Big Sister Is Watching…but only if you’re behind on your child support payments.
To the uninitiated, a private investigator’s job conjures images straight out of classic crime fiction: old fedoras, a frosted office door, a chatty babe answering phones, and, most important of all, the client—a mysterious dame, long on trouble but short on cash.
Except for the unpaid bills (a timeless concern, from Sam Spade to Rockford), the life of a modern-day PI doesn’t particularly imitate art. No fedora, no dimly-lit office, no blonde-bombshell receptionist. And in the case of my colleague Renee Waters, the mysterious dame is the private eye.
Tall, blonde, and confident, Waters has been a private investigator for more than a decade. She not only loves the work; she feels that she’s doing something that matters. “What makes me good at what I do is what I call a little chip on my shoulder and a lot of passion in my heart,” says Waters, sipping a cocktail at Patterson House, a speakeasy-inspired bar that does rather evoke the era of Chandler and Hammett.
Waters’s passion is helping young mothers collect the child support payments they are legally owed. And the chip on her shoulder comes from the fact that she was one of those young mothers 20 years ago, holding down two jobs and struggling to raise her 6-year-old on her own.
“My son’s backpack came from Goodwill every year,” she says, without bitterness. “He wasn’t thrilled about it, but that’s the way it was … it’s a stigma.”
Her ex-husband told the courts he couldn’t make his support payments because he wasn’t working, but Waters suspected otherwise. She ran across a phone number she thought might be his work number, and (in those dark days before the Internet) searched every listing in the Millersville directory until she found a match … and an address.
“So I borrowed my parents’ Polaroid camera and went to that address,” she explains. “And 45 minutes later, I had pictures of him up in a bucket trimming trees.”
“When I finally figured out what a private investigator was,” says Waters, “I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s how I can help.’”
With proof of his prevarication in hand, Nashville Judge Muriel Robinson told Waters’s ex (as recounted by Waters): “Here’s how it works. When you get your paycheck, you pay your child support, and if there’s anything left after that, then you get to eat.” And then Judge Robinson had him hauled out of her courtroom in handcuffs.
Waters’s hard-won evidence so impressed Judge Robinson that she then called Waters back to the stand. “And she told me that I did a good job, that I had done something that most young mothers don’t have the wherewithal to do,” Waters recalls, emotion rising in her voice. “And when I left there, that pat on my back, I still have it. I left there knowing what I was gonna do.”
Waters knew she wanted to turn that same dogged resourcefulness towards helping other single parents in situations like hers. At the time, she didn’t know what form that help would take. “When I finally figured out what a private investigator was,” says Waters, “I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s how I can help.’”
Not all of her clients are single moms (and sometimes dads) seeking the child support owed them. But Waters is drawn to those cases, and mothers in need seem to seek her out.
She recognizes them on sight. “They’re devastated,” she says. “They don’t know what to do. They have two or three sick children, it’s the middle of winter, vehicles don’t run, they’re barely getting by with just the money they bring in themselves.
“It’s not just a financial struggle,” Waters adds knowingly. “It’s emotional. They feel like they’ve been abandoned. They feel like nobody understands. They’re embarrassed.
“And so I want to help,” says Waters. “I have to help. I think that’s what I was put here to do.”
Renee Waters is a private investigator and owner of A.A.R.O.N. Investigations. You can reach her at 615-573-5095 or http://www.aaroninvestigation.com/.