Walters watches, fights as son grows up without father figure

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 16, 2001

NATCHEZ – DeMarie McDaniel Walters looks at her son and sees a man – tall, blonde, handsome. She also remembers the little boy – small, blonde, adorable. And fatherless.

One of thousands of Adams County women who have reared children alone, Walters looks back on the 24 years of her son Jeremy’s life with pride at his and her accomplishments but with regret and sadness over what he missed.

&uot;To me, one of the most noble images you can see is a man with his son,&uot; said Walters, whose dreams of marriage and family were shattered only a few months after her wedding.

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She carried on. She sought the father’s help – most particularly trying to encourage some interest in the son who was growing up to look remarkably like his father.

No help came. Nor did any fatherly interest in the boy. Not only have there been during the son’s life only a few months of any financial support; there have been broken promises and literally years of no contact, Walters said.

&uot;I was young and naive, of course, and I was very much in love,&uot; Walters said, recalling the wedding in 1976, when she was 20 and thrilled to become the wife of Tom Walters.

Surprised when she became pregnant not many months later, she nevertheless was thrilled with that news, too. Her husband was not, she said. In fact, he became angry. And he left.

&uot;I was emotionally upset. But I was so young that I figured I could do this by myself if I had to,&uot; Walters said. &uot;But I still made calls to his family, and no one knew where he was.&uot;

In fact, his residency in other states has added to the difficulty of the case, said one lawyer not involved in the matter when told about details of the case.

Walters filed for divorce a month before Jeremy was born. Since the father’s whereabouts were unknown, she obtained a public-notice divorce. Lawyers say that, too, complicates Walters’ case.

She still recalls the void in her life on June 12, 1977, when her son was born. &uot;To this day when I see a mother in the labor room and a husband in with her, it makes me so very sad,&uot; she said. Celebrating her son’s birth alone would be only the beginning of disappointments, however.

&uot;I struggled for a few years. I was on and off welfare – food stamps and Section 8 housing,&uot; she said. &uot;I worked three jobs sometimes, trying to make ends meet. But that was all right, too.&uot;

She approached Department of Human Services workers about help in getting some support from the father. &uot;They were willing to help, but they showed me the stack of files they had, and I knew that was going to take a long time. So I gave up on that,&uot; she said.

A few years later, at the urging of co-workers in Texas, where she moved for a few years, she contacted a lawyer about seeking child support. That contact resulted in the few months of child support payments she has received.

&uot;When Jeremy was 9, we came home to Natchez for a weekend. My mom had made contact with Tom and had arranged a meeting with him,&uot; Walters said. &uot;I had no real hope that we could be a family again but I knew how important the father-son thing would be.&uot;

She recalls the first time Jeremy saw his father. &uot;He looked as though he was seeing God,&uot; she said. &uot;They looked so much alike. And there seemed to be something between them. I cherished those moments.&uot;

She had hopes for renewed contacts and a relationship between the father and son. &uot;He would say he was going to come and see him, and then he wouldn’t show up. He began messing with my son’s heart,&uot; Walters said.

Walters decided to return to Natchez to live. She had moved to Texas with a new husband. That marriage did not work out. And she lost her job during an IBM layoff in Dallas.

&uot;I began to appreciate Natchez. Jeremy was 13. I loved the big city, but you never quite felt safe there.&uot;

Watching her son grow into manhood, Walters decided once again to pursue some support for the boy. Years passed. Nothing materialized.

&uot;I feel bad for my son,&uot; she said. &uot;If I can secure something for him for the future, maybe I can do for him what his daddy didn’t do.&uot;

When Jeremy was 18, a judge figured out the cost factor for rearing the child to that age. &uot;He ordered payment of $75,000 plus attorneys’ fees plus money to help send Jeremy to school if he wanted to go,&uot; Walters said. &uot;That was the last I heard of it. It never happened.&uot;

Today, having gone through multiple lawyers and courtroom settings, she continues to wait. She points to broken promises, failed court orders and empty results. And she is bitter.

&uot;I go to all of these people for advice and guidance. I do what they say,&uot; she said. &uot;The last hearing was three months ago. Everyone told me to agree to a settlement.&uot;

Her instincts were to do just that. &uot;This time, Tom’s attorney first made an offer of $5,000. I said, ‘slap me in the face,’&uot; Walters said. &uot;They finally increased it to $18,000.&uot;

Tired of the struggle and wanting the bitterness behind her, she signed the agreement. &uot;The agreement was that within 60 days the first $15,000 would be in a trust fund. Thirty days later the other $3,000 would be put into the trust fund and then given to me,&uot; she said.

The 90 days were up on Saturday. She has not heard from anyone; she has not received any payment.

&uot;How many women have gone through this? How many must have gone through the very same thing? It has been as if I have been the one on trial,&uot; Walters said. &uot;I climb up this slippery pole, and the foot of justice seems to be on my head pushing me back.&uot;