I’ll put you right in the middle of it. It’s October and my wife of eleven years hasn’t had a job in two months, through she’s applied for around 80 of them – this is a lady with undoubted skills, a great way with people and a person who brings a humanity to every situation. She’s applied for a job stacking shelves in a supermarket, despite having studied at a high level. We’ve been on the phone to the bank who have agreed to let us not pay the mortgage for two months. We’re thinking of what we can sell. There are adult arguments and insults being thrown around, as well as our two children in the mix—an 8-year-old-boy and a nearly 4-year-old-girl
My wife then has another chat with the bank—if things don’t change soon, we should think about selling in two months, which makes it around the New Year. What a way to begin next year, right?
Arguments continue—can we afford to keep the car we are paying off, what about finding childcare when my wife does go back to work?
Looking back on these times, I’m not too proud of my behavior as a husband, I alternated between being supportive and at other times wondering out loud to my wife why it was so hard for her to find a job. Her brain hadn’t disappeared, nor had her knowledge or strengths, so what the hell was going on? My Early Childhood job pays very little—not nearly enough to meet all our obligations. The pressure mounted. We both found it hard to sleep. Less affection was being shown—which was a worry, as we are big on that.
Our children were the ones who made all this easier to bear and who gave us the perspective we were beginning to lose. I knew that life wasn’t good when you can’t sit down to relax without asking serious questions straight away, instead of talking about how your son went at school that day. Our caring bond was fraying.
The kids were the antidote to all this—they laughed, they made us laugh, releasing the pressure, resentment (real or imagined) and bad feelings.
This is where the fathering aspect became difficult. You can’t become angry at a child, expecting them to understand the reason why Mum can’t get a job, as that can embarrass Mum. You can’t really explain financial pressures, unless you try to simplify your explanation by saying that you can’t go to the movies or to their favorite shop. Yet I was still easily irritable and short-tempered.
Perhaps you’ve pretended to be happy, so you didn’t upset someone, or you acted that way to to keep a social situation moving smoothly or to keep a relationship going. This is what I was like with our children – though on reflection, I know there is no reason why they should have to sacrifice their natural happiness, honesty and enthusiasm because we are going through the adult stuff.
The cuddles from our children kept the good hormones flowing into our nervous systems, which needed it.
When you think you’re going to lose your house, you live in it (and even look at it) differently.
We have the great fortune of having a moderately large block of land. We have an actual back garden that children can run around in, which is quite a luxury nowadays. We have room to sit on chairs and relax at both the front and the back of our house, which we do as a family regularly.
We don’t see too many others doing it—I would encourage everyone reading this to make time to do something like that if they can.
My wife and I became more grateful for what we had—because we thought we were going to lose it very soon. We gave up in a way, as if we’d thought ‘we can’t do anymore, we can’t take this any more’. We thought would just need to accept the inevitable.
All this changed how I felt about being the man in our family. The role of some men has changed over time, too—I’m not the main breadwinner, but I’m guessing that unlike some men, I don’t have a problem with it. Here in Australia, there are stereotypes about ‘Aussie blokes’, but I’ve certainly never fitted into that description. As you might imagine, working in Early Childhood as a man creates all sorts of different responses from different people. Some of the less flattering responses (even the non-verbal type) are recurring – some must think I’m a creep, but they of course don’t discuss it. I’m not writing about this aspect presently, however I mention it in passing to illustrate other aspects of society that I see displayed in my work.
I’m glad I’ve lived through times where the role of men has changed—though I stress that if you are a man living through changes, don’t wait for someone to say it’s OK to step out of an expected role. See if you can take control of the situation yourself and change it gradually – or quickly, if you can. I feel I’ve become a better father through all the things that have happened to us, through realising that the little things will be the ones that occupy your mind—as indeed they should.
Perhaps that line from Neitzsche is true— ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger.’ Though that is an often-used quote, it was our reality. I liked to think my wife and I both did as well as we could at keeping our family strong, though I myself was feeling weakened by what seemed like relentless bad luck. There were frequent hugs and apologies to each other during this time and those showed me that we hadn’t ‘lost it—in more ways than one.
Due to our situation, we’d started to look at other, smaller houses and we’d met with a real estate agent to get an idea of what our house was worth on paper (that’s when you realize you’re really in trouble.)
I was at work on a Monday and I was getting text messages from my wife, telling me she’d called the bank who had said we should sell our place, then rent for a while. I’m there working with the kindergarten children, but thinking where will my family live, where will we put all our stuff, while also concentrating on my work but becoming preoccupied. That same day, just before I get ready to go home, I read another text from my wife—she’s been offered a job starting the next Monday.
We then had the mad scramble of finding child care for our daughter in under a week—but aren’t these things supposed to bring out the best in you? We organized the care for our little girl. Incidentally, the next day after that was a holiday. It felt like a release.
Photo: Getty Images