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Torn between duties, he tries to balance earner, dad roles

Charlie Klosner, 28, kills time wandering up and down the radio dial of his tow truck. Working two shifts alone in a New York truck cab gives him plenty of time to think.

By John Pendygraft, Times Photographer
Published March 3, 2008

Charlie Klosner, 28, a tow truck driver in New York, kisses son Sebastian, 7, after surprising him at school in Spring Hill on Feb. 12. They had not seen each other in two months. The family lives in Spring Hill because of the daughter's medical needs. Dad is close to getting a local job as a garbage collector.
[John Pendygraft | Times]

Charlie Klosner, 28, kills time wandering up and down the radio dial of his tow truck. Working two shifts alone in a New York truck cab gives him plenty of time to think. Too much time. Of all places, his wanderings stop at one of New York's few country stations. His hip-hop-listening friends tease him, but the lyrics are about family and fit his mood when he misses his kids. He's not sure if he listens to country music when he's feeling down or if he feels down when he listens to country music.

In October, he moved his family to Florida. His 19-month-old daughter, Jocelyn, was born without a tibia in her leg. After months of battles with doctors and Medicaid, the family moved from New York to his mother's home in Spring Hill so Jocelyn could be close to Shriners Hospital. The care she gets there is free and world class. She's getting a prosthetic leg and the rehab she needs to learn to walk.

Thing is, he's not worried about Jocelyn. His daughter is beautiful and happy. It's 7-year-old Sebastian who's hurting the worst. His grades are down, he's acting out, he's being tutored after school, he mopes. While his sister deals effortlessly with her missing leg, he struggles with how much he misses his dad.

"My oldest is begging me to come home. He's at an age where he really needs me around," Charlie says. "I turned around and my kids are 7 and 5. I'm missing more than I'm seeing. It's to be able to give them everything they want ... Well, that's never going to happen, but to provide for them. There's a lot more to go, but I've missed a good part of my kids' lives making ends meet and paying the bills. That's what my dad did and what I'm trying not to do."

From October to January he tried without luck to get work in Spring Hill. He explored working in Tampa, but more than a quarter of his paycheck would go toward gas to make the commute. He could make $13 an hour at his old job in New York; they need people to work overtime, and he wouldn't have to drive to work. Now he balances the extra money with the difficulty, and consequences, of being so far away.

He flew to Tampa recently to interview for a garbage collector's job with Waste Management in Spring Hill. After meeting his wife and daughter at Shriners in Tampa, they headed up to surprise the boys at school. Sebastian exploded into Charlie's arms. The 5-year-old, Damien, gave him a hug and a kiss.

"Can we play Xbox?" he asks. Damien has adjusted to his dad's absences. Sebastian won't let go of his neck. When he does, he's glued to Dad's hip.

His few days at home fly by, and Charlie's back in his truck. The best and worst country song, the one that makes his eyes water, is Rodney Atkins' Watching You:

He said I've been watching you dad, ain't that cool

I'm your buckaroo, I wanna be like you

And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are

We got cowboy boots and camo pants

Yeah we're just alike, hey ain't we dad

I wanna do everything you do

So I've been watching you

Between towing cars, Charlie keeps checking in with Waste Management in Spring Hill. He gets a three-day trial working on the back of a truck. As long as he is a good worker and gets along with everyone, he's hired. Most important, he's coming home.

John Pendygraft can be reached at or 727 893-8050.

About this feature

Seventy percent of families in the United States say they live paycheck to paycheck. American savings are in the negative, the lowest level since the Great Depression. In the Tampa Bay area, the financial pressure for many is acute: Average wages are lower than in comparable Sun Belt cities, and median home prices have doubled in a decade. Add a related surge in property taxes and insurance bills (not to mention higher gas prices) and the challenge to make ends meet is quickly becoming pervasive. It's not a fringe problem. It's your neighbor; it's us. Times photographer John Pendygraft is seeking stories that put a face behind the phenomenon.

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[Last modified February 29, 2008, 21:16:58]

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