Since commenting earlier this month on an article featuring Howard Wilson, a father in Texas struggling to make child support payments after the restaurant in which he worked fell victim to the current U.S recession, I have come across several other pieces telling of fathers who have made great sacrifices to ensure the wellbeing of their families in tough times. These stories are incredibly important to all of us, as they remind us that, despite all the obstacles, families can and do perservere.
The first story I’d like to highlight comes from Arianna Huffington’s forthcoming book, Third World America, which, though it has not yet been released in the U.S., has been plugged a great deal this week on www.huffingtonpost.com. According to this piece from August 9th, Ms. Huffington uses a great deal of her book to profile “middle-class American families struggling to recover from the recession.” Specificially, the excerpt included here tells the tale of Jim Laman, a Michigan father, who, after a series of devastating layoffs, finds himself commuting all the way to Chicago for work.
Ms. Huffington writes:
Jim Laman of Holland, Michigan, is another great example of how resilience can get you through tough times. He spent twenty-one years working at furniture manufacturer Herman Miller before he was “downsized” in the economic tailspin that followed 9/11. He found his next job at a smaller company, but in 2006 he abruptly lost it in a mass layoff. “There was absolutely zero warning,” he says. “My benefits ended that night at midnight, as did my pay. I was devastated. Never saw it coming. They even kept the bonus I had earned for the past year. I was bitter for a long time about that and it still bothers me, as the company was supposedly so ‘family oriented.’ I guess that came with a caveat!”
Laman found another job, this time at a manufacturer of truck transmissions in southwest Michigan. It was sixty-five miles away, but he kept his gas bill down by riding his motorcycle, even through treacherous weather, which saved him about sixty dollars a week. Then, in November 2008, as the economy reeled from the financial crisis, his company issued a round of pink slips–and once again, with just twenty-four hours notice and a month before Christmas, he was out of a job.
That Christmas was a challenging one for Laman, and he started selling things on the internet auction site eBay in order to help pay the bills. Laman’s wife also lost her consulting job at Herman Miller around that time, and, though Laman’s parents were able to help somewhat financially, Laman admits being “so stressed that there were days [he] wondered if [he] could go on much longer.” Huffington reports that Laman has “filled out almost five hundred job applications”, broadening his search “first to Indiana, and then as far as Chicago, where he finally received an offer in mid-March 2009.”
But living with the new job has not been easy. Every weekend he drives home to Michigan from a rented room in Evanston, IL, near where he now works. He describes his weekends as “rather short,” but says he and his family are “making it work.” Using his cellphone, email and sometimes even Facebook to keep up with goings-on at home, Laman is not bitter about his current lot in life, stating, “I think it’s all about attitude and priorities: If you go in with a good attitude, good things will come your way.”
Laman’s is an inspiring story of a father facing incredible adversity and stretched repeatedly to the brink of financial ruin, who somehow finds the strength and postitivity to support his family. While I understand that, for some, even allowing for a long commute does not guarantee they will find work, and that making such sacrifices is not doable in every family situation, I applaud this dedicated father for doing what he has to in order to survive in these challenging times.
Another piece on this subject comes from a less conspicuous source, Plus magazine, and the winning submission for the Plus New Writer’s Award 2009. This piece was submitted by Horatio Boedihardjo, a graduate mathematics student studying probability in England, and it details the mathematics behind the credit crrunch that destroyed financial giant Lehman Brothers in mid-September 2008. While that in itself is an interesting subject, what really struck me (and a colleague here at Fathers and Families) is the About the Author section that follows. There it is written:
Horatio is studying for a doctorate in probability at Oxford University. He enrolled at Oxford Univeristy as a maths undergraduate when he was 15 and had to reside with a guardian. After spending four months unsuccessfully searching for one, his dad decided to quit his management job in Hong Kong to accompany his study. Horatio would therefore like to dedicate this article to his loving father for all his sacrifice…
Perhaps it is because this simple ”About the Author” section appears at the end of a rather weighty, academic piece explaining credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations among other complex financial concepts, but Horatio Boedihardjo’s choice to highlight his father’s tremendous contribution to his education says so much. With these simple words, Horatio pays tribute to a man who made his son a priority when it counted. Horatio’s father clearly understands the true definition of fatherhood, and like many unsung fathers across the country and around the world, he deserves to be congratulated.