Don’t Stuff It…Talking helps heal loss of job

When my father lost his job, I wish he had talked to me about it.

It was 1974. I was commuting to college, and I came home one afternoon and found him sitting there… in his favorite chair… staring.

He barely said hello.

He barely noticed me there.

He barely seemed alive.

I don’t even remember how he told me he’d lost his job, but he finally did. He had been at the same company for more than 30 years. He started at the bottom, worked up to middle management.

Upper management was changed, and they changed him.

Many of us know the story. You’ve been downsized. The company has been sold. The company is moving. Or the infamous, “We appreciate all you’ve done for us, but we need to go in a different direction.”

Some people get a gold watch — or better yet, a golden parachute — when they leave a company.

My father wasn’t even given a thin tissue to soften the blow. He was hit hard, and never really recovered.

He was 59. He had other jobs after that, but none paid as well or offered the same status as the one taken from him. He never said that. He never said much of anything about it.

He was from the generation that didn’t talk, just stuffed it inside.

His marriage to my mother always was tenuous, as they were incredibly mismatched. My mother loved to talk about everything. My father didn’t want to talk about anything.

Someone once said, “People like that have great dates and terrible marriages.”

On the dates, she thinks: “He really listens.”

He thinks: “Great, I don’t have to talk. I can just be with her.”

Then they get married, and she thinks: “He never talks to me.”

He thinks: “She never shuts up.”

So they didn’t have much fun at home, kind of two warring tribes. I tiptoed between both sides, getting along reasonably well with both of them. But they didn’t last long together before tension ruled.

It was like that for at least a year after he lost his job. My mother and I wanted to help but couldn’t figure out what to do. I did transfer schools, then worked my way through Cleveland State to take away some of the financial strain. My mother had a good job, so we were not in any real danger of being booted out of the house.

But I know my father was chewed up inside, and we could have helped. But he was too embarrassed to bring it up.

I tell this story when friends are in a similar situation.

They need to talk about it. Probably not right away, but sometime soon. Everyone is a little scared when it happens. You don’t have to bring up all your fears, but you need to be realistic.

You may have to say, “Right now, Mommy will not be making as much as she used to, so we all have to work together. We won’t be going on vacation this year, and you may not be able to go to the private school.”

Or you may say, “Daddy is going to get a new job, but it will take a while. In the meantime, here is what we have to do… ”

Parents sometimes think this will scare the children. Or the working spouse feels a sense of failure. But the most frightening part is when someone’s job is gone and no one is willing to say what it means to the family.

There is no shame in admitting what is obvious to everyone — right now, things are going to change, and it may be tough. But together, we can make it through.

When my father went through his ordeal, I wish I had stronger faith. I wish I could have prayed with him. I wish my mother and I could have prayed together for him. But that was not a big part of our family. Sunday church was it; there was no real sense of family prayer.

Praying together or alone doesn’t find a job. But it can lead to calmness in the family. It can help everyone make wiser decisions. It can bring the family closer when so much seems to be splitting it apart.

I still can see my father sitting silent in that chair, staring at nothing. He did it for days, maybe weeks. And the sad thing was that it didn’t have to be that way.


Terry Pluto can be reached at terrypluto2003@yahoo.com. Sign up for Terry’s free, weekly e-mail newsletter “Direct from Pluto” at www.ohio.com.

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