77: Downsized Dad

77: Downsized Dad

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

Downsized Dad

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

~Joseph Campbell

The phone call came late on a Friday afternoon. I listened to the cryptic voice mail message from my boss telling me to meet him at the airport on Monday morning. Though he regularly traveled to my sales territory to tour stores and meet with me, never had such a trip been sprung on me like this. They were scheduled weeks in advance and involved lengthy itineraries. This time it was different and I knew instantly what was coming.

After nine years with my company I had seen many employees let go. They never told you over the phone. I drove a company car and carried a laptop and cell phone that were company property. It was too much for them to risk. The pink slip always came via a short-notice visit from your regional manager.

Call it downsized, laid off, let go, fired, it didn’t really matter. What did matter was that in forty-eight hours, I was going to lose my job of nine years—a job that I had sacrificed so much for in an attempt to provide the best life I could for my wife and eventually, for our family.

I pulled the car over and sat on the side of the road. I was numb. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to call my boss and beg for my job. Instead as I sat there I wondered how I was going to tell my wife Amber that just three months after bringing our first child home from the hospital, I was out of a job.

The weekend was a blur. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was sick to my stomach. Amber and I sat up long into the night trying to plan for what was coming. We had minimal savings and lived in a city known for its weak job market. I wondered how we would make it. I was scared. Actually, terrified would more aptly describe my state of mind.

It was during one of those late night conversations that my wife gave me a great piece of advice. It not only got me through the darkest days of my life, but also turned what I saw as the worst thing that could ever happen to me into something that I now view as an incredible blessing.

“Hold your head up high, be proud of what you have accomplished, go in with dignity and leave the same way,” she said. “This is happening for a reason, and eventually, you’ll know what it is.”

I woke early on Monday and put on a crisp shirt and tie. I organized my files, and took my name badge, cell phone, extra car keys, and other materials and packed everything into a large manila envelope. I got to the airport early, bringing my wife and daughter with me for support (and a ride home once my car was taken from me).

I saw my boss crossing the terminal toward me. I felt my chest tighten as I rose from my seat. My legs were rubber and I was sure I was going to collapse as I followed him to a corner table. Most of what was said was a blur, but once the ax was officially dropped, I handed over my corporate possessions, stood, shook his hand and thanked him for the opportunity he had given me.

As I turned the corner and walked away, tears began to well up in my eyes as the gravity of the situation hit me. For the first time since I was thirteen years old, I was unemployed.

I spent the next week in a haze. Since I was married to a teacher, my wife had the summer off. While she stayed home with Zoey, I hid out in matinee movies, unsure of what to do while everyone else was at work. I did my best to get lost in whatever was on the screen, hoping to dull the pain that was eating away at me while I tried to reconcile what had happened.

I had spent a lifetime being identified not as the smartest, the best looking or the most talented person in the room, but always as the hardest worker. It was who I was and without that security blanket, I was lost.

No longer able to afford the daycare we had planned for Zoey, it would be up to me to assume the role of stay-at-home dad. My wife returned to school, and in what seemed like a blink of an eye, I went from managing a sales territory with twenty employees and millions of dollars in annual revenue, from a cell phone ringing off the hook and a calendar filled with appointments, to finding myself changing diapers, washing bottles and singing lullabies. Little did I know that what at first seemed so devastating would turn out to be an incredible blessing.

As the days melted into weeks, the depression faded, and I realized, like it or not, I had a responsibility to be the best stay-at-home dad I could be. The problem was, I didn’t know what to do with a baby. I had never had one and never spent much time around any babies. I had no idea how was I supposed to occupy her time. So I did the only thing I knew how—I made it up as I went along.

Soon Zoey and I were taking day trips to the mall and drives to the lake. We became regulars at the local bookstore, attending readings and book signings. Sometimes, she would fall asleep and I would sit and read the newspaper, but most of the time, she was attached to my side, and soon, we were inseparable.

She became my lunch date, my confidante and my best friend. Even more than that, I became a dad. Not a father, not a dutiful breadwinner, but a dad. I was there for her first word and her first bite of solid food. I watched her take her first steps. It was incredible. I understood her various cries, I learned her quirky personality, and she and I developed a bond that four years later is unbreakable.

Though the fat salary, the bonuses, the company car and all the other perks of corporate life are long gone, I wouldn’t change a thing. What was so dark and devastating, what caused such financial hardship and strain in our lives, left me a new man. There isn’t a job in the world worth giving up the time I spent with Zoey, and with a new set of priorities, I eventually had the courage to change careers and pursue my dreams.

Today, I am back at work, in a job I love, doing what I always wanted to do. The money will never be what it was, but the satisfaction, the peace in my heart, and most importantly, the relationship I have with my daughter are all things money could never buy.

~Matt Chandler

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