When Ricardo Reyes received a York County Domestic Relations-generated text message suggesting he pay child support in honor of Father's Day, he was offended by something more serious than the sender's misspelling of the word "support."
More bothersome was the implication that he, as a father paying child support, must be in arrears — that all dads are deadbeats, he said.
Reyes is a member of the Daddy Project of York, a group formed to help dads cope with custody battles and help them be positive male role models. The men meet monthly to discuss parenting issues and talk about their goals as fathers.
Reyes said he loves spending time with his son, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at West York. He sees him every day after school and every other weekend, using that time to teach him about manners and make him do his homework and encourage his involvement in sports. In about a week, he'll share equal custody with the boy's mother and won't be required to pay child support, he said.
But for now, he's up-to-date on the payments he has been ordered to make, he said.
So the 36-year-old West Manchester Township man was shocked at 7:01 Wednesday morning as he was getting his truck ready for work and he received the following message from Domestic Relations:
"Looking for the ideal Father's Day gift? Make a child suport (sic) payment!!!!"
The text: Reyes said he initially thought it was a joke. But then he took a minute to think, and it wasn't so funny.
"Do they send that text out to mothers on Mother's Day?" he said. "That's offensive. I know that I'm not a deadbeat. I know I'm involved in my child's life in whatever way possible. There's no reason for that type of text. I don't think they were thinking at all when they sent this."
Prior to Wednesday, Reyes had only received one other text from the automated texting system, a reminder about an appointment he had at the county's Domestic Relations office, he said.
But Reyes said he didn't consider Wednesday's message a helpful reminder about anything but societal misconceptions about dads.
He posted a screen capture of the text on Facebook, and word spread through the Daddy Project of York and Reyes' other male friends, some of whom had also received the message.
Jesse Mauss, 33, of Dover Township, said the text upset him because it implied fathers are only good for money and not in myriad other ways — nurturing and other parental responsibilities.
"I know there's some deadbeat dads out there, but others are working hard," he said. "It's Father's Day. It's all about the dad, right? If anything, we should be getting something and not being forced to pay again."
He said he's up-to-date on the payments for his 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
County responds: York County Domestic Relations Director Theresa Gross said the message wasn't meant to offend anyone, and staff would absolutely send one at Mother's Day.
"We continue to look for innovative ways to get people to pay their child support," she said. "It's just using the latest technology to get the message out there."
The message was sent to male and female Domestic Relations parents whose payments didn't "meet a certain threshold," meaning they were behind, she said. There are some circumstances under which parents might have received the message despite their belief they were up-to-date, Gross said, declining to elaborate in order to preserve the confidentiality of cases.
"If it applies to them, they should read the message and maybe make a payment," she said. "I don't feel as though it would be offensive. We didn't target a gender."
Gross said the messaging system is also used to nudge clients to get jobs. Those with no employer on file were recently targeted for a text informing them about upcoming job fairs, she said.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.