All Dads should be a hero. That’s the theory, anyway. Dads should be able to do stuff that makes their wives and children let out exhalations of wonder and respect when Daddy does stuff. A Dad should be able to do stuff that causes their wives and children to clasp their hands to their chests and breathe out “My hero!”.
I’m not talking about fighting off uncouth rival suitors for your wife’s hand, and battling monsters under your child’s bed – although Dads do that too, it’s just par for the course – I’m talking about the small things: Being able to get up at a seconds’ notice to soothe a crying child in the middle of the night; Putting up a garden fence; Driving the family single-handed across the entire country to reach a distant location, through rush hour and on into darkness, on a Friday evening; Plaster a wall; Light a fire; Invent some sort of life-hack for everyone; Write a song; Cooking an impressive meal.
Yeah, proper hero stuff.
Something that is not heroic, however, is being unemployed and being unable to find a job. This time, last year, I was in the midst of 18 months of unemployment (as it turned out), and it wasn’t funny.
It was self-inflicted in many ways. I was 12 years in a career I was beginning to seriously hate being in, so I quit. After a brief period working on a renovation project, I entered the actual world of the unemployed. I didn’t think I’d be unemployed for long. I thought that being in a 12-year career would give me transferable skills that employers would recognise. D’oh.
Unemployment sucks. It sucks elephant balls. There’s nothing worse than spending weeks scouring the job ads, spending hours tailoring CVs, application forms, and introductory letters, only to have your applications rejected. But what’s worse is when you do all that, and you hear NOTHING back. Nothing at all. I mean, you’d get an automated response acknowledging when you sent the application in, but it seemed to be impossible for companies to send a quick email – even a cut’n’paste one – to let people know that they were not successful in their job applications. Generic emails take seconds to compose, and could be sent to dozens of people in even less time. After all, they’ve already proved that they’ve got our email addresses.
I rather think that if companies specify in their job adverts that applicants be enthusiastic, dedicated, polite, courteous, smart, punctual, “going the extra mile” and articulate, they should demonstrate their expectations by being polite, courteous, and going the extra mile by sending me an email telling me that the application was unsuccessful. It strikes me as being rather rude. It wouldn’t have happened in the 1950s, when “things” were clearly “better”. If I was a Daily Mail reader, I’d blame political correctness, or health and safety, or “not telling it like it is”, or immigrants. That’s it! It’s all the immigrants’ fault!! Now I feel much better that I can blame my first-world problems on some hapless minority or other! Ah, so THAT’S how Daily Mail readers justify themselves and sleep soundly at night…
But it’s not so much the uncertainty of hearing nothing back, that you think about the job you applied for, and after three months think “oh well, I clearly didn’t get it” – no, that’s not the worst thing about it.
The worst thing is the thought that, because they didn’t reply, they probably didn’t read your application in the first place. You are left with the feeling that you are pissing into an empty void, and that nobody cares. This seems to be an increasingly common experience for people anyway, particularly in the howling vacuum of the internet. Hello howling vacuum!
And then you tell your wife and kid that no, you didn’t get a job today, and they sigh and soothe you. I’m incredibly lucky that my wife was supportive throughout – didn’t nag, didn’t throw massive guilt trips, or set ultimatums, didn’t put me down or humiliate me in front of other people, didn’t show signs of frustration. She was able to support the family while I looked for work. Also, the money from the renovated property kept me going.
I also did a few odd jobs for people – home decorating, a bit of transcription work, did some music for some theatre productions – so I wasn’t completely wallowing in depression. I did stuff, I worked, I got paid a bit.
But most of the time, I was wallowing in some way. And it’s not fun being unemployed, not after the euphoria of the first week. Spending hours on the computer, finding ways to make your CV more dazzling, is not fun.
Scouring job ads and seeing descriptions for jobs you don’t *want* to do, but really *have to* apply for, is not fun.
Having the slowly dawning realisation that your last career of 12 years counts for sod-all in the post-financial-crisis job market is not fun.
Coming to the conclusion that you’ve wasted 12 years of your working life when your peers are earning double what you were, is not fun.
Realising that spending 12 years on a career that went nowhere means that whatever new career you have, you have to start from the very bottom is not fun.
Knowing that, in some cases, you’re applying for jobs that you (in your state of low self-esteem) believe you are not qualified enough, experienced enough, or suitable for anyway is not fun.
Realising that, as a man in your late-thirties, you are less-than-qualified to do jobs than your average 21-year-old is not fun.
Realising that in your late thirties, that’s it, you’re unemployable, and probably won’t have a shot at having a successful career in anything, and that they have moved on to the generation below is not fun.
Being a proud man, but having to rely on your wife to support the family is not fun.
Realising that if you do get a new career, the chances are that by the time you reach retirement, you will not have saved up enough to have a comfortable pension is not fun.
Wondering if you’ll ever get a decent job with a good wage is not fun.
Waking up in the middle of the night – or just not getting to sleep in the first place – because you are fretting over not having a job is not fun
Going to bed having not filled in an application form that day, and having the guilt and feeling of failure gnaw at you is not fun.
Going to birthday parties with your kid, and having conversations with other parents, and those conversations turning to employment, and you having to explain that you’re not in work, and then having to discuss unemployment is not fun.
Having those conversations, and the response from the other person being (unintentionally) patronising is really not fun.
Being overly-conscious of the fact that you’re one of the few Dads on the school-run, and that you believe yourself to look shabby and run-down and dejected is not fun.
Knowing that once you’ve dropped off the child, you’re back to the recruitment websites for three solid hours, is not fun.
Worrying about how other people perceive you as an unemployed man in his thirties is not fun.
Having rare moments when it all becomes a bit too overwhelming, and the darkness encroaches, and you find yourself having a quiet weep on the sofa, only for your child to overhear, and come in to find out why you’re crying is absolutely not fun.
And then, what does your sweet, kind, wonderful, loving child do? She soothes you. Like you sometimes soothe her in the dead of night, with every vile monster screaming at her from underneath the bed. She soothes you, and cuddles you, and you end up howling great gulping sobs into her, and she’s only 5 years old, and she cannot possibly understand why her father (heroic, strong, can put up fences in the back garden) is crying like another wounded child in the playground because he cannot get a job. That’s really not fun. Not fun at all. That is one of the most un-fun things ever.
Some things about unemployment were great. The first week after I quit felt really liberating. I got time to write. I didn’t have to go to work in a shit office (although my ‘job’ was looking for work, which as you may have gathered, is not great). I was the Stay At Home Dad, which I absolutely loved being, and it’s only a shame I couldn’t get to be one permanently. I got to bond with our kid and watched her start school, and be there for her when she came home. People were very kind, and all sorts of people sent me job ads, or asked me to do odd jobs, or kept in touch to see how I was doing. It could have been a lot worse.
But then the reality of job-hunting – especially the reality of job hunting in the 21st century – would bite. There were some low points.
Like the time I talked to someone from a job agency on the phone, and I ended up feeling like I needed to have a shower. I felt soiled just talking to this woman, with her nasal voice, and her tired I’m-only-calling-you-to-make-up-the-numbers-I-don’t-actually-care. Her side of the conversation went something like this:
“It’s a tough job market at the moment”
(You don’t say)
“I think they were looking for someone with less family commitments”
(And prettier too, I imagine. Is that an age thing? Because discriminating against me on the basis of age is a no-no. Is it because I need child-friendly hours? Surely you people understand that parenting requires me to care for my child? I also have a beard. Does that mean the job you’re trying me out for wouldn’t go for my magnificent facial locks, despite the irony that I’d be working in a call centre and therefore unable to be seen? I could accuse them of pogonophobia, and then when they asked “wossat?” I can amuse myself by telling them it’s a fear of pogoes. Or pygmies. Or just anything I feel like telling them because they’re stupid cunts)
“They need someone with more experience”
(I’m experienced. You wanna know what experiences I’ve had?? Come here and I’ll show you. I’ve got a big long list of experiences that would be useful. Not that you’ll notice, of course…)
“No, I mean phone experience”
(I’ve used phones before. I’m using one now, how am I doing? Pretty well, huh?)
“What are you looking for? Admin work? To be honest, there aren’t many admin jobs at the moment”
(I get 30 adverts for admin jobs every day in my email inbox. Some of them are the same weekafter week. Either you are lying, or the adverts are lies. In either case, the job market is full of liars)
“They want people with relevant experience”
(The jobs require that I be computer literate, have experience with Word, Outlook, and Excel, be good on the phone, and have 5 or more GCSEs. As both Leonard Cohen and George Michael once said – although not at the same time: “I’m your man!”. The Leonard Cohen reference is lost on you, isn’t it? Damn.)
“You need to be confident and outgoing and have attention to detail”
(Well, I’m not feeling it now, but I can fake it. Do you have any jobs for people who don’t feel like being outgoing today? Or any jobs that require people to be courteous and diligent but not be terribly confident? You insist on ‘attention to detail’, yet most job ads have several grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Is it some sort of test? Because at some point, just to show my attention to detail, I’ll just apply by sending in a job ad with all the corrections, just to prove I’m better at writing job ads than people who supposedly have experience of writing job ads )
“Your CV shows that you’ve not had admin experience in 12 years”
(In the career I had, I self-administered, dealt with hundreds of people, created my own invoices, and corresponded with relevant client agencies. I arranged events, submitted funding proposals, and attended specialist training courses. As a property developer, I did extensive research on the housing market, took training courses in plastering and decorating, controlled a tight budget, liaised with tradespeople, solicitors, surveryors, mortgage brokers, and estate agents – communicating by phone, email and letter. In all this time, believe me, I’ve used Word, Outlook, and Excel a lot. Possibly more than you)
“I’m sorry, I think you need more admin experience”.
(Fuck you. Fuck you, and fuck you again. *click* <brrrrrrrrrrr>)
Boy, I wish I could have said all of those responses and more. I didn’t, of course. I mimsied and pacified as usual, because I wanted to appear willing and pliant and professional and stoic. And this was just for a job in a call centre that I didn’t even know I was up for in the first place. So why bother ringing me to tell me I was useless? What did that achieve, other than opening up a yawning chasm beneath me?
Sometimes I would get to the interview stage, and I’d dust off and iron my suit and shirt, and practice my answers, and research the company and the role, and then I’d get all worked up, and I’d go to the interview, get my hopes up, and then be rejected and have my hopes dashed, and then I’d take a deep breath and ask them (as you’re told to do on many job-seeking advice websites) for feedback on my interview and receive deafening silence in return.
Or even worse, what happened once was that I got to the interview stage, had an interview with a well-known company who advertise on the TV, and halfway through the interview I realised the company was a shower of shit, and the role required me to be a dishonest bastard to people who did not deserve to be shafted. Even though this was my first interview in months, and that I had nothing else coming up, I decided to sabotage the interview so that they wouldn’t end up hiring me, knowing that my wife would probably be furious if I told her the truth about how the interview went (I did, she wasn’t, she totally backed me up. I love my wife!)
The lowest point when dealing with recruiters or interviewers actually came very early on. At first, perhaps a bit naively, I did things the old-fashioned way. I got into my suit, prepared 20 or so detailed CVs, and went out into the centre of town early one morning, and visited all the job and recruitment agencies I could find. I expected that I would hand my CV into all of them, they would ask me a few questions, set me a few tests, see what my words-per-minute rate was, and then take my details and call me in a few weeks time. That’s how it was done fifteen years ago anyway.
Nope. Every place I went into told me, in so many words, that my twenties were a long time ago, and that both times and the recruitment industry had changed. No more walking in off the street. No more handing in CVs. You emailed them instead (impersonal, unmemorable, no means of getting an instant response, no face-to-face interaction, just an attachment to an email. The humans are dead…). No more tests. No more assessments. They read your CV, and if they deign you to be worthy, only then will they summon you for tests and assessment.
So why the fuck do all these recruitment agencies have these members of staff in expensive town-centre store-front offices hammering away on keyboards made of bullshit?
They’re gatekeepers, that’s what they are: Gatekeepers Of JobWork. What else are they for? What are they typing on their computers? Why sit at desks? Why have adverts outside saying “drop your CV in here TODAY!!”??!
The absolute nadir of this sorry mission came when, after six hours of being brushed out of the door without a CV being handed out, I went into one recruitment agency that had insistent and nagging music played over tinny speakers. At the front desk was a nightmare of fake tan, perm, eye make-up, and lime-green claw fingernails clack-clack-clacking on a computer keyboard.
Hi, I have a CV to give to you, my name is Danie-
Her [interrupting tersely]: “Just email it.”
She didn’t even look up.
At that point, I got a severe case of Fuckititis, gave up, went home, and started to feel very bitter.
Two years on from that incident, I’m employed with a large retail company. I have started at the bottom with a whole bunch of just-graduateds, on the shop floor. Pretty much everyone is younger than me. It’s a pay cut, but I like the working environment and the job itself, and they’re a good company who have already given me some opportunities, and I work with great people. I’m actually enjoying myself.
Being unemployed has left a scar that has affected everything I do. Being a parent helps to heal it. Two years on, and I’m coming to terms with it.