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Daddy on the Unemployment Line

Daddy on the Unemployment Line

All of my life I have known exactly what I want to do next. Being laid off has left me confused and dazed.


There were boxes everywhere, all filled with the tchach’kes that gave my office its personality. All the family pictures were wrapped in bubble paper and packed away. From time to time the phone would ring again, or somebody would call – I'd cry, they would cry, and then I would awkwardly get them change the topic. Since my boss told me the day before that I was getting laid off from the best job I had ever had, publisher of a popular children’s magazine, my crying wouldn't stop. And now – almost a full day later – I was exhausted from the crying.

First things first, I had to tell my family. I called my wife Lois as soon as I was told. She told me how much she loved me and how talented I was. She told me what a great job I had done – reminding me that just this past March the magazine had won awards for the job I did. In February the president of my division had introduced me to the chairman of the parent corporation, telling him what a great job I was doing. She kept telling me that there were 500 other senior people that got laid off, so it had nothing to do with me. Consciously I heard her and believed her – but I didn't really. My wife loved me and she had to say that.

My parents always taught me that if you work hard and do a good job, things would work out. My parents wouldn't lie.

My parents always taught me that if you work hard and do a good job, things would work out. My parents wouldn't lie. Now I was getting laid off from a job that I worked very hard at and won recognition for – so I must have done something very wrong. Even if I hadn't done something wrong, I was a failure; I was out of work and couldn't provide for my family. It didn't matter that my wife had her own business and we could live on that income. I am the father, and I don't have a job, so I must be a loser.

I was worried about telling my kids. They loved having a daddy who worked for the leading kid’s entertainment company even more than I enjoyed working there. Much to my relief, they took it in stride. My daughter gave me a hug and went back to her homework, my son gave me a confused look and then asked if he could go back to his Nintendo. So much for the Robert Young, "Father Knows Best" approach.

My brother and sister were very supportive but I couldn't tell my parents yet because my last day at work was my dad's birthday, and my mom was about to go for a follow up doctor's appointment for the heart surgery the week before. Eventually when my mother got then news, she asked me, crying, "Is there anything I can do? Do you need anything?"

"Well," I replied, "I could use some kasha varnishkas." (At 44 years old, food is still love.)


The first week of unemployment was a blur. I remember going to shul one day that first week. I get real comfort from the davening – a feeling like whatever happens at least I have God pulling for me.

Another reason I went to minyan is to see my extended family, the folks at the shul. They have shown me the meaning of the term "Children of Israel." As I have become more observant over the past few years, I have learned that Judaism is more than just a religion, or even a nation. What has really kept us going over these last few thousand years is that we are family, cousins, all descended from 12 brothers. When the chips are down, we stop everything and act like a family should. Everyone wanted to help however they could.

Through it all my public face was positive. I told them all not to worry, and "Hey, it's a good thing maybe now I can get to morning minyan.”

But I was very sad. I wanted to work, I wanted to be productive, and I didn't want just another job – I wanted MY job. I always said that if I ever left the company they would have to throw me out. Well, they did.

I always said that if I ever left the company they would have to throw me out. Well, they did.

When I left my job, the management asked me to sign a separation agreement. I took it home and gave it to my wife (who is a wonder at details) to look it over before I signed. I wanted to sign it right away, subconsciously thinking that if I signed it fast, they would call me, forgive and let me have my job back.

Lois said that the document was a lot of legalese, which essentially said they would honor my contract, and in turn I would promise never to sue or speak bad about the company. In the meantime, I left it unsigned.

I get calls and e-mails from people whose paths I crossed over my 21 years in the industry, many of whom I hadn’t heard from in years. They call to give a job lead, share a joke, or just to give a message of encouragement. Lois tells me that I get those calls because I always made them and people remember. Whatever the reason, if you know somebody out of work – call him or her today. The calls are very comforting.

I came home one day, and found a big box waiting at the front door. I opened it up and found a brand new putter (I play golf every Sunday during the summer). Attached to the putter was a note from my old boss. The letter thanked me for my hard work and passion, and that he attributed much of the success of the magazine to my leadership. At first I was angry. If I was so good, why am I out of work? After a while I did calm down – he had only good intentions in sending me the gift.


Around Thanksgiving, my son's class had to answer a question, "What are you the most thankful for?" Perry answered, "I am thankful that my dad is out of work. Now he can play with me when I get home from school."

He’s right. I got to watch my 7-year-old son take his test for a yellow belt in Karate or watch my 11-year-old daughter ride horses – none of which I would have been able to do if I was working at my old job. And now I get many more hugs.

By mid-December I had seen every recruiter in my industry. They all told me that I have a great reputation and an impressive resume; I will find something soon after the first of the year. Well guys, now it's after the first. What's going on? Why am I still here?

I was very angry at myself for not being able to get over it and move on.

Everybody told me to settle into a routine, so I have. I help the kids get ready for school, job search until noon, then I go to the JCC where I spend an hour on the treadmill. On the treadmill I read the Torah e-mails that I print out each morning. In the afternoons I go back to the job hunt, until the kids come home.

And I do projects. I have cleaned out the garage, my home office, and the basement. I have brought my kid's leftover toddler toys and books over to the shul's nursery school. I rebuilt a computer for my son and one for my dad. I am doing stuff with the kids that I never have before – renting movies, building cars, and using power tools.

Last week I got a call from the president of my former employer. We always had a very nice relationship. When I heard his voice on the phone, I thought, "My boss must have gotten tired of doing both his job and mine, and now the president of the company was calling me to offer me my old job back."

Well not quite. He called to see why I wasn't signing the separation agreement. I felt awful. It reminded me of my adolescent days when you get a call from your ex-girlfriend and you think she's calling because she missed you. But she's really calling to find out where you got the sweater you gave her for her birthday so she can return it. I was very angry – not at him – but at myself for not being able to get over it and move on.


Though I still haven't gotten a job, I believe that God answers all of my prayers. It's just that sometimes the answer is "no" or "not now." Maybe He has something else in store for me, or maybe He just wants me spend some more time with my wife and kids. But He is listening. Hey, didn't He just get the NY Mets a power hitter to bat behind Mike Piazza – something I prayed for all last summer?

I've had a lot of ups and downs over the last two months, periods of anger, frustration, of determination and resignation. Lois says I'm so talented and creative, and that I should find a new career. Every day she comes up with a new idea. The problem is that after two months of being unemployed, deep down, it is still hard to believe her. I still think that if I were so talented, I'd still be working.

Deep down, I think if I were so talented, I'd still be working.

As much as I would like to deny it, people are defined by their occupation. I was always introduced as Jeff who worked at the magazine, and before that I was Jeff from the entertainment conglomerate. But it shouldn't be like that. Joshua, who was Moses’ right hand man and given the job by God to conquer the Holy Land, wasn't known as Joshua the conqueror – he was simply Joshua the son of Nun. Joseph wasn't called the ruler of Egypt – he was the Joseph the Tzaddik.

Why can't I be comfortable with Jeff the Dad, or Jeff son of Noach? I should be able to accept the fact that I am no longer Jeff the publisher, but there is a real high from being in the middle of the entertainment world. I still suffer from withdrawal – still crave that fast pace.

That is the most distressing part. All of my life I have known exactly what I want to do next. Every life choice, every career option was made quickly and with confidence. Being laid off has left me confused and dazed. I am not sure what to do next, and that is very stressful. I guess when the time is right, with God's help, I'll figure it out. The right door will materialize and I will walk through.

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May 19, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 30

(30) Anonymous, June 9, 2010 12:13 AM

Changing thoughts

Being unemployed for three months it has enabled me to accomplish my tick list of tasks ive wanted to do in such a long time. I have spent so many years in my life chasing money and worrying about things that I actually forgot how good life could be. I have had the high times and the lows but its made me realise what is important its not flash cars or new houses or shining plastic gadgets its about making the most of things.

(29) been there, March 23, 2008 5:57 AM

you can do things you don't believe you can do

The No.1 thing to do in this situation is change your thinking. It's not surprising that you don't believe something will work - because you haven't tried it. So forget believing for the moment. If it makes at least a little sense, just try it! You can believe afterwards when you find you are successful. And exercise man (or woman). Exercise is mandatory. Any serious exercise that fine for your health. So like run, or do weights, or swim It's good for you and even more importantly helps you think healthy up-beat can-do thoughts. Next read books by Dr.David Burns to change your unhealthy thinking patterns for healthy ones. Boost this tremendously by hiring a good cognitive therapist with positive references from people who were in similar situations (ask the therapist). You have been limited by your thoughts. Change your thoughts and you may change your limits drastically. Remember - Hashem is your father, closer than your breath, and He loves you awesomely and wants you to succeed far more than you do, far more than you can imagine! But the way He arranged things for your maximum benefit is that you have to 'at least buy a ticket' - at least do an appropriate amount of the right effort. Work (ethically, legally, morally) with the way Hashem made the world. Hashem doesn't like to make miracles as that can chas evshalom reduce one's merits. Pray too. You can't just pray - you have to make sensible effort too. Even just a little brief prayer. Prayer works and helps because Hashem also really wants to hear you speaking to Him, connecting to Him. And when you pray, don't complain, ask. Asking is fine. Ask a little every day. After all Hashem is your Father and the King of Kings. That's a pretty serious connection you have! Make efforts in a direction that it is normal for one to be financially successful - by doing so you are creating a means for Hashem to 'secretly' and abundantly bless you. Remember even a little of the right effort is a good thing, a step forward, and may be a first step on the road of greatness that you yearn for. Now go exercise and boost your mood unbelieveably!

(28) Shalom Tsaddikim, March 8, 2005 12:00 AM


Thanks for the articles as they are really touching our heart.


(27) Steve, July 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Judaism's view of US jobs being sent overseas ?

This is a very common problem these days, and getting worse in the IT industry with so many jobs in the US being sent to India, China and other countries where the work is done for literally 10% of what it pays here.
(A $50,000 a year job in USA pays $5000 per year in India).

I'd be very interested in if Judaism has a position on this, what has become known as "Offshore Outsourcing".

(26) Linda Bishop, July 17, 2002 12:00 AM

God's Unemployed

I found your article while searching the internet looking for something about unemployment. This is a crisis I have been coping with for three years. As I read your article I noticed how are feelings were very similar about how we felt about our work. I have been trying to generate and income that would help me to provide for myself for the last three years. I am 53 years old I am divorced female and I currently live in as a caregiver for my room and board. We are friends also. I don't want to take money from others. I only want to be able to support myself that is to provide a place to live for myself, and the necessities of life and I would also like to do some things with other people. I am very thankful that I have a home to live in and I am not out on the street but sometimes I don't understand why I have not been able to earn a living that would allow me to take care of myself and do things with my children. I am very willing to work as a phlebotomist either in a physician's office, hospital, or a lab somewhere. I have also become an ordained minister through UCFM bible studies. I have wanted to work as a counselor from my home or teach private piano lessons. I gave my old piano to one of my piano students and when I save enough money again I will purchase another and I currently clean a house every two weeks. My income is very low and I try to think of thinks that I can do to get back on my feet. I do not ask people for donations or expect charity as I think I am to be responsible and work. It is my believe that their is a God and I have a personal relationship with him. I believe he has given me abilities in the health care profession to help others. Loss of employment is a very emotional time for any individual it affects others physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. From reading your letter I saw where your wife and children gave you comfort and support and as a family as you are going through this together. You have such a wonderful attitude in the midst of such a crisis and this helps others facing similar situations. I know that other unemployed individuals have been helped not in a financial way but it shows them that others to have experienced the same things that they are going through and sometimes it helps us to get through another day and take one day at a time. I will continue to entrust to God my financial needs because the bible tells me that he knows my needs. I believe that he is accomplishing his purpose for my life. I thank God for my financial blessings 40.00 every two weeks, food, and a home to live in.


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