Multitasking was a popular word way back in the good old days of the 1990s. I used to think I was pretty good at it. I could write press releases, schedule a press tour, monitor the competition, talk on the phone, answer email, edit a white paper, and all the while know how the Dodgers were doing. Now I only have one phone to answer, I have no one reporting to me, and I’m operating on a significantly reduced budget, yet I find, at the end of each day, I’m more exhausted than I ever was when I had a “real” job. My multitasking now includes, preparing lunch, changing diapers, doing laundry, and chasing a 30 pound ball of energy around, all the while trying to sneak over here to document the thoughts I’m having (for reasons that remain unclear), and scan the job boards.
I heard a story on the radio yesterday afternoon about a guy who has been out of work for nearly a year. He’d been an engineer for nearly 20 years, he designed computer chips, application specific integrated circuits (ASICs to be precise). Intel laid him off. He has a new wife, she moved from Scotland to be with him and they were married a few months before he lost his job. He said he’s been having trouble sleeping, that sometimes he wonders if he’ll ever get a job. He talked about how his brother died of a heart attack and that he worries that he might just get so stressed out that he’ll have one too. There was another story on the radio yesterday morning about a support group for unemployed professionals, college graduates with lots of experience. They said it’s easier for a person with just a high school education to get a job now. Companies aren’t hiring as many seasoned professionals. They finished the piece by saying the people who do get hired are the people who keep looking. That was inspirational. (Sarcasm).
Keeping a good attitude is important. I heard these stories coming from and going to the zoo with my wife and child. Keeping perspective is important. In the immortal words of William Forsythe from Raising Arizona, “You’re young, you’ve got your health…what do you want a job for?” It’s a tempting philosophy. It’s also voiced by an escaped convict in a work of fiction. The fact is you can never forget you don’t have a job, especially when you have people depending on you. Does it make any difference that you have some money in the bank or a network of supportive family and friends? A little. But in the quiet moments when you’re alone (or at least not in the company of a human that answers when you repeatedly ask “What are we going to do?”), it is impossible to forget.
The matter grows increasingly complicated when you start factoring in ideas like the historical roles of the sexes in the home and the delicate psyche of the American male. If a guy in this country doesn’t put on a suit and tie or a pair of work boots, or, at the very least, tote around some sort of firearm, he’s viewed as a pansy. Child-rearing, homemaking, et cetera, are simply not man’s domain. Dads take their kids to the zoo on Saturdays. Dads go to the office every day and do important stuff. Dads go to the work site and operate heavy machinery. Dads go to battle. Dads don’t go shopping, not in the middle of the week, not in the middle of the day.
I know, I know, a lot has changed, we’re in the 21st century. Women fly helicopters and smoke in public and vote. A wife and mother can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan, but where does that leave Dad. Standing in the supermarket staring at 14 different lunch meats wondering which is the one to get while junior melts down impatiently at his feet, that’s where. A variation on this scenario is slightly more problematic for me. A white guy walking quickly through the market carrying a screaming Asian baby looks suspiciously like someone who snatched a kid from the candy aisle. Perhaps I’m too sensitive. I worry too much. Lots of guys stay at home with the kids these days. Why should I care what other people might think. I’d like to see those working Dads spend a month as the day to day caregiver, without the knowledge that it’s only going to be a month. I think that’s an important point. Living with the fact that things might always be like this can wear on the most stable man, it’s hard to stumble through that dark tunnel if there’s no light at the end of it. So, there’s not much else to do, but just keep stumbling. Stumble and change his clothes, stumble and go buy more milk, stumble and scrape squashed raisins off the kitchen floor, stumble and hope I find a real job soon.