“What a beautiful sunny afternoon.” I thought to myself as I waited for my ride home. Mom was going to pick me up from school. Kind of a treat because it beats taking the bus and it beats the two mile walk. The bus is not very exciting because we’re the last stop, so it seems to take forever. We can get home in about the same time by walking the two miles. So, some days when the weather’s nice – like today – my brothers and I just walk home. But, today was different. I was going to get a ride. Nice.
I was almost 16 years old and in my sophomore year of high school. It was 1976.
When the family car pulled up I noticed something wasn’t right. I could sense it. Then I opened the door and looked inside and discovered the problem. It wasn’t Mom driving; it was Dad.
“Hi Dad.” I asked/said as if I wasn’t sure who I was talking to. Why was Dad picking me up at two thirty in the afternoon on a weekday? Isn’t he supposed to be at work? Something was up. And by the look on his face, it wasn’t something good.
As I sat down in the front seat my Dad said something strange. “Take a look at that letter.”
I looked down and saw the envelope sitting on the front seat between us. It was odd looking mostly because of its color. It was pinkish and looked like one of those letters you get from the Internal Revenue Service telling you they found you owe 20 cents in back taxes from 10 years ago and if you don’t pay they’re going to have the county sheriff and his posse on your doorstep in 24 hours. It was funny looking.
I looked at the envelope and my first reaction was to ask a simple question but one that would fully convey my feelings, “Why?” I resisted asking because my Dad was not the kind of guy you questioned. He probably would have taken that simple question as back talk and if he perceives that I’m back talking then the conversation can take an ugly turn – against me. So, I resisted and picked up the envelope and pulled out the letter inside.
It was an awkward moment because I soon realized I had no idea what the letter was saying. How was I going to explain to my Dad I didn’t understand what the letter was saying? It was full of double talk and back speak (what’s that?) and big words that no one ever uses in normal conversation. So, after reading it I didn’t know whether my Dad got a raise or received a summons to go to jail. So, I just sat there and said nothing.
“Well, what do you think?” my Dad broke the silence.
“Think about what?” I responded dumbly.
“The letter!” his tone started to grow sharper. “What do you make of it?”
“Oh no. Here we go again with another parable from Dad.” I thought to myself angrily and a little scared. “Why doesn’t he just tell me? Why does he have to draw it out like this?
Then as I sat there thinking but saying nothing I heard him say, “I got laid off from my job today.”
My initial thought was relief, “Is that all? Big deal. Don’t worry about it.” But, I quickly held that thought inside because I could see it was a very big deal for my Dad. I was to find out over the course of the next year or so just how big a deal it was to him. But, from my vantage point, it was just a job. If you lose your job don’t you just go out and get another one? Besides my Dad used to complain a lot about his job. Complain about some of the people, about some of the conditions about pay. Heck here’s his chance to get out of that situation. Here’s a chance to start something new.
Dad was waiting for my response. I thought of some possibilities …
“Wow, I’m sorry to hear that!” or “Great, now you can start that business you’ve been talking about!” or “Have you got any other job possibilities lined up?” or maybe “Is that good news or bad news?” I was striking out again. It was like when you meet the next of kin at a funeral – what do you say?
I finally stopped my random thought generator and out popped the final selection as I asked sheepishly, “So, what are you going to do now?” Sorry, folks. That’s all I could come up with at the time. I was lost. I didn’t really want to talk about it. I wanted to talk about baseball. The Red Sox. Something sports related. Something exciting. Not job layoffs. I was in high school. I wanted to talk about how to meet girls. Why couldn’t my Dad give me some pointers on how to talk to the girls and get dates? Can’t we talk about job lay offs later – much later? How about never?
“I’m going to find another job; that’s what I’m going to do!” my Dad shot back. If he was a weapon he’d have been a machine gun and I would have been full of holes! His response was rapid fire. As if he’d been waiting at the pass for me. Waiting for me to come around the bend and then open fire with everything he had. I could sense his frustration. His feeling of betrayal. His lack of belonging. His being left outside in the cold. He somehow managed to convey all that in his short burst response.
I knew he wasn’t upset with me. He was just upset. He was knocked off balance. I could feel his pain all he way over on my side of the car. I tried to push myself closer into the door to try and escape the negative atmosphere.
The conversation ended. We sat silently for the rest of the ride home.
I’ve never forgotten that day. It left a big mark on me.
The layoff had a long lasing effect on my father. Years later I remember Dad saying, “I never recovered financially from getting laid off.”
I vowed to myself to never let a job have this much control over my life. I never wanted to be in the situation my Dad was in.
How could my Dad let his job dominate his life so much? It wasn’t his passion. He didn’t speak highly of his job. Then why was his life so dominated by it? Why wasn’t his life dominated by something he loved and truly believed in? Why was his life dominated by something so dreary? Something he positively didn’t like and couldn’t wait to retire from? Why was my Dad so much like the millions of other people out there who are clinging for dear life to a job they hate? Why? Why? Why?
How come my Dad wasn’t working at something he loved to do? He loved working on machinery. He loved designing electronic systems. He loved to build things. Anything from handsets to houses. He loved beautifully designed buildings. He loved the science of architecture. Why didn’t he have is own business working at something he loved? Is there a law that says your vocation cannot be something you love and are good at? The way people seem to flock to jobs they don’t like, you’d almost think there was!
What is the lesson of this story ….
I vowed to never let a job have this much hold on my life. I never wanted to be in a situation where my job was my whole life – directly connected to my self worth.