ABILENE, TX—Earl "Trey" Shaker, 34, the live-in boyfriend of single mother May Anne Wyatt, 37, is like the deadbeat dad her four children never had, family sources reported Monday.
"Trey is a great role model for my kids," said Wyatt, who has not had a man in and out of her house since 1994, when her live-in boyfriend Hank LaRue was convicted of grand larceny. "Trey lies on the couch and don't get himself into no trouble. Sure, he ain't worked in six months, but now there's someone around to look after the kids while I'm at work."
Wyatt, a waitress on weekdays and a gas-station attendant on weekends, said that, until Shaker moved into her two-bedroom apartment in February, her children had never had the benefit of a male influence in and out of their lives. All that has changed for Madellynne Jo, 12, Dillon, 11, Merle, 7, and Sunshine, 5, who now spend most Saturdays sitting on the couch watching TV with Shaker as he makes his way through a six-pack of Coors Light.
"I love watching Trey with the kids," said Wyatt, who met Shaker at a local tavern in October 2004. "He'll toss Sunshine up in the air until she wets her pants laughing. And one night last January, he helped Merle with his homework. Sure, sometimes he roams off for a few days. But he always comes back sooner or later."
Although members of Wyatt's extended family have complained that Shaker doesn't have a steady source of income and doesn't provide the children with much-needed discipline, Wyatt was quick to disagree.
"Oh no, Trey can be real strict, especially after he's been drinking," Wyatt said. "If the kids draw on the wall with crayon, play with his gas cans, or spill his beer, he'll get after them with the belt."
Wyatt said her children had little difficulty accepting Shaker's role as the head of the house when he is home.
"Sometimes the kids will sass back and say things like, 'You're not my real daddy,' or, 'I hate Mommy for letting you move in,'" Wyatt said. "Kids will be kids, but deep down, I know they love Trey as much as I do."
According to Wyatt, her children have learned a lot from Shaker.
"Trey taught Dillon how to steal cable, and he taught little Merle how to get a bonfire going in the yard," Wyatt said. "The other day, he taught Sunshine to ride her first bike, and when she went rolling off into that pile of sheet metal and cut up her leg, Trey wrapped his favorite bandanna around the cut to stop the bleeding."
Wyatt's children expressed generally positive opinions of Shaker.
"Trey finishes all the PlayStation games first, and before I get a chance to catch up, he trades them for a different one," said Dillon. "But he never hits Mom or locks her out of the house, so I guess he's better than when Mom had overnight guests."
Madellynne said Shaker is "creepy."
"Trey's whiskers make him look scary, and some days, he never changes out of his robe," Madellynne said. "He always eats all the chips, and it's hard to watch television because he snores so loud. My friend Tamara says he looks like a guy who would work in a coal mine, but I can't really picture him working."
Family sources agree that Shaker seems to make Wyatt happy.
"I guess Trey's nice to Mom," Madellynne said. "He bought her 35 gallons of propane the other day, just out of the blue. It wasn't even her birthday."
Wyatt said Shaker makes her household complete.
"It's good to have a man sometimes around—someone who can reach a box of taco shells on the top shelf," Wyatt said. "Even though he pretty much never gets up to reach anything except for that goddamn remote, it's still nice knowing that he could reach up high if he wanted to. I feel like, with Trey here, we finally got a real family like everybody else. And if he does run off every now and again, well, that's what dads do."