Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Old Friends and Happy Endings

I reconnected a few days ago on Facebook with an old friend, someone who I haven’t seen in almost twenty years. Boy, it makes me feel old to say that…I have thought about her periodically, but because I had moved many times and she had, too, I had no idea how to find her. So imagine my delight when I got her message.

After catching up on family, work, and the other vital details of life, she told me a story that I really related to. It was about her son-in-law, who was facing some challenges in his personal and professional life. Like me, he had lost his job recently. Like me, he was struggling with his self-identity, struggling to redefine himself and find a new direction. But unlike me, he, for reasons my friend has yet to discover, chose to keep his job loss a secret. Even from his family.

We have all heard stories like this. Someone, usually a man, usually a husband, father, and breadwinner, loses his job. In the story, it is usually unexpected, although in real life, it often is not. But the man, although he has a family who loves him and believes in him, is so paralyzed by what has happened that he pretends that nothing has.

Each morning, he gets dressed in a suit, kisses his wife and kids, and leaves the house with his Blackberry, his briefcase, and his mug of coffee, just like he always has. But instead of going to the office where he no longer works, he spends his days reading the paper in coffee shops, at the park feeding pigeons, or wandering the mall, killing time until it is time to go home again. And so at 6:00, he opens the door and call out, “Daddy’s home!” The kids come running, smothering him with kisses. He can smell dinner cooking and hear pre-dinner cartoons on the TV in the living room. Just like he has for years.

And then the wife enters, wearing a pretty dress and pearls like June Cleaver, with perfect make up and an adoring smile. She hands him a drink and says, predictable, “How was your day, dear?” The door peeks open for just a moment. Here is the opportunity for him to tell the truth. He knows that he should. He knows that he will not be able to keep up the charade forever. He knows that eventually, he will run out of money and run out of stories about things at work that never happened because, at least right now, there is no work. He knows that the longer he waits, the harder it will be, the more drastic the consequences. And the door opens, just a little, every day. And every day, he makes a choice. “Brutal,” he says, a grim look on his face. The rest of the evening is all the same – dinner, baths and stories for the kids, and television until bedtime. The next morning, the alarm goes off at 6, and it starts all over again. Eventually, he gets found out, but that is a different story.

When I lost my job, at first, I didn’t want to tell anybody. I was embarrassed. Would people think that I wasn’t good enough? I was sad. I was afraid. Much of my identity had been tied up in my job, and what I though about myself and how I thought others perceived me was because of my job. And so, initially, I didn’t want to tell anybody. But I did. I told my family. I told my friends. I told the cashier at the supermarket, the couple who sits behind me at church. And I found that each time I said it, it became a little less traumatic. It might have been easier, at least at first, if I had kept silent. I might not have felt so embarrassed or so worried about what people would think. But I chose not to. I trusted my family and friends who assured me that it would be okay. I trusted them when they said that people would understand and not think less of me. I trusted that things would turn out fine. And guess what? They have.

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