My Life | The upside of the economic downslide
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
It is said that life is full of strange bounces. No kidding. Seven months ago, mine was a bad hop grounder that went between my legs and rolled all the way to the outfield fence.
That's when I lost my job. After nearly 35 years in the newspaper business, I found myself without a deadline to meet.
I was one of some 22 million Americans out of work in a sour economy. I wondered why, if there were that many people looking for work, I felt so alone.
Instead of the office, my day was at home, on the computer, sending e-mails and making phone calls in the hope of landing a job. I've slowly built a Rolodex of freelance contacts that have kept me writing for about a dozen local, regional and national newspapers and magazines on everything from lighthouses to accordions.
Luckily, my wife, Mary Ann, has a full-time job and some nights she works part-time at a local retailer. Now we live on her income and what little comes in from the writing gigs I'm able to drum up.
I've become the keeper of my 11-year-old daughter Meredith's calendar. In my planner, there are more entries for her than for me.
There is gymnastics practice three days a week, CYO band practice twice a week, a car wash fundraiser for gymnastics, band camp, trips to the library, weekly allergy shots and trips to friends' homes to play.
At first, I was a bit put off by all the running around. They are huge time eaters, but in those trips-along with the many hours we've spent together this summer-I've reconnected with my daughter.
We've developed a teasing banter that has become familiar. I kid her about her messy room.
"Make your bed," I say.
"I know the routine," she says.
"I know that," I reply, "but when are you going to do it?"
Just before the July 4 holiday, I took Meredith on a Lake Michigan fishing trip with a friend who allowed us to tag along. My daughter had never been fishing and it was a joy to watch her land her first fish.
It was one of those experiences common for fathers and sons, but not many fathers and daughters experience.
Family friend Michelle Batacan Alexander, a psychologist and family counselor who has a practice in Union Pier, Mich., told me more and more dads are experiencing that kind of bonding with their children because of the economy.
"They are seizing the moment, and it's something all dads-even those who are working-need to find time to do," says Batacan Alexander.
I nodded in agreement. There are any number of organized events planned around the relationship between fathers and sons-camping trips, golf outings, bowling, softball games and picnics-but not so many for fathers and daughters.
The only thing that comes to mind is the father-daughter dance that I took my older daughter, Erika, to years before she went off to college.
The father-daughter relationship is overlooked. We've come a long way in making sure daughters and sons are given plenty of opportunity to participate in organized activities, but have our attitudes progressed as far?
I've thought about that a lot the past few months. The time I've spent with Meredith fixing her bike so she could ride around the neighborhood, or watching a spider spin a web on the front yard spruce tree, or sitting together on the couch at night watching television, or listening as she excitedly tells me she has finally mastered her front hand spring at gymnastics has become much more important.
Because of my job status, I'm not in a position to buy Meredith a new CD or video game. I've told her why and she understands, or least she tells me she does.
But I've also learned that the time we spend together means a lot to her. The out-of-the-blue hug that comes at some point during the day attests to that.
Rick A. Richards is a dad living in Michigan City, Ind.