They’re Tuned In

My kid’s are tuned in, better than me. Here’s the thing, I haven’t talked about it at all on social media, but after 18 years on the job, my position was eliminated. I assumed it was impossible that I would ever get laid off. But here I am, for the first time since I got my paper route when I was 13, without a “day job”.  

I’ve been commended by coworkers, many of whom were also laid off, at how well I’ve taken the news. How composed I’ve been. But my kids knew better. 

My oldest son who is 9 made me a card a couple weeks ago. It said, “It’s Going to be o.k.” Inside it said, “I will help you in life Dad.” And yes, I cried. 

I was out for a pre-dawn run this morning, and couldn’t stop thinking about something my younger son, who is 7 said out of the blue, “Dad, sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.” We’ve all heard this before, but I’ve never heard it from a 7 year old. The funny thing is, I thought I was projecting having a good day, but I guess he knew better. It was not a good day, and it was quite a sleepless night as well. It was my first Monday being unemployed. 

I say that I don’t know how to handle their emotional intelligence, because I guess it goes against what the norms are supposed to be, being a dad. I’m supposed to protect them from these things, and let them know everything is OK. Which honestly, it is. We’re in a good place. We’re in no danger of losing our home or missing a meal, we’re good, and my wife and I have communicated that to them over and over.

But as I sit here typing this, I guess I’m realizing that there’s another piece beyond financial security. It’s why the kids can tell I’m still upset. It’s the piece that’s keeping me up at night and making me cranky all day, but not something I’ve dealt with at all. 

Whether we should or not, we define ourselves by our jobs. When we meet someone new, one of the first questions to come up is, “What do you do?” 

I had a great position, and a nice title. I had worked toward my position for 10 years, and was proud to declare what I did when asked. That’s gone now, and maybe that’s the source of some of my turmoil. Maybe I should deal with that. 

I guess it’s not right when you think about it. In fact it seems shallow. A title doesn’t define a person. It doesn’t tell you what you need to know about them. It gives you an idea of their authority, work ethic, and financial situation, but is that what makes a person? Telling someone what I did gave them no indication that I was a father who cherished raising his kids, that I was a lifelong musician, a writer, and artist. It didn’t allude to my passion for gardening, or exercise.

People are still going to ask, “What do you do?” You’d be surprised how often it comes up. For the last few weeks my answer has been some version of, “Well, I used to do this, but I lost my job.” So what does that mean, I do nothing now? I have no worth? It sounds stupid and shallow to see it written down, but that’s exactly what it’s felt like, and exactly what’s been gnawing at me day and night for the past three weeks.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I guess I need to deal with that. For now, I think the better answer might be, “What don’t I do?” 

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