No one wants to lose their job. But on December 14th, there I was, doing the walk of shame out of my former employer’s building with a box of crap I wished I hadn’t brought to the office in the first place. I lost my job for a couple of different reasons – the most important of which is that sometimes you and your employer don’t see eye-to-eye. It happens. You just wish, usually, that you were not seeing eye-to-eye while straightening your tie and getting ready to start at another job. This wasn’t really the case for me.
Because of the circumstances, I was gifted a couple weeks (and only a couple weeks, thankfully) of downtime. And though no one ever thinks that losing their job would be good on their family – it was great for mine.
Oh sure, money’s important, and without a job, money stops and when money stops, you panic. Instead, I knew that not having a job is a temporary problem, so I wasn’t worried about that. I knew I’d “get through” this unemployment. But in the meantime, I was going to hang out with my 2 year old son.
I know there’s plenty of stay-at-home-dads, and plenty of work-at-home-dads. But this isn’t like those situations. I’d been working a day-job since before my son was born. Between family vacations and freelance work stuff, I never had too many unspoken-for vacation days. So, for a working father to be able to spend a couple weeks at home, it was incredible for my relationship with my son. It’s not like I was only seeing my son on weekends or something. But I’m a typical American father – I work until someone says I can go home, and usually during the early years of your child’s life, that’s just before their bedtime. So being home all day long, frankly, was awesome.
I can’t count all of the great things we did together. We colored pictures. We read magazines. We played the Wii. I even let him give me a physical with his doctor kit since I was now freshly out of health insurance (pictured above). I don’t know why I ended up in the doctor’s mask and cap while he breathed on me and gave me shots in the cheek, but hey, I let the doctor do his magic.
And oh, I took my son to school. I know, I know, plenty of parents do this – and plenty of them take off of work to do so. But my son’s been in different classes since 6 months old – gym classes, community center play thingies, pre-pre-preschool classes. And since all of these classes took place basically mid-day and my job was 25 miles away, I figured I’d save all my school energy until a “real” preschool. I’d gone to gym class once with him and was one of 2 fathers in the room. The other one wouldn’t make eye contact with me and when he did, he barely squeaked out a “hello.” All of the mothers there were clearly afraid of me, despite me greeting them with smiles. So, I wasn’t keen on going to the “unimportant” years of pre-pre-preschool. But I’m glad that in this winter session, I was able to proudly walk in (with my wife) and drop the boy off.
You wouldn’t believe how happy this kid was when after reading him his bedtime story, he’d say “daddy, don’t go to work tomorrow” and I could happily say “I won’t, buddy. Let’s hang out tomorrow and play.” Did I cry a couple of times? Yeah.
Most parents – both moms and dads – would hate being out of work during the potty training months. And though my wife and I had tried unsuccessfully to get our son to use the potty, somehow, only days after my downtime started, our kid started voluntarily using the potty. I’ll spare you the details – but I can’t help but feel like having both parents standing over him applauding him for (ahem) all that, must have helped.
Mealtimes were better too. I do most of the cooking in our household, and when I’d walk in from work at 6pm, it was a rush to make one or two meals, depending on how long our dinner would take. If I wanted to make some thrown-together piece of crap, all three of us could eat together. But usually, I’d make my son something quick, which usually was some sort of protein, a leftover pasta or rice, and frozen vegetables blanched and buttered. It was a round enough meal, but the food group it lacked was love. Being out of work allowed me to think of a meal earlier in the day and prepare it in time for all three of us to sit down together.
And the ultimate kicker – my wife said that our son was more in-general well-behaved during the time I was home with them.
I think of this experience basically like the end of the movie (and book – read the book, people!) “Fight Club.” You know the part where – spoiler alert – Edward Norton’s character puts a gun in his mouth to end Tyler Durden’s control over him and wake himself up? That’s kind of what losing my job was. It was a gun in my mouth that realigned my fatherhood. Now, would I quit my new job and stay home with my buddy every day? No. I wish! But I now understand who is at home while I’m at work, and though I couldn’t have loved my family more before this unscheduled downtime, I somehow love more about them, if that even makes sense.
So, I owe a thanks to my former employer, who gave me some time to slow down for a few days and enjoy my fatherhood.