Like many people in a similar position, I had no idea what I would do when I got laid off from my job. There is no handbook for how to get off the mat after receiving that kind of a knockout punch.
While my uncertain future lingered, I leaped into a role as a full-time dad to my two sons, who were 6 and 4 at the time. I had worked from home for more than five years in my previous job, so being around my kids was nothing new, yet, at the same time, this was totally new because the need to balance my job while being a parent was replaced with the pressing need to find a job while being a parent.
The initial sense of urgency to secure a job, though, soon gave way to an understanding that it wasn’t going to happen quickly, which led to the realization that I needed to keep my days busy in order to maintain a sense of vitality.
While my rock star speech therapist wife worked her tail off (she accepted more clients to help our finances) and remained an A+ mom, I contributed on my end doing odd jobs and taking freelance work, but Dad became my vocation. I got our kids ready in the mornings and dropped them off at their respective schools. I went grocery shopping. I did some volunteer work at my older son’s school. In the afternoons, I’d pick up the kids, work on their school projects, give them a snack and play with them. I coached basketball in the winter. I coached baseball in the spring for each of my kids’ teams. I coached my older son’s baseball team in the summer. (We’re a baseball family.)
For me, the best time of day was the early evening. I longed for the kids’ baseball and basketball practices. I loved spending time with them and their friends and leading a team gave me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have and so desperately craved.
And while the kids were at school, I would tidy up the house, do the dishes and spend a few hours looking for work. Initially consumed with finding a way to get my career on track again, I soon figured out that the day revolved around my boys. It didn’t take me long to understand that I needed to soak in this time and appreciate that I got to be with them, a rewarding respite – however unwanted – from the demands of a job. Yes, I needed to work, but I enjoyed all the big and little parts of seeing my kids grow up right before my unemployed eyes. Somewhere along the way, my attitude shifted from “I have to take care of the kids” to “I get to take care of my kids.”
What saved me during such a stressful period was being a dad, the very thing that made my unemployment so frightening in the first place. It’s my duty to take care of my children, but in the end, my kids – who know how to drive me crazy at times – helped me retain my sanity.
Two friends who’d previously lost their jobs actually told me to enjoy this period in my life, claiming it may be the only chance I’d have not to be bogged down by occupational responsibilities before I retire. As counter-intuitive as this sounded to me, I realize in hindsight there was validity to this, but for a different reason: I had been given the gift of taking care of my kids, enduring the arduous moments and savoring the enjoyable ones. I worked on reading with them. I sat with my older one during piano lessons. I tried to teach them to clean up after themselves. I took them mini golfing and out for hamburgers during a day off from school. I collected the memories against the backdrop of an uncertain life situation.
Eventually, the call came – a job offer. A contract job for a few months, but a job nonetheless. The proverbial foot in the door where I got the chance to prove myself. Eight months without work and I was being summoned back to the real world. I was thrilled.
A few months into the contract position, the company where I was working offered me a full-time job. I pushed back, ever so slightly. “Can I work an early shift? I really need to be home to coach my kids’ baseball teams.”
Because the season is starting soon. And I’ll be there.