First, he unfolds the divorce paper, the terse, dry document that decrees that he, Laurence Cauley, be granted a divorce on grounds of desertion and that he, Laurence Cauley, be awarded custody of his infant son. Then, he takes out the green, worn photo album and plunges into the story of his son's first three years: we see the baby moments after birth, a small, dark figure nestled in white bundling, and we watch him grow, the infant changing to toddler, playing with toys, peering out of playpens, meeting Mike Thomas, Frank Grant, Roy Jefferson at Redskins training camp in Carlisle, Pa. We see him with friends, with his grandmother, with his father. We do nont see him with his mother.
And we see him in Children's Hospital, crouched in a crib surrounded by clear plastic, eyes dark, bewildered. It was the hospital stay that did it, says Cauley.
His wife had gone a month before, leaving him with Laurence Jr., whom he calls Jake, a 14-month-old baby he wanted when it was conceived and one he cared for when it was born. "That bottle at 10 o'clock, two o'clock and six a.m., that was my job," he says. "Ever since he's been born, I've been his mommy and daddy." In those days, the family lived in Palmer Park.
"A month after she left us, he got convulsions. I cut his throat with a steak knife so he could get air. I carried him to the fire station and the fire station carried him to Prince George's Hospital in an ambulance. Then he was transferred to Children's. He was in two or three weeks. I was there every night after work. I thought about the nights I spent with him at Children's and I went to see my lawyer. That's something to stay up all night with a kid and work all day."
And so, Laurence Cauley began a new, and very tough phase of his life. He became one of the 1.4 per cent of fathers across the country who live alone with their children. Census Bureau figures, which include widowers and single parents, tell us that of $446,000 families in which the man is the only parent 74,000 are black.
Cauley is black, a working man, a Korean War veteran who once blew a football scholarhsip to South Carolina State.He's been married and divorced twice. His first divorce left him bitter. This time he is not. "We get along. I don't have any animosity in my heart for her." he says.
He appears reconciled to raising the child alone. It's obvious he adores his son and does things only fathers do - such as buy him an electric train set for his first birthday.
Cauley is different from most single parents, but he shares much with them. He, too, finds fault with the child support system: "What burns me up is when the women get custody the first thing they holler is for child support. When the man gets custody, there's no money or child support talk at all." He, too, finds himself exhausted and alone at night.
Cauley drives tractors and other vehicles for the Army Corps of Engineers at the Washington Aqueduct. He drops Jake off at the babysitter's at 5 minutes to 6 every morning. He picks him up about 4:15 and takes him to Palmer Park where he coaches a 100-pound and under little league football team. "He's my mascot again this year."
Then they come home to a dinner Cauley cooks in an apartment in Southeast that he cleans. Cauley is 48 years old now, and age when parents are watching their children leave home. This is happening to the four children from his first marriage. But now, instead of being able to live for himself he is starting all over again. This time alone.
He's better off financially than when his first marriage ended in 1962, and he gave his ex-wife $20-a week out of the $55 he was making. Cauley's break came in the riots, when he was making $80 a week in a liquor store at 14th and Good Hope Road, owned by a man named Saul. "I took my shotgun and sat down in that store. Nobody took my liquor." After that Saul raised him to $200 a week and made him the store manager.
"I think Saul did it for one reason. He wanted to give me something but he didn't know how to do it." Saul, says Cauley, did him a favor and Cauley is suspicious of favors. "You got to worry about what you gotta do for them." But Cauley says, Saul "really put me on my feet."
After Saul died, Cauley went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1971. Cauley is frank about himself. He says he's "no angel," and volunteers that he once served 10 days in jail for $600 worth of parking tickets. "There was no way in the world I could get up $600 that quick."
Cauley is religious. He attends Emmanuel Baptist Church in Southeast every Sunday. He says his religion helps him out when he gets exhausted, when Jake gets on his nerves, and he remembers: "You cannot be angry at one thing and take it out on someone else."
Cauley is planning his life these days around what is good for Jake. Soon, he says, they will move back into Prince George's. "I don't want him to go to D.C. public schools., I call them finishing schools for loitering." And he wants to leave the city because of crim. "I want to walk in my neighborhood without fear of getting held black cab driver. "It's not the environment I want to bring Jake up in. People walk around with fear in their eyes."
And Cauley is old-fashioned. "I know no woman's staying overnight as long as he and I are there. I know right now I have to build my life around him. It's not his fault. No one had a shot-gun on me to make me have him.
"I'm going to respect my kid. I don't want him to ever lose respect for me seeing me in bed with another woman, other my wife or his mother.
"And I have no intention of getting married. No more."