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Listen to Gene Chandler - "Daddy's Home"
Duke Of Earl: The Very Best of the VeeJay Years

(Day three - breaking the news to the kids. To read how this all started go here. Three in a row - sorry for the delay; this one was a bit harder to extract.)

I DISTRUST HOPE - it's a failing in my character, I'm sure of it - but if I have any reason to imagine that there's an upside to being suddenly unemployed in the middle of a recession, as my industry crumbles in freefall, it's the sensation of having suddenly woken up from a bad mood.

Maybe it's my aversion to hope that kept me at the paper for so long, through every little humiliation and disappointment, and the overwhelming feeling that, no matter what I did for the paper, the essentially second-rate reputation that proceeds a free daily would ensure that it would never have resonance, at least among my peers.

I never noticed the bad mood until now; perhaps it simply took on the general scent and markings of my habitual pessimism, but it definitely grew and thrived, especially in the last year. Working from home made it manageable, and apparently easy for me to overlook, but as soon as I was compelled to spend more time in the office, and was ultimately ordered to spend most of my week there, it threw the rest of my life into deep shadow.

I finally noticed it today. It's Friday, my usual day with my daughters, and I'm forced to confront a feeling I haven't woken up to in a long time: anticipation. Along with the job, everything else had become suffused with dread and duty, and an unmistakeable impression of running in an ever-tightening circle. No matter what sort of harrowing, economic or otherwise, might be waiting for me in the next few weeks and months, I have, at least, been jarred out of a demoralizing routine. I almost feel like sending the paper a thank you note.


It's a PD day at Aggie's school, so she's home all morning, with only her younger sister to be picked up at her Montessori at noon. I decide to let her spend an hour or so watching Treehouse while I struggle with a blog entry, though what she really wants to do is go to one of the cafes on Roncesvalles for a hot chocolate. She's enthusiastic about having me to herself for the morning, and I can't help but feel anticipatory remorse for how little I might have appreciated that if I knew that I'd be back to work in two days, and retrospective remorse for all of the occasions in the previous year or more when I was feeling too dismal to deserve her enthusiasm.

I decide to tell her about being laid off before we head off to the cafe, to give her time to ask me any questions she might have. She sits on my lap and listens with her head against my shoulder, and after I've explained that everything will be OK and that Daddy's looking for a new job and I talked to Mommy and we have enough money for rent and food and her school she lifts her head and I can see that she's been crying.

As I expected, her first question is whether I'll have to go away to look for a job; she's been immersing herself in the 1930s for almost a year now, thanks to Kit Kittredge, her favorite American Girl doll. (She's fond of talking about "the Great Oppression," and we've been slow to correct her because it sounds so disarming - it's the sort of accidental poetry you cherish living with small children.)

abigail breslin in kitt kittredge: an american girl

In the Kit Kittredge movie that came out last year, Kit's dad has to leave Cleveland for Chicago to look for a job, and returns just before the credits roll, jobless and contrite for neglecting to write home. As stray bits of news about the recession have filtered down to her, we've had to answer questions about whether we'll have to take in boarders, or sell eggs.

The Kit Kittredge movie was one of the last junkets the paper sent me on before they pulled that perk - two nights in a Beverly Hills hotel, just before Aggie's birthday, and probably the most impressive thing I'd done for work, in Aggie's estimation. A quick trip to the American Girl store to pick up her birthday present buffed my Daddy stock up to an unprecedented lustre, and she was probably more disappointed than I was when the junkets ended.

The first cafe - the new one closest to us, with the tasty muffins in greasy parchment paper and the very designed interior - is packed, half the tables occupied with the laptop crowd there for the wifi as much as the coffee. We walk further down the street, and I tell Aggie that we won't be able to buy many treats for her or her sister any more - her Granny in Nova Scotia will probably keep sending packages of clothes from Frenchy's, but she'll have to be patient and wait for her birthday to get anything extra. She says she understands, and I try to keep my voice from betraying the heavy, guilty feeling tugging my chest into my gut.


I can't imagine the depth of despair I'd be at now if I didn't have my wife and daughters. So much has happened in the seven years since I started at the paper - I got married and became a father twice, at a point rather past the statistical average. Every significant downturn and discouragement that hit me when I was single was a kidney punch followed by a full-bollock kick, and I'd inevitably be sent into a knee-hugging depression that would render me useless for days, and turn every decision I made for weeks defensive and hysterical.

Looking back, it was partly self-indulgence, and mostly habit and learned behaviour. It was easier to imagine that I was being persecuted by some combination of bad luck and vaguely malevolent fate, and easier to roll with the strangely comforting paranoia that was a by-product of my despair. Easiest of all, I wasn't hurting anyone but myself, though it must have been fantastically tiresome for my friends and family.

I don't have that luxury any more - a father incapacitated by anxiety would be an ordeal for my daughters, and my wife, to her credit, wouldn't stand for it. From where I am right now, though, it's hard to deny that the job was slowly leaching the same despair into my life, and that whatever financial penalty I'm paying is a small price for the chance to escape.


Later that afternoon I take Cece aside and tell her that Daddy lost his job this week, and that it'll be alright, and that I'm looking for a new one.

"But you're not wearing a poppy on your coat," she tells me, a note of impatience in her voice. Cece has just turned four.

What do you mean, sweetie?

"In Mary Poppins, the men who lost their jobs wear poppies on their coats. You're not wearing a poppy on your coat."

Disney had sent me a copy of their latest DVD version of Mary Poppins the other day, and Agnes found it before I could shift it to the "to be watched later" bin of kids' videos. I've never seen the movie, and the only thing I know about it is Dick Van Dyke's fantastically poor Cockney accent.

I can't even say with certainty that this detail exists in the film - Cece is fond of reshaping the whole cloth of reality to amuse herself. All I know is that she's not crying, and doesn't seem bothered by the news at all, besides my stubborn refusal to signal my employment status with a boutonierre. I'm grateful for that, at least.

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© 2009 rick mcginnis all rights reserved

i'm a dad in my forties with two daughters. i've worked as a photographer, journalist and, recently, tv columnist. currently a member of the growing workforce awaiting new employment opportunities. church-going catholic.

punk rock was my crucible, lodestar and avalon.

i look nothing like william powell.

rick -at- rickmcginnis.com

no comments - i can't be bothered with the extra work, to be frank - but if you have something to say, I might print it in the margin over here.

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life with father (1947)


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01.02.07: ipod
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07.27.07: jerez

02.05.09: laid off
02.06.09: fear


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