Office Rat to Stay at Home Dad
Two years ago this Father’s Day I was working my 12th year at a local a non-profit and questioning what I was doing with my life. On paper their cause was honorable, but in practice it didn’t work out like that. Distribution of funds was heavily shared among the top executives in the form of salary and bonuses while I hadn’t received a raise in six years or a bonus in three. That is if you count regifted restaurant gift cards bonuses. Then the years without bonuses basically doubled.
I was miserable at that job.
My experience wasn’t taken seriously. Warnings I gave on various technical projects were ignored by my bosses that could have saved the company over $400,000 in the last three years alone. Instead they over spent often on experts that gave bad advice and penny pinched on old technologies that wasted hundreds of hours of employee productivity annually. I was miserable at that job.
I had originally taken the job in 2006 as a stepping stone from my career at the time in retail. Walmart and Menards had me working long hours for little pay and no benefits. I planned on staying two, maybe three, years and then moving on. That obviously didn’t happen. The nonprofit gig paid more than my retail ones, but still didn’t offer any benefits.
That obviously didn’t happen.
There was always something that kept me from making the jump. Yes, wife had gotten a job at an airline, but the economy tanked in 2008. Had it stayed strong it would have been a great time to leave. It didn’t though. Her airline, along with many other companies, had layoffs and furloughs. That non-profit job was our lifeline.
Over the next few years the leadership structure of the non-profit kept changing. The HR department changed too. Benefits were finally offered, but the costs to the employees for say Medical benefits were as much or more than my wife and I paid in rent at the time. We kept what we had through wife’s job. The non-profit employees retirement contributions were eventually stopped too.
I was offered jobs at other nonprofits and even Chicago area marketing firms. There always seemed to be a reason not to take them though. Sometimes the pay wasn’t great or the schedules were too intense. On more than one occasion I was told I would have to give up my freelance work in order to start at a particular agency. That wasn’t an option for me. I needed my creativity through freelancing in order to stay motivated in an office environment.
I needed my creativity through freelancing in order to stay motivated…
In 2013, my wife and I had our first child. He arrived unexpectedly around a holiday that was big for our non-profit. The fact that I was gone for a week over that time didn’t sit well with my bosses. They didn’t (and still don’t) offer any sort of parental leave so I used my personal vacation days to stay home with my first born.
The flexibility I was offered as far as making my own schedule for twelve years was killer. And the on site childcare was rad. I didn’t want to give those up. In retrospect I should have.
My second child arrived in 2017. The same thing happened. I had to take personal time to spend with my growing family and was given shit for doing it. Then the benefit of discounted childcare was taken away. The official company line was that there wasn’t a budget for it, but the wasteful spending by leadership kept happening.
I did the math.
We had to move further away from my job again in 2018. This was the third time it happened. Housing costs were rising, along with childcare, groceries, and all the essentials of life, but my salary was not. I did the math. Twelve years after I started that job I had almost 20% less spending power than I did when I started.
That second to last move was to a four bedroom rental home. It allowed us to help out family who needed it while nearly doubling our rent. During our move we had to cover a large care repair too. While we both worked, we only had one car. So it couldn’t wait. That wiped us out. We had basically no money and more debt than I’d like to admit.
Less than a month after we moved into that bigger house, started our oldest in a new school, and covered that large car repair, we decided it was time. Abigail and I talked and I was going to approach my boss about asking for a raise or submitting my notice. I was prepared to give them a three month lead time in order to get the nonprofit through the end of the year and not leave anyone hanging. It was the honorable thing to do even if I didn’t agree with how I’d been treated.
It was the honorable thing to do.
We made that choice the evening before the nonprofit let me go. I went into work that day like any other. Things were busy so I didn’t get a chance to meet with my supervisor as I had hoped, but we did plan a meeting to talk that next week. The day proceeded and I fully expected to come in the next day like normal. I would leave the office around 2:30 p.m. in order to drive the 30 minutes home in time to meet my son (a kindergartner at the time) at the bus stop.
That’s when they did it. I was called into my bosses’ office (as I was walking out the door that Friday) for a chat. I knew what was coming when I heard my boss ask my supervisor, while awkwardly adjusting those ugly poor fitting slacks he loved, “You want to do this now?”
The conversation was pretty standard, as far as the heartless corporate pink slip conversations go. I was given the choice to tell our supporters that I quit and be done with the nonprofit that day without a severance package or I could say I resigned and get two weeks pay.
The conversation was pretty standard, as far as the heartless corporate pink slip conversations go.
That was that. It was done. Not exactly how I wanted it, but I was free of that spectacularly fuckawful place. That next year was spent being a primary caregiver for my two children and my father before we were able to place him in a skilled nursing facility. I was figuring out what this stay at home dad thing meant for me.
We moved once more in 2019. This time it was back into a smaller two bedroom rental. Except it’s basically perfect for us. Close enough to shopping, the library, school, and parks that I don’t have to even get in the car for days at a time.
I’ve been able to spend time with my kids I couldn’t have imagined being able to do when I had that job. We read, play, work, and learn together. My youngest and I go on a walk every day while older brother is at school. We read books and assemble puzzles. Sometimes he even goes with me when I work a freelance gig. My oldest and I are currently planning a YouTube channel and website that will cater to his loves of cooking, video games, and coding.
I’ve been able to stick with my freelancing. It isn’t just a creative outlet anymore either. It’s become an income stream. Nothing that matches what my wife makes, but it feels good to contribute what I can when I can to the family budget.
I’ve recently gotten back involved with the Chicago Dads Group too. They are part of the City Dads Group and just one of over 40 chapters nationally. The goal there is to connect with other dads and get out of the house every once in a while. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m not alone. There are others out there who are like me and care enough to hang out and listen.
I’ve been able to stick with my freelancing.
This Father’s Day, while still two months away, will be the sweetest one so far. Life isn’t perfect. It has its challenges, but I’m lightyears ahead of where I was at that terrible job. I’m in a good place now and look forward to where the future takes me.