The role of a provider is to offer support no matter what the circumstances, and for Tim, it’s his duty as a father and a husband.
Tim is a slim, strong guy with short, dark hair, and when he got out of his car, wearing a dark hoodie under a camouflage jacket, he seemed kind of severe to me, even though the image was softened by the pastel-clad six-year-old girl walking by his side.
I was at the playground with my kids, and he told me he’d also come to give his children a chance to enjoy the unusually warm winter weather. His year-old baby had fallen asleep on the drive, and his wife was staying in the car to watch her.
Tim—not his real name— turned out to be friendly and talkative. Between warnings to the girl not to break her head hanging upside-down from the playground equipment, he told me that he and his wife were considering moving to a nearby town because he thinks the schools are better there—more one-on-one attention for the kids.
Education is clearly important to Tim. He told me that even after he left home at 15 years old, he kept going to the Catholic school where his parents had enrolled him. He drove himself there from the studio apartment he rented with a friend.
He said his brothers and sisters all had diplomas from the school, and he wasn’t going to be the only one in the family to drop out.
Tim said he doesn’t know how his parents felt about him leaving home. He said he left because he didn’t like it there—didn’t like following the rules.
“I was the youngest out of six, and I was the first to leave the house,” he said.
By the time Tim left home, he already had a job. He knew some people at a local construction company in Massachusetts, where he’s from, and he got a job in concrete forming. He went straight there after school and made enough to help pay the rent. His roommate had dropped out of school and was working at a grocery store.
Tim has worked in construction for the past three decades, mostly framing houses. He’s in his mid-forties now. In Massachusetts he was a member of the Boston union, which helped him get good jobs.
“I left all that to come up here,” he said.
Tim moved to New Hampshire eight years ago, about the time he got married. His wife’s family lives near Nashua, and the rents are cheaper here—only a little more than half what they’d be paying in the Boston area, Tim said.
But lately things here haven’t been easy. He’s been out of work for the past month, between the slow winter season and the ongoing real estate slump. His wife, who’s significantly younger than him at 27, is disabled and can’t work.
The family has also been out of their apartment for a month. Tim’s wife and daughters are staying with his mother in law, but Tim isn’t living with them. He said he wouldn’t want to stay there, or with his own parents, and they aren’t inviting him either.
“They feel as if the father should be the provider for the family,” he said, not let his wife take care of him. And he feels the same way.
So Tim says he’s “out on the street,” staying with friends here and there.
But he said he expects his family to be back together in an apartment soon. He said it’s not that they can’t afford a place—they just need something bigger than the one they had been in now that they have the baby.
I wasn’t sure what to make of Tim’s description of the family’s living situation, or about a few other things he said. As we talked, he contradicted himself a few times. Once, for example, he said he hadn’t had to visit a doctor in 20 years, but then immediately said he’s had lots of medical appointments for his H. pylori, a bacterial illness that had him vomiting every few months for eight years before he recently got on some effective medication.
I didn’t get the sense that the contradictions came from any design to make himself look better. Instead, I felt like he started out talking about the way he felt things should be, and then, when he got to the details of his real life, ended up saying something else.
Tim said he thinks the economy is actually doing OK outside of the struggling construction industry. He sees help wanted signs at McDonalds and Wendy’s all the time.
But he said he’s applied for a number of those jobs, and the only one he’s gotten a call back from was Home Depot. He’s got an interview scheduled there. The money would be far less than what he had been making in construction, but he likes the idea of working indoors for a change, and he needs the money, no matter how little it is.
“Any income’s better than no income,” he said. “I’m not the type to sit around.”
A version of this story appeared in my blog, People in My Neighborhood, which shares stories from residents of Nashua, N.H.