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Manhood and the Great Recession

Manhood and the Great Recession

How we respond to the economic downturn makes a profound impact on our children.


On the cover of Newsweek is a businessman lying flat on his face.  He has been washed ashore and is still tightly holding onto his black attaché case.  The title screams: The Beached White Male.

The article describes the position that many men find themselves in today and it is not a pretty picture.

Brian Goodell is an all-American 1976 Olympic gold medalist. He ventured into real estate and was laid off in 2008. The world record swimmer is now 52, looking for a job and drowning. He speaks about the awful stress to his marriage and his wife who is afraid and resentful.

There are nearly 600,000college-educated men ages 36-64 who are now unemployed.

Brock Johnson (not his real name) attended Harvard Business School and McKinsey &Co. He resigned as CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 2009 because he was certain that there was great opportunity waiting for him.  He is now 48 and still unemployed. He has sent out 40 emails a day searching for a job.

There are nearly 600,000 college-educated men ages 36-64 who are now unemployed. In New York City, these men have lost their jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls.

Men describe sleepless nights filled with fears, night sweats, and the refuge of internet porn.

Related Article: Daddy on the Unemployment Line

Families Suffer

And it's not just the men who feel the pain. Marriages suffer. Intimacy suffers. Relationships with children suffer.

There is a sense of fatigue. Emotions of sadness, irritability and loss of energy overwhelm and demoralize. Drinking, withdrawal of love and outbursts of fighting can devastate the entire family.

I have met with numerous couples who are trying so hard to hold on to a life they once took for granted.

Husbands and wives whisper about credit card bills, tuition forms and mortgage payments that sit on their desks waiting to be paid. The threat to their ‘shalom bayit’, peace in the home, is real.

How can we help our kids resist the urge to grow despondent while sensing a hopeless shadow constantly hovering above?

I cannot say that I have all the answers. But I do know this.

There will come a time that our children will look back at these times of challenge and they will reflect on their memories.

Perhaps they will be going through new challenges of their own; perhaps they will be reminiscing about their childhood.

When they think of you, what will they remember?

A Son Calls Home

Karen and Marc seem like the perfect couple. High school sweethearts, they easily complete each other’s sentences. Marc had a fabulous job as an investment banker in NYC till the market collapsed. The day he was let go, I received an email from Karen.

“My husband has given his life to his company. What will he do? I am afraid he’ll fall into a depression. What will happen to us? I am so frightened.”

I encouraged Karen and Marc to join my class and learn with me. Couples who study together grow united. Torah’s wisdom anchors us; it strengthens our soul.

The year passed slowly. While searching for a job, Marc took on running. One day he fell and broke his leg badly. He needed surgery, then crutches, and months’ worth of therapy.

Exchanging daily emails, we spoke about never losing hope. We spoke about the power of a good word; the smile that gives life to another. Though times may be difficult, we still have the ability to touch each other with goodness. I asked Karen and Marc to never let a day go by without doing something kind for their family…even the smallest act of kindness helps a family remain connected.

Marc finally found a job. His leg healed. Karen took on a part-time position to help ease the load. Their eldest son left for college.

After class one night Marc and Karen asked to speak with me. Their son had called home and told them that there had been a fraternity night. Everyone was asked to talk about their hero. When it was their son’s turn, he spoke about his dad.

“Dad, I told them how you taught me that no matter how tough life gets, we never give up."

“Dad, I told them how you taught me that no matter how tough life gets, we never give up. I told them how you lost your job and busted your leg, but you refused to lie down and surrender. Dad, I told everyone you’re my hero.”

I call upon parents everywhere to ask this question: When your children will look back on these days, what image will come to mind?

Will they recall a father sitting hopelessly in his chair with a blank look in his eyes, night after night?

Will they conjure an image of a mother’s sharp outburst in response to the slightest request for help?

Or will they know in their heart of hearts that despite all the stress and exhaustive pressure, you, their parents, never gave up.

Not on faith and not on each other.

You never lost your love of life, your dedication to family, your ability to hold on.

You never forfeit to despair.

I pray that our children always remember that life is about climbing the mountain together as a family. And though we may not have dreamed that we would travel down this road, the journey has taken us to places that helped us discover the true meaning of love.

May 14, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 19

(13) Wendy Chinery, July 8, 2012 6:12 PM

I believe that honour and respect begin in the home from day one. There is so little respect between adults and children because, so often, parents are tempted to take the easy option by planting children in front of a t.v. screen where they pick up all this trash. It is easier to succumb than to fight against the wrong behaviour they are picking up. My view is either NO t.v. or, at the very least, vetted and limited.My daughter and family have no t.v. and there is firm discipline with the children given with a lot of love - result - respect for family and other adults and children.Good books and joint activities are greatly encouraged.Just as in my own childhood, they are learning to use and develop their imaginations - lacking in most children today. If 'it's' not instant they don't want to know. I think that families need to integrate more with each other and DO things TOGETHER. Get rid of the instant mentality and teach the children the value of an older generation, what they know and could teach them. Teach them the value of other people, property and God's creation around them thereby teaching them appreciation and respect for what HE has done for them.

(12) Sarah, May 22, 2011 11:41 AM

Very good point... But I was struck by one thing. What about all the WOMEN losing their jobs? And their HUSBANDS worrying about the family income? I found the article very one-sided, disappointed in an age where almost just as many women as men have important, high earning jobs; and just as many women as men have LOST those important jobs.

(11) Anonymous, May 17, 2011 3:54 AM


A recent law school graduate who is looking for a job, I'm going through some of the thoughts and feelings that you describe in this article. One of the hardest things to deal with is when someone says that they may be able to help with a job, contact, etc., and then turns their back...its like kicking a baby who is already crawling, down to the ground on their back. Faith is hard to grapple with when things get really bad - I always ask myself "Why is Hashem doing this to me? ...How can this be 'good', if nothing Hashem does is 'bad'?" ....Very, very hard to have emunah if things are horribly bad. How can we honestly praise G-d if we can't even afford the things he wishes us to make holy (i.e. luluv/esrog, kosher food, etc.). Also, if G-d wants us to focus our efforts on spirtual things, how can he deliver a blow so severe that we can't focus on elevating ourselves spitually when we have such obstacles to overcome in assuring that we take care of our basic physical needs (i.e. clothes, food, etc.). These questions perplex me, and I will not lie, I'm starting to lose emunah at this moment. I'm not sure how studying Torah (as the author suggests) will somehow make a parnasa appear out of nowhere.

Michael Rabenstien, May 17, 2011 12:53 PM

Response to above comments

You wrote ". I'm not sure how studying Torah (as the author suggests) will somehow make a parnasa appear out of nowhere". The point of the article is not how to find a job. Rather, how to be strong and successfully navigate the challenge while helping your children/family see a role model for life. Torah gives us the strength and wisdom to do this. This is your test to work on your emunah. DONT FAIL and never give up!!!!

(10) Beverly Kurtin, May 17, 2011 12:32 AM

What about the women?

Single mothers are also losing their jobs. I was writing a press release for the radio station I worked for when I was told that I no longer had a job; the station eliminated our department so they could hire a new disc jockey who demanded a bundle to work for them. So there I was, a single mother without a job during a recession (in the '80s). I tried to go to work for temporary agencies but was told over and over again that I had too much experience (what they meant was I was too old at 45). ATTENTION GENTLEMEN: Take ANY job you can get and report that income to the unemployment folks. When you find something else, be honest with your unemployment folks; that is how I made my unemployment checks last over a year. Start your own business! That's what this woman did. I made more than I was making working for someone else! Go back to school and upgrade your knowledge. There is NO SHAME IN TAKING A JOB FLIPPING BURGERS or making coffee, etc. Find out how you can work in a different industry using what you already know. Guys and gals, there are ways of earning an income by doing things you don't WANT to do, but HAVE to do. Because I was working for myself I had the time to go back to college to get my masters but wound up with a Ph.D. That put me into a position where I was TOO EXPERIENCED. But I worked for myself until I got the rare opportunity to go to work for a major corporation that could pay me more than I could earn on my own. My dearly departed husband (he's alive, just departed ) didn't want me to work for that company because I wouldn't be home when his majesty got home from his $7 an hour job to cook his dinner. He's departed because I discovered a strange woman in my bed when I came home early from work. I did what I had to do and would still have been working there had I not had some serious health issues ending with a massive stroke. I'm totally disabled now, but am still, at 70, earning money. If I can do it, you can!

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