The Winter Of Our Discontent

The Winter of 2011 is in many ways no different from 2010. When I think about conversations with friends and family I still hear the stories that made me write The Hell With The Christmas Spirit. I still hear frustration and anger in their voices. I still hear stories about the challenges they face and the whispers of doubt that roam through their heads. I keep thinking about an email exchange with one of them and I wonder what I can do to help them.

“I cannot win. There is a minuscule chance that things will go my way, but I am not real hopeful. This experience has been dreadful. It has been damaging, harmful and hurtful in ways that are still yet to be felt.

If it were only me it would be different, but it is not. And though I may still be the same goofy, insouciant fool- I am a father and I cannot die for something so silly as this.

And it is not exaggeration to say that I believe that this is hurting my mental, physical and emotional health. So clearly the wise thing to do is to find a way wrap it up.”

Not long after this exchange we met for coffee with a couple more of the boys and continued to share our personal State of The Union addresses. All of the attendees are fathers. They are all educated men who have worked their entire lives but find themselves partially employed. It is a funny term, partially employed that doesn’t describe their situations. It takes them off of the Federal/State lists of those who are unemployed but that doesn’t mean that they are earning enough to make a living.

Every one of them wants to have a full time job that will provide financial stability. Every one of them wants to be productive because sitting around at home has gotten old. It is not like our time in college when it was ok to live in an impoverished state. Back then you didn’t care if the furniture matched or if the fridge was stocked with more than beer and cold pizza. But that was then and this is now.

A clip of Nancy Pelosi flashes across the screen. She says something about how many jobs were created and the boys engage in a collective eye roll. Much of the conversation is dedicated to networking and to discussions about how to take control of our destinies. No one believes that this will last forever. No one believes that their fortune will not improve. It is not even a question but that doesn’t change the frustration that is felt.

One of the guys has spent months trying to modify his mortgage. He lives in a modest home and has some equity in his house. Had he not been laid off he never would have thought to try to secure a modification. He tells us that the bank claims that they want to help him but does not do so.  He has repeatedly submitted the information that they have requested from him, yet there is always a problem.

Whenever he talks to the bank he is given conflicting information. Some of the bank reps tell him to submit documents XYZ and others say that he should turn in just X and Y. He contacts the bank regularly and does all that he can to stay on top of things but nothing seems to change. He has repeatedly asked for a single point of contact and has consistently been told that they haven’t reached that point. Why? Because the file won’t officially be given to anyone until his application is considered complete. He escalates the call and is told the same thing by three supervisors.

He looks at me and I see such deep sadness in his eyes. I tell him that I don’t have any good advice. The bank makes the rules. They own the ball and the court. It is really hard to fight an entity like that because the people you speak with don’t get hurt for not working with you. There is no personal investment. You are just a number with a voice. We talk about strategies to get around the lower level employees and bandy about ideas.

His complaints and concerns are familiar to all of us. We know the stories because we have heard them from other friends. All we can do is offer our support. It is not easy for him. We get it, we understand. There is an enormous amount of pressure on a father to support his family and when he feels like he can’t it can be soul crushing. But through our own experiences we have also come to understand that there is no benefit to being stoic. We speak openly and honestly about our feelings.

It probably sounds silly, but it is a bit out of the comfort zone. Not that men can’t do this, but it is not something that comes as easily as it might for women.

Coffee time is over. It may be a group of partially employed, but they are also proactive about making changes. There is still work to be done for the jobs that pay and to find those that will pay more. There are lots of responsibilities to attend to. Just before we stand up to leave a group of women walk in. Two of them are simply stunning and we sit back down. Big stupid smiles across our faces we whisper comments to each other and laugh about what we would have done in the old days.

The two divorced guys laugh again and say that the old days are back. I laugh and ask them if they really think that some 25 year old wants to find a new daddy. My comment is received with glares and guffaws. These women might not be 25. For all we know they could be our age. No one saw what they drove up in and though we did see their faces it wasn’t long enough to be certain about age.

It is time to pick my children up from school so I can’t stick around to find out if they are part of our age demographic. My best guess is that no one made an attempt to find out or if they did they were shot down. How do I know this? Because someone would have called or emailed about it. It all makes me laugh and laughter is something that we can never get tired of.

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