skills, seemed as apparent to him as it did absurd to her.