Six years ago, when my first child was just a zygote, my former supervisor decided that I should prepare to be a stay-at-home dad. He fired my black ass on an early Friday morning, less than two weeks after giving me a glowing evaluation. The reason for the termination: I talked back to my manager’s higher-ups, who had tragically mistaken me for a lil’ biz-nitch.
The timing worked out well. I was able to land contract work that I could mostly do from home. The pay varied according to the project. Some months I did really well, and we splurged on luxuries like sushi that was not on happy hour special. Other months were more of a struggle, but the bills were all paid, though in some instances not until we received past due notices printed in red ink.
Nearly a year later, we had saved enough money to buy two properties at a Great Recession discount: a $14,000 investment condo in one of the more hood parts of Phoenix that I thought would soon gentrify, and a three-bedroom townhome in suburban San Diego, purchased with a low down payment FHA loan.
Over the next few years, I spent the days at home with our kids (the aforementioned zygote would soon have two little brothers) and worked at night, while my wife, Amber, taught seventh grade English in an overcrowded classroom.
Like most teachers, the bulk of Amber’s work—grading and planning lessons and following up with parents—was done outside of school hours. This conflicted with her more labor intensive job as a mother.
Amber would eventually fall behind at school. Curriculum she’d written needed to be uploaded into a new computer system; it remained in the binders she accumulated over her nine years at the school. She discussed the lapse with her principal. The conversation ended with a condemnation: “You have made a series of lifestyle choices that have affected your work,” and then tears. My wife resigned, though I suggested she first go upside the principal’s head.
The pressure was on. I was in between contracts and needed to make quick money until something more lucrative came around. So like ‘Pac in Poetic Justice, I went down to the post office and got a part-time job.
While training to be a postal worker, or “Director of Dropping Stuff Off,” as I called it, the Human Resources rep suggested I take pictures of my time cards. Apparently, administrative errors often lead to employees not being paid on time and accurately. I was also warned that managers tend to lack training and people skills. They’re managers “because they’ve stuck around for decades.”
I saw this firsthand when I filled out employee paperwork and wrote a seven with a line through the middle of it (for my birth month). The gray-haired manager scolded me, “Don’t ever do that here.” I looked at him, waiting on the punchline. He continued, “The seven. Don’t ever write your seven like that.” My first thought was, “Go to hell, you fat bastard.” (Sadly, I’m not beyond thoughts of fat-shaming men when angered.) But I sucked it up and answered, “Sure. No problem.”
I would quit two weeks later. It took four months of back-and-forth to finally get my paycheck.
From there, I drove thousands of miles for Uber, which, as I explained in an earlier article, was a pretty good job until I picked up a crackhead who demanded I deliver meatballs to a girlfriend who had a restraining order against him.
I also got a temporary job at the American Diabetes Association, which was in the community health field I stumbled into 12 years ago. I was underpaid and overqualified, and the commute was horrendous, but they left me alone and seemed to be interested in what I had to say, especially on the rare days I showed up to work alert and well-rested. They also paid for sushi at staff meetings…easily the best fringe benefit since overtime pay.
But since The Firing of 2010, I have not had a “real” full-time job. Yet, somehow, as a family of five living in obscenely expensive San Diego, we’ve done OK, and managed to spend a lot of time with our children to ensure they’re raised by family and not babysat by some random who may choke ‘em out if it comes to that.
Creativity has helped: I have bought sneakers from clearance stores to resell on eBay; put my curiosity of world affairs to use as a successful day trader; conducted freelance writing and research; led voter registration initiatives; registered the uninsured for Obamacare; signed us up for food stamps (which The Man took away); and, sold the investment property, which doubled in price, to pay off the bulk of our consumer debt.
Now I’m doing marketing and outreach work as a contractor for a Native American health center. I’ve been here for about six months and they recently offered me a traditional full-time gig. I declined. My pay may have decreased after I accepted the mandatory employer health insurance, which required I pay out-of-pocket to add family.
Besides, I’m still disillusioned with corporate bureaucracy, decorum, and tradition—i.e. I can finish my work in four hours but really have to sit here for eight? I enjoy the ability to largely come and go as I please and the feeling that my employer is as disposable to me as I am to them. It’s the professional version of a “we’re just friends” relationship.
We’ll soon be leaving San Diego to return to our home state of Ohio. Thanks to Prophet Obama (who brought the economy back from ruin), my real estate foresight, and my wife’s former job that originally enabled us to get the home loan, we have just about enough equity in our townhome to sell and live mortgage free in the Midwest.
We hope to find a smallish house in the Columbus ‘burbs with a nice-sized yard. That way we can keep the kids outside all hours of the day and have lots of sex. We’ll also watch Netflix. I’ll do some freelance work, maybe start a taco shop—San Diego’s taco shop on every corner culture needs to go national—and my wife will substitute teach on occasion.
But we damn sure won’t have our livelihoods decided by a corporate structure that criticizes me for speaking up and demeans my wife for making a “lifestyle choice” to have children.