Just a few weeks after Salim Bashi was laid off as manager of a taxi cab company in Michigan, he found himself driving through Detroit with his 11-year-old son, Sam. Sam knew that his father was unemployed and that money was a concern in their family.
Salim says, “We stopped at a red light, and saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart. I could see in my son’s eyes he was worried. I asked him what he was thinking. First he was scared to answer. He wanted to know if we would be like that man with the shopping cart."
Although Bashi was able to find work shortly after in a family members business not all unemployed Chaldean bread winners are as fortunate. Many Chaldean fathers around the country are facing similar questions or concerns from their worried children and spouses. Unemployment is rising. Big layoffs at major companies dominate the headlines and news broadcasts. Recession looms. Millions of people, even those with jobs, are being affected by the economic plummet.
www.CHALDEAN.org spoke to several Chaldean fathers about how losing a job can affect family life. All have lost jobs at one time or another. Two were self-employed and are currently experiencing a slow-down in their work due to the economic slump. They spoke to us about how they're weathering the hard times, what effect it has had on them and their families, how they're coping emotionally and financially, and what advice they have for other Chaldean men who may be caught in a similar position.
Getting laid off or losing your business is a shock to the system. Work is slow (or non-existent), and it hurts. It affects your self-esteem as a man and your position as the major bread-winner in the family. All the Chaldean men we spoke to talked about the emotional impact of being laid off or losing a job and their concern for their family. All had wives with children ranging in ages of three to sixteen, and some cared for elderly parents. All the wives worked from home managing the household.
Habib Antoun worked for a construction company for over twenty years. After being laid off it took him nearly a year to find a new job. During this time he did not sleep well. He could only sleep for two hours at a stretch before waking up to resume worrying. His doctor prescribed anti-depressants temporarily, which eased his mind, and he maintained a regular exercise routine, which helped him both mentally and physically. "None of this solved my problem," says Antoun. "But you still have to take care of yourself."
How difficult the adjustment depends a lot on who you are and the type of job you had prior to being laid off. It can also depend on how much money you have in the bank and the type of severance package you receive, if any. If you're like most Chaldean workaholics who put in eighteen hours a day, and now you suddenly find yourself at home with time on your hands, the transition will be rockier. Money will obviously be a rising concern. Antoun remembers blowing up at his teenage daughter after she lost a brand new jacket due to carelessness. With his unemployment weighing heavily on his mind, he was worried about money and took it out on her.
Telling your children about your financial situation depends on their age, and even if they're older, you may want to keep the information very basic. It is difficult to hide your situation from your children. They're going to know what's up simply because you're around the house more. But the fathers we spoke to said they didn't go into much detail with their kids. "I mean they're only young once," says Sal Gorgis, the father of two who owns a small business. "I didn't want to worry them."
Nevertheless, children will worry anyway. Change is scary for them too. If you're feeling sad, go ahead and share your emotions with them, within reason. But don't put them in a position of having to comfort you.
Children are curious about what their fathers do and this may be a chance to talk to them about what's going on in your lives and an opportunity to stress the importance of education, savings, and humble living. They too may need reassurance. When Sam Bashi asked if they were going to be homeless, it caught his father off guard. Salim wasn't sure what to say. But he reassured his son that they were not going to be homeless and things would get much better.
Your wife can be your strongest ally in these times. If you're unemployed you may not feel like telling the whole story to your children-for good reason. But your wife is a different story. You need to be able to talk to her about important things, and she needs to be able to do the same with you. Talking may make you both feel better, even if there are no immediate answers.
"Chaldean men like to make you believe that things are under control.” says Nick Shammon, a formerly unemployed electrician. "But we all feel the pressure and worry about things a lot. There are times when it feels like you are fighting with water."
Your wife can provide emotional support when the water seems to be winning. In addition, more Chaldean women now have jobs outside the home; she may provide needed financial support to the household as well. However, most of the men with younger children were unwilling to take on such a big family sacrifice as to lose the mother of the household. Most of the men preferred to scale back on the household expenses and be more aggressive in finding another job.
“I will not risk my children for money,” says Shammon. “I work hard for my family. They need their mother at home taking care of the important things that matter to our lives. We are not show-off people. We don’t need fancy things. Others have to have fancy things to cover their problems at home. A home with a working mother is like a boat with a big hole in it.”
It's possible, however, that your wife won't be as supportive or understanding as she should be. Many women do not, in fact, understand how deeply work is connected to a Chaldean man's sense of self worth. When a man isn't providing for his family and producing as he has in the past, he feels insecure and a sense of worthlessness.
Plagued by such feelings, a jobless man may drink more. And since he's around the house more, there are more opportunities for friction-and escalating conflict-with his wife and children. If you feel your anger is out of control, get help. The Chaldean churches are wonderful places to turn to for help and calming reassurance.
Doing with less is not the end of the world for you or your family. The obvious goal for Chaldean men who have lost a job or who are experiencing a slow-down in their business is to have it affect the family as little as possible. This may not always be realistic. You and your family may indeed have to get by with less for a period of time, but there's a big difference between doing with less and doing without.
Things are going to be okay if you can somehow get over the hump. In the end you may actually be better off. It can be painful. It can cause misery and hardship. But it can also be an opportunity to reevaluate and renew your life. Your marriage, having been tested, will emerge stronger. When you find another job (and you will find one) and your life can become more balanced than before, perhaps with less of an all-out emphasis on career and more time for family.
"Not having money wasn't good, but it forced me to change,"" says Nick Shammon, who found a new job working with signs and outdoor lighting landscapes. "The change was good. It helped me become closer to my family. I found something I like better and this job has more chance for me to start my own business. To be honest, losing my job was the best thing that could have happened to me."