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Redesigning Dad: Family, faith triumph over unemployment
NOTE the putdown in the original title
By Amy Boerema | Daily Herald Staff
Kevin Jongsma, who lost his job in April and recently found a new one, says that losing his job was once among his worst nightmares, yet his faith helped him put it into perspective.
Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer
Kevin Jongsma says his faith kept him grounded after he was laid off, a period in which he was able to spend more time with his family and time volunteering, such as at his Naperville church, above.
Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer
Jenna Jongsma walks along with her dad, Kevin, as he gives 3-year-old Abby a ride outside their home in Woodridge.
Paul Michna | Staff Photographer
As the father of two young girls, Kevin Jongsma’s worst fear always was losing his job. It was, he believed, near the top on life’s list of possible “catastrophic events.”
In April, Jongsma was unexpectedly laid off, and that fear became a reality.
And that, he says, turned their life “all upside down.” The Naperville-area family had to dip into retirement savings and rely on a food pantry for groceries. Yet Jongsma says he remained positive thanks to a strong faith in God and the support of family and friends. He says he tried to view the challenge as an opportunity for something better to happen.
Jongsma is among the many men who have had to re-evaluate the role of the father in times of adversity, such as now, when the national unemployment rate for adult males hovers at 10 percent and 6.9 percent for married men.
Experts say many out-of-work dads find positives in their situation: They are spending more time with family, pursuing hobbies and volunteering, for example. Above all, many are doing their best to model a positive attitude for their children, hoping to pass along a few inspirational lessons.
Yet losing a job can be a major life crisis, especially for men and fathers.
Men are facing unprecedented challenges, says Dr. Pete Temple, a clinical psychologist in Geneva. He is seeing high levels of depression and anxiety, and a general sense of powerlessness, in out-of-work dads.
Men are socialized to face problems by identifying solutions, he says. “But this is a problem that can’t be fixed,” he says.
They’re also raised to provide; a job loss can be a direct blow to their identity, says Amy Webber, executive director of the Community Career Center in Naperville. “Many feel like they’re a failure to their family,” she says.
Experts say it’s critical for these men to see their value as more than just a paycheck. “The best gift you can give your child is security, even if there’s not enough money coming in,” she says. “To know that parents are still there for you is critical.”
The “dad role” has taken on a new significance in recent economic times, says Bob Podgorski, manager of extension services at Harper College in Palatine and coordinator of St. Hubert Catholic Ministry’s job networking group in Hoffman Estates. Today, the father’s role in the family is as “an equal partner in a relationship – in decisions and in establishing values in a child.”
When Jongsma told his wife he had lost his job at a manufacturing parts firm, Ann’s reaction was mixed: “Shock coupled with knowing God will provide,” she says. “It’s that gripping fear – and it’s that faith.”
They are familiar emotions. The couple’s children, Jenna, 7, and Abby, 3, both have overcome medical challenges. Jenna was born with a genetic disorder and has had two brain tumors and chemotherapy. Abby, a special-needs child adopted from China last year, developed eye cancer that left her with a prosthetic left eye. She, too, underwent chemo and is in remission.
These challenges provide the context for which Dad and Mom view all other life situations. “Whenever I think this is difficult, I think about losing them,” Ann says.
After the job loss in April, the family lived on unemployment, retirement savings and their tax return. Visits to a food pantry were humbling, but “I don’t know what we could’ve done differently,” Ann says.
And they truly believe the challenge was an opportunity for better things. Like for Jongsma to spend more time at home, taking the girls to the park. He shopped, cooked and cleaned so much that his wife calls him “Mr. Vacuum.” He volunteered at church, Naperville’s Our Saviour’s Lutheran, and he even started a local job club, advising and helping out-of-work dads revise resumes.
It also was an opportunity for Ann, who never saw herself as a stay-at-home mom until her children got sick, to return to work part-time. In another life, she was a clinical social worker with her own practice.
“God has plans for us,” Jongsma says. In tough times, “He has always provided, and everything’s always gotten better.”
Most importantly, experts say, now is an opportunity for dads to pass along one of life’s most important lessons – strength during adversity.
Jeff Sherred, an Aurora resident who lost his job as a consultant, sees now as a chance to model the “no-quitting” lesson. “I tell (my teenage kids) anything worthwhile is difficult to achieve,” he says.
Communication is key, experts say. It’s hard for men to ask for help, but being open about their situation and networking with everyone, from PTA members to neighbors, may yield surprises. “People are so willing to help,” Webber says. “You’d be surprised.”
Reassure loved ones you’re looking for work, experts say.
After getting laid off, Dave Kelly of Geneva told his daughters his new profession was “to try to find a job.”
Get back to the basics, says Jim Stoops, a financial consultant for Charles Schwab in Naperville.
Professionally, re-evaluate your job path; personally, drill down needs vs. wants. His father’s death in 2002 forced him to think about the kind of dad he wanted to be to his own 2-year-old son. “Throwing a ball around, looking at the shapes of the clouds – that’s what it all comes back to,” he says.
Temple advises unemployed men to surround themselves with support and to continue doing little things that bring pleasure – like working out and having a drink with a friend. “It’s not a matter of deserving these things,” he says. “It’s a matter of taking care of yourself.”
Stoops, who himself faced a 30 percent salary reduction, says he now does deep breathing exercises. “You either join (those who are stressed out),” he says, “or you try to control your emotions and how you react.”
When he really stops to think about it, “we live a pretty fantastic life,” Jongsma says.
They have a nice home, healthy children and a strong 18-year marriage. “Having two kids with cancer would send a lot of dads running,” Ann says. “Mine comes home every day, happily and faithfully.”
Jongsma wants the girls to learn to embrace even the bad times. To not be afraid of life’s twists, to charge ahead bravely and fearlessly. To know the support of God and family will continue, even if the paychecks don’t.
It’s a lesson he himself has had to learn. “Now I know exactly how it feels to lose your job,” Jongsma says. “It’s not a catastrophic event. In the future, I’m not going to spend any more time worrying about it.”
And, in the end, Jongsma was able to find a new job. But this time, he’s able to work out of his home and enjoy small moments daily with his children that he would miss if he were working at an office.
Jongsma was able to land a job with a company that designs plastic injection molds in Rockford. It’s his forte, so rather than relocate to Rockford, the company allowed him to set up shop at home full-time.
He says he works a 10.5 hour day so that he can take one-hour lunch and spend it with his children.
While Jongsma says he does miss some of the social aspect of being with co-workers, he’s thrilled to be able to spend more time with his children and getting to know them better.
What would he tell other dads who have lost their job?
“It sounds terrible that you lost your job, but you find out how little actually matters, except for your family, especially if you have children,” he said.
And now, he says, he won’t be as scared about losing his job. “I’ve learned that for the first time in my life. Otherwise, I’d do anything not to lose my job.”
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