North Dakota is filling with men who’ve had to choose between providing for their families, and seeing their families.
Ain’t this a hell of a thing. The New York Times has one of those good old-fashioned in-depth articles that journalists used to do back when there were journalists, all about the North Dakota oil boom and the odd culture that’s grown up around it, as workers, mostly men, flock to the one state in the union with 3% unemployment.
Many newcomers are, like Mr. Ripka, middle-age family men angling for a fresh financial start. Builders cannot throw up homes fast enough to house them; an estimated 1,200 housing units are expected to be completed in Williston in the next few months, and one-bedroom apartments rent for $1,700 or more a month, if they are available. With an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 job openings in the area, many men live where they can — in their cars, or in illegally parked campers — and send their earnings to their families while they hunt for housing.
There’s something about the whole thing that smacks of the Great Depression, migrant men riding trains to wherever there’s work, half-assed little company towns springing up to dig in the earth… part of my brain expects the photos on the article to be in black and white.
It’s retrograde in another way, too, as an absolute manifestation of man-as-breadwinner. The men in the article all tell the same story, that they have families to support, children to look after, and they’ve had to choose between looking after them in person and being a full-time parent, and looking after them economically in the form of checks that arrive from far away. They might go months without seeing their kids, living in cars and working whatever shifts they can get, providing their families with income while depriving them of husbands and fathers.
I guess in hard times, people sometimes relapse into old narratives.
Are these men heroes? What can we do to change this situation, so that men aren’t forced into such terrible choices?
Photo— lindsey gee/Flickr