It was a Monday not unlike other Mondays I’ve known. I woke up before the sun rose. I got dressed by the light of my cell phone so I didn’t disturb my sleeping wife. I had laid out my clothes the night before to avoid any potential wardrobe malfunctions. I kissed my wife goodbye and kindly reminded her to put money on the EZ Pass since we were way overdue. When you are unemployed, things like putting money on the EZ Pass just have to wait. But this day was going to be a big day.
I have been unemployed for 14 of the last 15 months. For 15 months, my life has been in a holding pattern, just trying to stay afloat. All of this…our crowded house, the start of my career, the penny-pinching…was supposed to be in my rearview mirror distantly down the road. But it’s not. I’m still here…but not for very long. On this day, I started my new job.
Traveling through traffic to get to work, I feel completely conflicted. I know that my son will wake up soon after I leave and will inevitably ask my wife, “Where’s Dad?” and this hurts my heart. I’ve been so accustomed to always just being there for him…for everything. So has he. My wife and I joke that my son goes through “Mommy and Daddy” phases, where he exhibits a preference for one of us. For the first 2 years of his life his “daddy” phases were short-lived – perhaps lasting a week or less. But, for the first time in his life, my son has been on a “daddy” phase for over a month. Perhaps he subconsciously knew I was starting a new job. Regardless, I would never want to pass up this bonding time.
During my unemployment, I was a first-hand witness to my son’s remarkable growth. At first, we struggled to get through some days (okay, maybe most days). I was happy for a 30 minute reprieve to watch Diego save the Tapir. But, we persevered. As he grew, our days and time together just weren’t long enough. At 2 ½, he expresses such complex thoughts. Instead of mimicking my words, we can have real conversations about his infinite inquiries. Most days I just can’t get enough.
And because of these things, somewhere along my journey, I deconstructed and reassembled my goals and priorities. While I once dreamed of climbing the proverbial professional ladder, I now dream of being with my family. It’s a constant balancing act. But, this time, I feel I’ve found a job that allows me to prioritize what is most important to me. The lucrative bonuses and profit-sharing are non-existent, but those “luxuries” come at cost – one in which I am not willing to accept. I’ve made that mistake in the past. I’ll trade those financial luxuries any day to spend more time with my family.
It’s true that my journey may have started with uncertainty, embarrassment, and even fear. I most certainly have avoided conversations to side step any probing questions about my employment. However, I’ve learned that a job is just a means to providing an existence. My personal wealth is defined by the moments of joy I get from my family – not by some corporate financial structure.
As I sat in traffic on the way to my new job, a lot of my previous insecurities flashed in my head. Am I good enough? Will the same thing happen again? Can I seamlessly transition? Can I balance it all? Will I have enough time with my wife and son? Of course there will be times when I will be asked to make sacrifices. Some days I may not even get to see my son and wife. However, most days I will have to sacrifice very little family time. So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to have a job when so many people are still losing their jobs, or worse. I persevered…I survived. It’s bittersweet.
As a bonus, I no longer need to avoid those probing conversations about my job and identity. I now have an answer.
I am a husband.
I am a dad.
I am a man that has taken an unexpected journey and found out a lot about myself along the way. I’m embarking on a brave new world.