How I’m Coping with Unemployment, According to 7 Dads

We spoke to seven recently unemployed dads about how they're dealing with the new reality.

by Adam Bulger
Originally Published: 

The unemployment rate in America is at an all-time high. Depending on whose numbers you trust, the pandemic has pushed between 18 and 30 million Americans out of the workforce. And these concerning numbers aren’t exclusive to the U.S. The COVID pandemic has made jobs disappear across the globe, in industries ranging from photography to farming and financial work. Millions are struggling. Coping with unemployment is never easy.

Women have lost the majority of jobs under the pandemic but men haven’t been spared from unemployment. While the job loss seen during COVID is unprecedented and many employees will return once the pandemic is controlled, research suggests that the loss of a job hits fathers particularly hard. When men are fired or furloughed, the stress it creates can lead to a number of psychological and physical effects, including weight gain or loss, depression, anxiety, sleep troubles, and high blood pressure. For many, regardless of gender, a job is intertwined with their identity as person, a provider, or, many times, both. It leads them to ask: Where do I go from here? Are we financially prepared for this? What, if anything, do I tell my kids? What do I do now?

Fatherly reached out to a variety of men across the globe who have lost work due to the pandemic to ask how they’re coping with unemployment. Most were furloughed or deemed redundant in the midst of the pandemic; some left on their own accord because of company safety issues. In terms of outlook, some were cautiously optimistic about their futures, expecting to return to their former positions after a furlough; others have been driven to reinvent their professional lives following. Some told their kids; others decided not to. In short, answers varied. Because of course they did. All, however, paint a picture of what it’s like to lose one’s job amidst the COVID pandemic.

Name: Patrick Nugent

Profession: Corporate Photographer for Camera 1 Photography StudioAge: 34Location: Westchester, NYNumber of children: Two, ages 8 and 4.

What happened: Our company mainly deals with corporate headshots and corporate events for large corporations in the city. Our bread and butter is headshots and anything that a law firm or a bank would need for their website. It’s been completely decimated. In January, when the travel ban to China happened, a couple of our larger clients started canceling big events immediately. And once things locked down in mid-March, I left the studio on a Thursday afternoon thinking we were going to be locked down for two weeks but here we are and it’s August. There’s no way to do my job remotely, especially with portraits and headshots. It’s all very one-on-one with people.

“It’s not like the work is going away. It’s just being postponed.”

The Financial picture: The bright side is it’s not like the work is going away. It’s just being postponed. So we’re optimistic that once the fall rolls around or once January rolls around, we’ll kind of just pick it up and be running. We were funded by a Paycheck Protection Loan. That was good. That covered our expenses through, I think, mid June. And since then we’ve been on unemployment and obviously that got cut in half this past week. I’ve deferred my mortgage. So financially things have been okay. My wife’s a dog groomer. She has her own small business. That’s definitely helped. But it’s part time. She’s a stay-at-home mom and we homeschool.

How I explained it to my kids: So they know about the pandemic, but we haven’t really talked about the money because they’re so young. It’s not worth stressing them out over it. And honestly it hasn’t been too stressful yet. So there’s no need to pass that along to them.

How I’m handling it: I’ve been spending a ton more time with my kids. We live in Northern Westchester, so we’re pretty much in the woods a lot and on a lot of hikes and spend a lot of time outside. I’ve taken advantage of the extra time and I’ve been riding bikes a lot myself. I like to ride mountain bikes. Spending time outdoors and just kind of making the best of the bad situation.

Name: Andrew Crapp

Profession: ITAge: 38Location: Cincinnati, OHNumber of children: Two

What happened: I wouldn’t say that I lost my job. My job lost me. Once it became apparent that my employer was not going to take precautions seriously I left of my own accord and have been living off of my savings ever since. My employer hid the fact that there had been confirmed cases among our co-workers and I only found out about it through the local news. Meanwhile, the room in which we were supposed to work was too small for social distancing and they continued to bring in day labor contractors. I reported this both internally and to the health department, but nothing came of it. I realized that my employer and the state government was more concerned with the economy than my life so I did what was necessary to protect my family. My family is safe and healthy and I am searching for a job that can be done remotely or at least one that cares about employee safety.

“I wouldn’t say that I lost my job. My job lost me.”

The financial picture: I’ve always arranged to get a large tax return so I had a sizable chunk of money right when this all started. I loathe debt so I don’t have much to be behind on. I buy used cars with cash. My cell phone plan is prepaid for the whole year. I’m behind on my student loans, but I’m on an income-based repayment plan so my bill is $0. My wife wasn’t employed before the pandemic began. We’ve found that with the cost of childcare we wouldn’t actually make any money with her working. I haven’t applied for unemployment as I’m sure my employer would contest it. So no help there.

How I explained it to my kids: I told my children that my employer wasn’t taking my safety seriously and that I left because I had the means to do so. I tell my daughters the truth even when it’s frightening, so they are fully aware of the situation.

How I’m handling it: I lift weights and run five days a week. My daughters and I are learning to play piano together. I do video chats with friends and family, and keep in touch through social media. I occasionally see people in person, but it’s limited to people that I know are taking the proper precautions. Other than a bit of cabin fever, I feel fine. I’m treating this like a long staycation and am taking the opportunity to reconnect with my family.

Name: David Walcott

Age: 37Profession: Financial PlannerLocation: Aurora, Ontario, CANumber of children: 2

What happened: My employer invested over $300,000 on an event that should have taken the business to another level. Unfortunately, COVID-19 wasn’t having it. All venues got shut down and the event was postponed. In an attempt to survive, my employer had only two options: Keep me or fall further into debt. You can tell what he chose to do.

“The monthly stipend only goes so far but I come from a long line of fighters and I was taught not to give up.”

The Financial picture: Unemployment insurance is a benefit but it doesn’t cover everything we need. We have two kids, mortgage payments, and food costs. The monthly stipend only goes so far but I come from a long line of fighters and I was taught not to give up.

How I explained it to my kids: My children seem to be handling the situation well. They don’t seem concerned about the money situation but are concerned about how mommy and daddy are doing. That means my wife and I are putting on a brave front at all times which can be stressful at times.

How I’m handling it: I figure while I have free time I can focus on a passion project business (a multi-function gym bag that carries your suit, meals, gym shoes, clothes and converts into a backpack for long trips) This project has helped my family regain a sense of purpose and optimism. I share my progress with my kids and my wife. We watch business shows like Shark Tank and it becomes a center of conversation around the house. I think this has become a healthy distraction from the stress of me losing my job and it could become something even bigger. I’ve had some small success moving my Instagram following from 500 to 17,000 and launching a YouTube show. I’m still looking for a job but I want to control my destiny moving forward. I hope this story inspires other fathers and lets them know they’re not alone.

Name: Robert (Last Name Withheld)

Age: 44Location: ConnecticutProfession: Online Content CreatorNumber of children: 1

What happened: When the pandemic hit, companies scaled back their marketing budgets. So even though people are reading a lot more news because they’re home all day and coursing with anxiety about current events, news and media companies are laying people off. The company I was working for was operating on a much thinner margin than I thought, so my boss let me go almost immediately when lockdown started.

The Financial picture: Well, thank god for Bernie Sanders and my wife’s job. Her paycheck and the extra $600 in unemployment insurance from the Bernie bucks took a lot of the existential terror out of the situation. I gotta say, though, I was surprised at how hard it was to get unemployment. I worked in New York City and the New York State Department of Labor was clearly overwhelmed with unemployment claims. I went two months without a single payment or a definite answer on the delay. I ended up calling their hotline over 100 times in a single day to get through to a person and fix the problem (turns out my former boss screwed yet another thing up).

“My boss let me go almost immediately when lockdown started.”

How I explained it to my kid: I didn’t explain it to her, actually. My kid’s only six so I didn’t see a point. She said something about daddy’s job the other day so I guess she has no idea I don’t have a job anymore. Maybe after seeing me spend so much time on the phone trying to get through to the unemployment people looked like a job to her. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, I suppose.

How I’m handling it: A lot of exercise and trying to learn new skills, more for home improvement projects than professional stuff. I started taking guitar lessons via Zoom and it’s nice to have a creative outlet. I’m not sure that the media business is ever coming back but I’m not sure what else I can do. I spend a lot of time trying not to think too hard about that.

Name: Charles Tateson

Age: 39Location: Durham, United KingdomNumber of children: Two, aged eight and four.

What happened: I left my very secure, well paid job as a senior tax professional within Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (“HMRC,” the UK tax authority) around 18 months before the pandemic for a new challenge. I was appointed in a senior managerial role with a small but successful professional firm of tax investigation and enquiry specialists. Our role was to defend individuals and businesses investigated by HMRC.

The pandemic affected our business twofold. Firstly, the tax authorities put a hold on their enquiries, meaning our work started to dry up. Secondly, many of our clients could not pay for our services because their own businesses suffered dramatically as a direct result of the pandemic. The result of this was that, within a matter of weeks, I was placed on furlough and subsequently made redundant. It happened quickly and I certainly wasn’t expecting the news that I was to be made redundant.

“In terms of my mental health, I have to admit that it took a big hit.”

The financial picture: I have never been one to spend beyond my means and have always kept money for a “rainy day.” Hearing the words redundancy certainly makes it feel like a rainy day now. As we knew it was a risk for me to leave my previously secure position, we made sure over the last 18 months to add to our savings just in case things didn’t work out in the new position.

With our savings and my wife working full time we can survive, pay our mortgage, pay our bills and eat but that would be about it. There would be no wiggle room in the budget and we’d have to change our lifestyle substantially.

How I explained it to my kids: We made this into a positive situation, saying dad was going to be spending more time at home and would be able to do the school drop-off and pick-up. Dad would basically be around a whole lot more than the last year or so. We also said that we’d have to “tighten our belts” in terms of finances, but that dad was very excited because he was going to start his own business, one that meant he could work from home and see much more of them.

How I’m handling it: In terms of my mental health, I have to admit that it took a big hit on the afternoon that I was told that I was being made redundant. How will we cope? Will we lose the house? What will my wife say? Have I let them all down? What did I do wrong? Your mind takes you to some bad places, but then it can bring you back again.

I would say that the most important thing that helped my mental resilience was talking the redundancy through with my wife. I kept everything out in the open. Our circumstances, our finances, my worries, and my aspirations for what I could do going forward. I agreed to a consultancy-type agreement with my old firm and have created my own company. I could have thrown a tantrum, but by fostering positive relationships and having a forward-looking, mutually beneficial plan for the future, I have started down a road that I hope will be successful from a financial and a mental viewpoint.

Name: Matt Kaufman

Age: 45Profession: Director, Global Upscale Custom Hotel Solutions at InterContinental Hotels GroupKids: Two, 13 and 6.Location: Roswell, GA

What Happened: I had a salary reduction in March before being furloughed in June. My wife’s salary was reduced about a week after I was furloughed. I go back to work at a reduced salary on August 31.

“It’s been a struggle for me, intellectually and emotionally.”

Financial picture: I’m certainly more conscious of what we spend and when. The unemployment and Fed booster (coupled with a company stipend) has basically maintained my income thus far. With the Fed booster ending, we’ll have to reassess. Luckily, our expenses and lifestyle are based predominantly on my wife’s income. I had spent eight years as a consultant, where my income was never consistent.

Due to quarantine and isolation, we’ve not traveled and reduced typical summer expenses. We anticipate that salaries will return to normal by year end. As such, we’re budgeting and planning for a quiet fall. To that end, we aren’t making any grand plans until we see what happens with the return to school.

How I explained it to my kids: Explaining this to the kids was awkward to say the least. My daughter is happy to have daddy home for the summer, and doesn’t really understand the impact. She does, however, know that “the virus has ruined everything” and “this is not the life I wanted.”

We sat down with my son and talked to him about the impact coronavirus has had on the world, the economy and how it impacts us. Both my wife and I were sure to emphasize the temporary nature of these changes. We don’t want to frighten the kids more than necessary, while remaining frank and realistic.

How I’m handling it: That’s a bit more complicated. We are weathering the reality of a quiet, housebound summer. The cabin fever is what’s going to drive us all insane. Summer with the kids wasn’t all that fun. In order to protect them, we find ourselves not doing much.

Personally, it’s been a struggle for me, intellectually and emotionally. As much as I love my kids, having conversations with adults is sorely lacking. I’ve also found myself leveraging learning opportunities: sommelier classes, a contact tracing course, Japanes lessons. Really anything to fill the time. That, and like so many who are homebound, there have been a bunch of projects in and around the house that have long not had time for.

Name: Diego Seché Ramírez

Age: 41Location: Santiago Atitlan, GuatemalaProfession: Restaurant worker and chicken farmerNumber of children: Three; Maria (16) and twins Juana and Ana (14)

What happened: [Editor’s note: This was shared with us through the anti-global poverty nonprofit organization Unbound] Before the pandemic, Diego, a single father, earned a living working as help in the kitchen of a local restaurant inside of a hotel, but the virus has kept the restaurant closed since February and he was informed recently that the restaurant is closing permanently. He had also scaled up a side business raising and selling chickens, a business that allowed him to continue earning income after the restaurant closed. In March, Diego had 100 chickens. However, as the lockdown has dragged on, resources and reserves dwindled, and he recently had to sell his last chicken.

“I thought that this was going to last for a couple of months and things would go back to normal. But things didn’t.”

The Financial picture: Watching the progress he had made to improve his situation slowly dissolve, he’s now working in food delivery, but competition is high and business is low. He says that he’s earning between .70 cents and $1.35(USD) each day. He also receives small monthly cash transfers through Unbound.

How I explained it to my kids: “I told them that I no longer had a job and that I was not sure if they would be able to finish the school year,” Diego said. “I thought that this was going to last for a couple of months and things would go back to normal. But things didn’t.” (Diego’s daughters are helping him with his food delivery business now.)

How I’m handling it: “I have not been happy lately. Sometimes I get discouraged when I don’t see good results. This is what makes me worried. It is upsetting not to see a way out, but my daughters and I just keep going forward,” Diego said.

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