by Paul Bowers
I apologize for the length of this post, but given the gravity of the issue at hand when I sat down to write late last night a long list of things came to my mind.
More than anything, I am struck by two truths. One, it seems that history well documents that those who work to avoid conflict at all costs wind up being those destined in many instances to find much conflict. Peace at all costs rarely brings it. On the other hand, Jesus was incredibly clear in the book of Luke that we are to turn the other cheek at offenses and that if someone took our shirt, we were to offer our coat as well.
In this light I have struggled in how to respond since being contacted little more than a week ago regarding yet another lawsuit by yet a new, and third, lawyer retained by my former wife Jenny. I first learned of it through the media and I didn’t want to respond at all, but given the level of accusation after waiting a day I gave a brief response.
My question now though is how to respond given I am being summoned to the court room again on Monday. I have prayed on it, thought on it and asked the advice of friends.
Here is where I have settled:
I cannot do this anymore. In all life there comes a point wherein lines must be drawn in the way that we attempt to respond in ways that don’t invite more in the way of conflict and add more in the way of modeling Christ’s humility in giving in every instance. I’ll never get that mix right, none of us do, but I believe it’s what we are to pursue in all of our responses to the inevitable reality of conflict in our lives.
So here are a few thoughts that hit me:
One, in as much as you sign my paycheck and you have elected me to represent you in Washington, I think I owe you my thinking on this personal, but now public matter. More than at any time in my life, I believe I am subject to not just the laws of God, but the authority of my fellow man.
Two, I am going to get a lawyer to defend me on this case. I will instruct them not to fight back, to work to de-escalate and defuse and to look for measured justice and an end to controversy. At the time of the divorce I did not get a lawyer because I could not imagine standing in a court room with one in some adversarial form against the mother of our boys. Since then, and almost as clock work over the last four and one half years since the divorce, unfortunately there has been either the threat of lawsuit or actual lawsuit about every six months. In every instance I have either settled, represented myself or gotten two longtime friends to help me in responding. I have always tried to quiet the matter because at so many different levels I wanted to do anything to avoid conflict. I didn’t want to further hurt or embarrass the boys, Jenny, the people I had once represented…or even myself with more talk on my personal life. In fact more public conflict after the events of five years ago was the last thing in the world I wanted.
There was also the issue of money. Spending money getting lawyers to resolve differences, when I believed any two people sitting down could do the same, also broke with my belief on stewardship…or what some would call my frugal ways. But here we are and I am comfortable knowing I have tried near everything within my power to avoid lawyers and court - and in my belief that I will continue to work to avoid acrimony going forward. I am simply handing off the keys in dealing with this so that I can focus without further distraction on our boys and my work in Washington.
Three, let’s recognize the degree to which what’s being done seems designed to embarrass me rather than change anything. As mentioned I never hired a lawyer at the time of the divorce which in practical terms means I just folded all the cards in giving Jenny what she wanted at that time. She wanted a certain financial number that I didn’t have, and so I gave her pieces of our family farm that my dad and mom assembled in the 1950’s and 60’s. They were obviously not “marital assets” normally divided in a divorce, but the only way I could manage to get to her number. She wanted full custody of the boys, I gave it. She wanted full control of their custodial accounts which were very significant in size, I gave it. I did these things for two reasons. One, because my good friend Cubby Culbertson had reminded me that it was all God’s - and if he wanted you to have more, you would…and if he wanted you to have less, you would have less. He accordingly strongly advised against spending money and time and controversy fighting over things that God ultimately controlled. It was good advice. I also did it because in that chapter of life I could not take any more controversy, and what Jenny had said at that time was that if she didn’t get those things we would go to court and just have another public spectacle. I found that idea haunting, and so I indeed folded all the cards and that brings us to today.
Jenny’s attorney’s newest summons asks that the visitation schedule be changed to limit my visitation with our youngest son Blake. The question is how do you change what does not exist? There is no visitation schedule. She has full custody. Over the last five years she has determined the visitation schedule and informed me at the beginning of this year that I would not be given one. I pleaded otherwise, pointing out that no boy wants to be put in the place of having to pick between their mother and dad.
This year with no schedule has certainly resulted in a lot of time apart from the boys, as for instance I was not able to spend a night with Bolton for 17 weeks this spring. The same holds true last year when they were not allowed to be with me during the five months of the campaign, save the election nights. The trump card has always been, “if you don’t like it, take me to court”, and for all the reasons described this has never been a place I felt comfortable going. The absence of schedule now simply results in strange emails, as for instance I got one two days ago from Jenny’s new lawyer advising me that to arrange any visit with Blake I should come through her. If I had normal parental rights why in the world would I be getting a note like this from an attorney when in that case our son wants nothing more than to go to the USC football game?
So here is my take away. To now suggest that we need to amend what does not exist strikes me as either pure theatre or a punitive restriction to further limit what has devolved to be very limited time with the boys.
Four, let’s call an ace an ace when someone is playing for the media. In fact there is a touch of irony when one reads about the attorney’s desire to seal the records “to protect the children” at the very time when I am getting calls and emails from across the country from friends reading about this matter in their hometown papers. Let me give you a few examples of the way some of these accusations seem designed to generate media attention, and let me in short form answer a few of these accusations.
In their summons I am “restrained” from the following:
“Consuming or being under the influence of illegal drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol in the presence, or while responsible for, the care of the minor child.” This really is crazy. Why would one throw out the need for restraint if it were not a problem - or if one did not want to raise the specter of a problem? On this one all I can ask is that you talk to anyone who has seen or known me over my entire 54 years in the Low Country. I have never taken any illegal drug in my life. I did not drink in high school or college and though I do drink now, my consumption is so limited that my friends give me a hard time about it. I will have but one beer or two when out at a social occasion.
“Restrained from entering or attempting to enter the property of Plaintiff.” We have already been through this with the Super bowl and my taking our youngest son Blake home from a Super bowl party two years ago when his mom was out of town. I made the wrong call (though I thought the right call as a dad to be with him and not to just drop him off) and have never set foot on her property since then. I don’t know why this is being brought back up again.
"Exposing the minor child overnight to a member of the opposite sex not related by blood who could be reasonably construed as a paramour.” Though Jenny herself has certainly not lived up to this clause it is clearly aimed at me given near everyone knows about Belen and in that regard it seems designed to create intrigue where none exists. The younger boys have never spent a night housed under the same roof with Belen and with the exception of one night and a major conversation that lasted well into that night, the same holds true for the older boys. I was primarily motivated to do so by a love for the boys and wanting to go to great lengths to never again put them in an uncomfortable spot. I was also motivated by fear because there was very frequently a consequence in not being allowed to see the boys if I did something my former wife disliked.
No relationship can stand forever this tension of being forced to pick between the one you love and your own son or daughter, and for this reason Belen and I have decided to call off the engagement. Maybe there will be another chapter when waters calm with Jenny, but at this point the environment is not conducive to building anything given no one would want to be caught in the middle of what’s now happening. Belen is a remarkably wonderful woman who I have always loved and I will be forever grateful for not only the many years we have known and loved each other, but the last six very tough ones wherein she has encouraged me and silently borne its tribulations with her ever warm and kind spirit.
Finally, Jenny and her lawyer also go on to ask me to undertake an array of programs and evaluations, each one more riveting than the next. As a public figure people have seen me over twenty years in the highs and lows and most trying of times, and if I was plagued by the afflictions they suggest wouldn’t people have seen me mad or angry by now? In simplest form I don’t understand how I can be elected by a wide array of folks at home to attempt to represent their interests in Washington, but if the Plaintiff’s view was to prevail, be required to take psychiatric and psychological evaluations to be with our youngest son. Posing those sorts of questions is destructive plain and simple, and in fairness to my friends in the media if those type questions are raised they will report them – which is why you have been subjected to reading this response and media accounts.
So where does all this leave us?
One, with my continued belief that for whatever our differences, I believe these boys have a mom who loves them and cares about them. I will never attempt to detract from her or all the positive things she has done in her life, but having to go frequently to ask a former spouse when you can have time with a son is a recipe for conflict. I hope and believe Jenny and I can find a new way. It’s also reminder for every one of you who have been blessed to avoid the agony of divorce, of how important it is you spend time when you have it with those who now bear your name.
Two, I am left with a wise oldest son who’s wisdom is to follow Christ’s example of just letting go and trusting that God is in control and will ensure his youngest brother’s future success. That the key to ending conflict sometimes just means walking away from it. If there is a way I can do that without walking from my son, I will pursue it.
Finally, I am left humbled in my inability to determine outcomes and reminded again of how the only thing we can ultimately work on fixing is ourselves. So for me these days it means rededication to trying as best I can to walk in the light of God’s grace. It means pointing to truth wherever I see it and trying to live by it. It means listening a bit more so that maybe I can better understand the grand canvas of what I don’t see and understand.
This posting has been most personal, but again given the gravity of what has been alleged I felt compelled to address it and the larger context of where our family is and where we are headed. I ask for both your prayers and consideration in this process.
Thank you. Mark