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Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009

THE ZEIT GIST

The fatally flawed math of risking it all in Japan

For foreigners hoping to settle down and have children here, Richard Cory has some harsh truths

Whenever Richard Cory went down town, We people on the pavement looked at him: He was a gentleman from sole to crown, Clean favored, and imperially slim.

News photo
ILLUSTRATION BY JACK MCLEAN

"Richard Cory," a poem first published in 1897 by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Edwin Arlington Robinson, begins by providing us with a portrait of a man who appears to have the perfect life. He is the wealthy, educated, debonair man that many women seek, the man that many men aspire to become.

Yet in light of the recent very public divorce and ensuing custody battle between our most recent Corys — the Savoies — it is ever important for men in this country, particularly non-Japanese who might be unaware of the risks involved, to have an understanding of the nauseating depths to which a marriage in this country can sink. I know. Because I'm a Cory too.

I am greatly saddened to write that my Japanese wife of nearly 17 years is currently engaged in an affair that has intensified over the past year. She and her once-divorced infatuate text sweet nothings. They meet up after work and on weekends. Heck, he has driven to our home to pick her up!

My two older children, ages 12 and 9, have even told me that they and their 5-year-old brother have been taken along on a date and frightened into secrecy, causing the 9-year-old to privately exclaim, "I hate that man!"

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a bag filled with toothbrushes, body sponges and hairbrushes, many in plastic wrappings revealing the name of a love hotel they apparently frequent. Why would someone even bring that stuff home?

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that she had "lent" this man ¥7.7 million to cover his gambling losses, setting up an informal repayment plan than extends into 2017. 2017!

Imagine how shocked I was to find my mail from the previous year stashed away in a shoe box, and feeling stupid about complaining to the company and post office about mail apparently not being delivered.

Imagine the embarrassment when a classmate informed my daughter that her mother was seen walking hand in hand about the neighborhood with another man.

And imagine being continually implored in front of your children to throw in the towel: "I'm going to treat you poorly until you divorce me. Why don't you just leave? You're a gaijin! This is my country, not yours! I'm Japanese!"

Now, before you jump to conclusions about what a wimpy fool I am to tolerate these abominable indiscretions, take a deep breath and realize what country we're in.

As long as this mother lives with and cares for her children, and desires custody of them — and she does — pursuing a divorce here in Japan will apparently only lead to me losing custody of the three children I cherish so deeply. According to two reputable lawyers I have consulted, fathers married to such women are generally awarded custody of young children only if the mother (1) desires to give it up, (2) is a danger to the children, (3) is deemed to be mentally impaired, (4) is financially incapable of caring for the children, or (5) is incarcerated.

No, perhaps, no, no and no.

I can confront her and repeatedly question the wisdom of her actions — and I have — but if this is how she wants to live her life, she is free to do so.

My only recourse appears to be a lawsuit against the other man, costing me treasured time and legal fees and likely resulting in an award of an unsatisfying ¥3 million in damages. Yea.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that these two lovebirds are public servants within the school system. Yes, the two who have so wantonly wreaked havoc within my family are actually respected, state-funded members of society charged with instilling responsibility in our youth.

So, onward I go toward the end of the poem:

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

For me, that bullet has gone through my heart, and I remain a wounded father embracing every second with my children, realizing that I chose to reside in this land in which the paternity of my own children can be unjustly ripped away at the whim of a disrespectful wife. I just didn't realize it at the time, and even if I had, I probably would have thought, "It'll never happen to me."

I greatly miss the lovely woman I once knew. I am overwhelmed with conflicting emotion: disappointment in her and hatred of her behavior tempered by a deep caring for the woman I married, the mother of my children. Of course, I have no desire to be in a relationship with what she has become. Of course, I want to move forward with my life. But I also feel that the responsibility that I willingly took on as a father should supersede my own individual desires.

Why doesn't my wife divorce me, you may wonder. I do too. My only guess is that she delights in being able to go out whenever she likes, because she currently has this great baby-sitter who not only doesn't charge, but also cooks for the children, cleans up after them, bathes them and gets them into bed.

My lawyer has also confirmed that a divorce would result in a monthly child support payment that is far less than what I currently contribute to the family. Moreover, since my wife is gainfully employed, she would not be entitled to any alimony.

Finally, a divorce would not force either of us out of the house that we jointly own, and even though each of us could separately sell our share, buyers might not be lining up to purchase half a house that has somebody legally residing in it.

Complicating matters for my wife, the two oldest children have witnessed their mother's gradual decline into this cunning, deceitful, spiteful ball of fury — a mother who does not hesitate to manipulate and mislead her own children. These bright youths might not consider it wise to risk relying on such a temperamental mother in the future.

According to my lawyer, during divorce children are not officially accorded the power to choose which parent they would prefer, but if they are old enough — and he believes the 12-year-old is and the 9-year-old just may be — the family court investigator will usually respect the child's wishes.

Traumatic, however, could be the fate of the 5-year-old, with whom I have a special bond, most likely forged during the extended one-on-one time I spent with him during his almost monthly hospitalizations as a 2- and 3-year-old. His mother and her lover are currently emphasizing the permanency of their relationship, so if she does divorce, gain custody, and remarry, I would in essence be legally replaced as my own son's father.

Yes, as ludicrous as it may sound, I, the father who spends virtually all his free time with his children, would be replaced by someone who spends his free time sinking into greater and greater gambling debt. The best interests of the child would be replaced by the selfish interests of the mother.

Mathematically, my choice to reside in Japan after marriage + her choice to have an affair and then divorce = my loss of my own children. That is, without a doubt, flawed math. Goodbye grandparents, goodbye aunts and uncles, goodbye cousins, goodbye daddy.

On an equally serious note, until recently I had never been able to understand how a person could contemplate suicide. "Can life really ever get that bad?" I used to think.

But I now understand why so many choose this way out: If you're disrespected by your spouse, made to feel like dirt in your own home, and misrepresented to your children and throughout the neighborhood, you only hope that a fragile economy on a downturn or a personal illness doesn't result in a worsening of the situation.

I have never been the suicide type — instead thinking that the potential for an upswing appears to be exponentially greater when you're near bottom — but I now do understand why this would be an option weighed by many. Sometimes you can't make it on your own.

When you say "I do" to a Japanese woman, most men may think that they are professing their undying love for their partner. Some may think that they are accepting her into their family.

All men should realize, though, that this "I do" is an acceptance of the absurd risk that comes with unions between those settling in this country: I do recognize that there is a significant likelihood that I will lose my children someday.

Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp


Related links

THE ZEIT GIST

Left-behind dads take desperate measures

By RICHARD CORY

THE ZEIT GIST

Behind the facade of family law

By RICHARD CORY

THE ZEIT GIST

Battling a broken system

By RICHARD CORY


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