Last Friday marked the two-year anniversary of the day I was laid off. My employer folded, and I joined the ranks of the unemployed. I was in good company.
In response to the post-victory question, “You just lost your job! What are you going to do,” the next day I took the family to Disneyland. And the following Monday I began calling myself a “writer-slash-house-dad” rather than jobless. It was perhaps the most enlightening, painful and ultimately rewarding period of my life.
I pondered the timing of this last Monday as I sat in a conference room on the Disney studio lot with a couple dozen other very lucky people on the first day with our new employer, hearing about a man named Walt and the very special mouse that started an empire.
I got a job. A regular job, not one I can perform unshowered in sweats at my leisure without pay.
What started as a temporary gig with no promise of permanence has become permanent, and I find myself back in the daily grind of the entertainment industry. I am going to need a few more hyphens for my title.
The sense of comfort this brings, the unmitigated peace and lifting of so much weight from my chest, is something I wish for every person still looking for work in this stormy climate. My joy at landing a job is tempered by the guilt I feel knowing so many others more deserving are still in want.
A young lady at church the other day stood up to tell the congregation she lost the job she'd gotten just weeks before, tearfully asking for prayers.
“Why me?” I thought. Why was I so fortunate, and she so distraught? So I prayed for her. Maybe someone prayed for me.
There is no answer, no reason why opportunity alights upon one and not the other at any given time. None that we can understand, perhaps, save this: that each of us is writing our own book with a pen that reveals unseen words already on the page. Each story is unique, with obstacles and lessons tailored by a greater author specifically for each of us.
And it is in our struggles, our dark days and endless nights, that we learn the most.
I learned that being home with the kids is harder work than anything we do outside the house. And that's putting it mildly.
Every calamity that befalls your family, every bruise, injustice, disappointment and emotional hurdle tries you tenfold because much of the time it's you inflicting those wounds due to your selfishness, short-temperedness, confusion, frustration and blindness.
I learned that, “Because I said so,” is a perfectly valid answer to any of the hundreds of “whys?” a parent gets asked in a day.
I learned that men get far too much credit for doing even the smallest domestic or parental chore, for doing any of the things women have done forever, but doing them not nearly so well. Even my best weeks of writing earned me less praise than simply getting my daughters dressed, fed and off to school in the morning.
I'm a firm believer that being available and present for one's children is, in itself, an enormous accomplishment and so necessary for a healthy family and society. But there is something wrong about our culture that it praises men so greatly for doing tasks home that their wives have always done.
I learned that being there for your kids mostly means breaking up fights, getting snacks, picking up clothes, arguing, demanding, crying, apologizing and feeling like a failure.
I learned that I've been taking my self-esteem, self-image and self-confidence from everyone around me — my wife, my kids, my family, friends, coworkers, bosses and anyone who reads my work. Relying on others to approve and assure you that you are valid and sane is unfair to them and unhealthy for you. You have to find in yourself that which gives you value and worth in this world.
I learned that silk and wool are not machine washable. And, when in doubt, one should set them aside and ask.
There is a sense of failure, of loss, at having not made the New York Times bestseller list during my so-called sabbatical. I wanted to succeed as a writer. But more than that, I discovered I wanted to be a good father and husband. Fortunately, these are goals I can work toward no matter where I work.
Just as there are chapters in our books, there are seasons of change in our lives. Constant, flowing change. And with this new challenge, the leaves are definitely changing their color and the winds blowing in new directions.
PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse.” Friend him on Facebook, contact him at www.patrickcaneday.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.