I’ve been too busy trying not to lose my job as a high school teacher this semester to rate my philosophy graduate program in good or bad terms. But I did meet some of the funniest, most interesting people in there. You see, most of my effort this fall involved fighting to stay awake during the evenings, which was also the time when lectures took place. While my friend Bart helped by photocopying his Hegel outlines for me whenever I did space out, my friend Olas kept me awake during class with his loud munching noises from his peanut snacks and during the subway ride back to Queens, joining me in engaged debates over the innate qualities in a red square. Olas is the only person I know from the program who is from Colorado and, for only this reason, enjoys camping out and being around “nature” (whatever that is). He tends to blame his lack of people skills on his job, given that he takes care of mentally challenged adults for a living. A lot of the people I met in graduate school tend to blame their lack of people skills on their jobs, or on the fact that they spend too much time reading Philosophy. But I don’t know what comes first and I am no one to make comments about that, at this stage.
“At this stage” seems to be a predominant theme in my life lately: “I cannot afford to make any more bad decisions at this stage.” “I think that, at this stage, I should know better than to go ahead with this plan, or than to go out with this person etc.” “At this stage I should just be happy to have my sanity.” Saying things and later adding at this stage makes me feel wise, but it also reminds me of how old I am getting.
Back to Olas, although discussing our papers and our jobs led to a friendship, what really made us bond was the fact that we both have a dad who is currently unemployed. It is the last fact that makes us similarly edgy and watchful people, always looking for the funny side in everything and always willing to share stories, as a form of self prescribed therapy lasting as long as our rides in the seven train do. At times I have wondered why most of my best friendships have started out with a common denominator personal misery, but that’s just how it seems to work for me. Such is the case that when I realized my friend Jasmine also has a currently unemployed dad; I began to feel a sense of community that allowed me to realize that unemployed Dads are not that different from one another. Now then, I have some good news for you sons and daughters of unemployed dads. After the initial period of re-adjustment, and once dads accept that they will be home alone for long periods during the day, they also come up with a daily routine that is as predictable as it is humorous.
Lately, when I think of comedy, the people who make me laugh my head off are the Marx Brothers. I don’t find Woody Allen funny anymore, although I did follow him down Lexington Avenue last month, when chance made us cross paths one morning. I was already late to work and he was wearing a green hat, those huge glasses, and was carrying a coffee mug. He noticed I recognized him as he walked past me, and accelerated his walk to avoid me. But this is not the reason why Woody Allen stopped being funny to me. Something happened and suddenly his repetitive philosophical insights about death and suicide, his portrayal of failed relationships all felt too unrealistic compared to my own experiences. And at this stage there is nothing worse to me than superficial comedy. But the Marx Brothers still do make me laugh because there is something tragic about them. These men are too sweet to survive in this world, and are in danger all the time because of this, and they could be so easily disappointed.
Speaking of disappointments, my sister asked me today, why was it that I did not read as many (or any) Philosophy books anymore. During the holiday break she has witnessed my new hobbies which center on watching low budget action movies and Hollywood romantic comedies through Netflix in my computer. And she’s starting to get worried whenever she suggests polish films, or argentine philosophers, and I answer with things such as: “I don’t want to be exposed to anything that will make me think or feel any sort of empathy for anyone or anything anymore. I can’t handle that now.”
Another example, I woke up this morning as the snow blizzard covered NYC, and instead of staying home reading, I decided I wanted to go into Manhattan to take a Ballet class. To my credit, I am rehearsing, and I am also preparing to audition as a bear for the Radio City performances. So I convinced my sister to join me and we walked into the blizzard and headed to Ballet. After class she suggested I just change my MA to Dance, and added:
“If you devoted all the hours you spend taking Ballet classes and watching bad Hollywood movies to reading and writing Philosophy, you would probably be Foucault by now.”
But that’s not how things really work, is it? And I did not explain to her that sometimes, what we spend so much time avoiding, is what actually really matters to us.
Before I end this monologue, I would like to tell you that these are the major characteristics of unemployed dads, and that if you are a friend, relative, or child of an unemployed dad, you should know that you are not alone. There are many of us who are adjusting to Dad’s new lifestyle in the recession, and many of us, including our dads, who have learned how to see the humorous side of these circumstances.
1) Unemployed Dads make friends with the Customer Service people: Now that there is less income coming in, unemployed dads make sure they call every customer service number in the afternoon to complain about any extra charges in their cell phone, gas, water, or cable bills. They do not mind being put on hold: they can wait. Secretly, unemployed dads are looking for new opportunities to be social. They give themselves away by asking the customer service guy what he thinks about the weather, for example.
2) Unemployed Dads have projects: It can begin with the idea for a t-shirt company, or an online investment project. Sometimes it involves creative projects such as writing a novel. It recently occurred to me that, maybe our dads should start a band together.
3) Unemployed Dads spend a substantial portion of their day training the house pet: I got a kitten this summer and due to my job and graduate school schedule I was not in the house during the day. The cat spent most of its formative months with my Dad, who feeds him, chases him around the house, and talks to him. Jasmine’s Dad also talks to the cat, and to the houseplants. Olas once got back home to find his Dad “training the house pet” which meant that his father was rolling around the rug with the dog.
4) Unemployed Dads are constantly trying to “re-invent” themselves, and they constantly use this word: Olas’ Dad got really serious about his T-Shirt Company for a while. My Dad figured he might have a chance working at a law firm, so he stopped by the local college in Queens to find out if he could transfer some credits from UCLA (which he attended in the seventies) to get his degree in constitutional law. Yes, you heard it, constitutional law: the degree that usually takes students ten years to complete. Now that’s a feasible career. Jasmine’s dad was a scientist, but is now thinking about photography as a new career path.
5) Unemployed Dad’s discover that there is no line at Costco or Target at 11:30 am: And they don’t mind waiting in line. It secretly gives them another opportunity to be social, and ask the cashier what she thinks about the weather today.
6) Unemployed Dads check out four hundred page medieval history novels they find at the public library and wonder why nobody else has bothered to discover such great literature: My Dad also checks out four hour Polish films with lots of religious symbolism and titles such as “The Deluge.” He later wonders why nobody else in the house but him has discovered such great cinema.
Before I get out of here, I am including some online sources for those of you who have an unemployed Dad:
Aaron Crowe’s “Tales of an Unemployed Dad” Blog: http://www.aaroncrowe.net/category/unemp/
NY Times articles on unemployed Dads.
Unemployed Dad comic: