When You Can’t Support Your Family

by Craig Playstead June 24, 2011

I hunkered down and watched the movie “Company Men” last weekend. Can’t remember it ever hitting theaters, but it had a great cast [1. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson “Coach”, Maria Bello and Chris Cooper] and was about a subject I know all too well: getting laid off with bills to pay, a family to support and mouths to feed.

I got nauseous during parts of the movie. Seriously.

I’ve been laid off three times in my career [2. Once with my first child was two days old in the ICU and another time 30 seconds after getting off the phone with John Ritter’s manager] and I swear it will end up costing me a decade off my life.

In the movie, Affleck’s character was let go from a white collar job after busting his ass for 12 years. The reason? The company needed to get their stock price up. It’s one tactic public companies use that the average guy doesn’t understand. It’s not that they can’t pay your salary, it’s that the stock price always goes up after a layoff [3. It’s the reason a company that makes a profit of $1 billion a month lays people off.].

Wall Street sees it as a company getting its costs under control. Which is bullshit 90% of the time. What Wall Street doesn’t see is the soldiers who do the work for that company (and survived the chopping block) now have twice as many accounts and can’t service it’s customers like they could before. They mistake efficiency for corporate bullshit.

The worst part is how it hits home. Companies don’t care what this does to our lives and what it does to families. We’re a number in a spreadsheet.

In a lot of cases,  men don’t want to admit to their families that things might not be okay after they get laid off. This was a huge part of the movie.

Affleck’s character wanted to keep his Porsche, golf club membership and the image that he’s a winner. His wife was ready to sell the house, cut back on expenses and go back to work. Men often get slammed for keeping the status quo, but there is a reason for this: they don’t even realize they’re doing it. I didn’t.

When you’re  the provider and everything goes to hell how can you admit to your family that you’re not able do the one thing where failure isn’t an option? It’s also impossible to admit that there’s a problem to someone else when it’s too terrifying to admit to yourself.

Accepting that things are a mess is the first step to getting back on track, but you’re also admitting you failed. All the promises you made aren’t coming true. You’ve let down the most important people in your life, and then you mistake their disappointment in the situation for disappointment in you. When faced with that nightmare it’s easier to stay in denial than to come clean with yourself.

The pride that makes us great can also be what takes us down.

I kept up the facade. I was the man — I couldn’t admit that the $1000 a month I paid for COBRA was eating through our checking account faster than Charlie Sheen goes through porn stars. I got lucky and narrowly escaped disaster. Affleck’s character didn’t. He kept up the facade until his family lost their house, he was hanging drywall and they were living with his parents.

Admitting you failed at providing for your family is paralyzing. Some men commit suicide because of it, other develop drinking problems and some just whither away. Luckily for me, I somehow found a better job each time I was laid off. Thanks to some great friends.

If you can get over the humiliation, you can find a better place.

Don’t think that getting laid off is a thing of the past. The relationship between employee and employer has changed forever, and the markets were down for the six straight weeks recently.

Buckle up, make sure you prepare for the worst and ask for help if it happens to you. We’ve all been there.

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