• Fathering in Economic Hardship

    "The most important...work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes."-Harold B. Lee

    • Overview
    • Stories
    • Conclusion

    OverviewEconomic hardship is a common challenge many fathers face. Even with a steady job, there just never seems to be enough money to go around. Fathers who face economic hardship often find that they must figure out what their "value" really is. A common belief is that a father is a failure if he can't provide for his family. Questions like, "Am I just a paycheck? How will we make ends meet? and Where am I going to find another job?" are often asked with painful searches for the answers.

    How a father responds to these kinds of situations is very important. Fathers can still make choices to care for many of their children's needs regardless of how much money they have. In fact, economic hardship can be an opportunity for fathers to get closer to their children by being more involved in their day-to-day lives. Learning to value and maximize the situation a father finds himself in is the key to overcoming the challenges of financial strain.

    StoriesMichael Lamb (Parke, 1996, p. 51) explains that there are three types of interaction that fathers have with children. Fathers directly interact with their children, are available for interaction, and care for their children's needs through taking responsibility. This third way is an important part of Stewardship work. Although a father might think that he is not directly involved with his children when he is working outside of the home, it is involvement. One father told about the sacrifices that were made for him so that he could have a better life than his father did.

    "It takes continual effort, and there are these two poles that are tugging at you. You've got family, and you've got your profession and your education, and you can't abandon either one. It's very easy to fall into the profession. My Dad, I think, he had seven children and a job that didn't pay all that much, and so he was repairing violins and restringing bows, working in the Navy Reserve, etc. I remember him having three or four different jobs at one point, in which he would do something.

    "But he needed that, you know, he really did. It wasn't easy for him keeping the family fed. So, he had to spend a lot of time. He recognized this and he sent us to college, and paid our tuition for those of us that didn't have scholarships. He gave us a stipend every month to live so we wouldn't have to work, so that we could study, so that we could get out and get good jobs. It really boggled my mind when I graduated with my master's degree and found out that my starting salary was about equivalent to what my Dad was earning right then, and it's doubled since then. He really had to struggle hard, and he wasn't able to take the time."

    In an example of Mentoring work, this father also discussed how he was supported in college by his father.

    "I remember as my twin sister and I were leaving Saudi Arabia, where we had just spent the summer for the first time ever, we were leaving to come to BYU (the two of us--actually she was going to Ricks, and I was going to BYU). There was the question of the station wagon, which was still here stateside, and who was going to get it. There was a little bit of arguing going on about who should have the car. I remember my Dad saying that maybe we ought to give it to the one who had the scholarship, and wasn't costing as much money to support. It made me feel like he valued me, like I had been approved by my father.

    "In that same conversation and context, he was talking about how he really wanted us to succeed in school, so that we wouldn't have to struggle like he had. It was just. . . it was a boost, it was a push. I felt like as I left the nest that I could succeed, that my Dad was behind me and he wanted me to succeed, and he believed that I would. It was just a neat feeling."

    In another example of Mentoring work, one father found himself in a tough financial situation and was helped by his father.

    "They give it back. As much as you give your parents, they find ways to give it back. Seven years ago I was in a partnership in construction and it went sour. The company got into a bad situation and, with out going into a lot of detail, the bottom line was that I left. All I had known was construction for five or six years, since I'd been home from my mission [for his church]. I didn't know anything else, and construction was gone. There were no homes being built, no job opportunities, and I'd soured on it from what happened. Basically what ended up happening is that I ended up losing a home from it, was unemployed, and didn't have money.

    "I learned from my family that they are survivors. You face situations. Nothing is ever critical. There's always a tomorrow. You're not going to die, etc. Yes, it might be important or a sticky situation, but you'll face it and tomorrow you'll go on. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like there was a tomorrow. I had no money. I had bill collectors coming to the door. When it really got to me was when I realized that I didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread to feed my wife and my one child at the time. When you are put into situations like that, you lose all self-confidence and all feelings of self-worth.

    "You're just devastated and you really feel like you're not worth anything. It was at that time. We realized that we didn't have enough money to buy a loaf of bread. My father could sense that something was wrong. They didn't know how bad it was and they didn't know what the situation really was, but they just showed up with some groceries. They acted as if "We don't know what you need, but we have some extra and here it is." It's probably one of the few times that I've cried in front of my father."

    Economic hardship sometimes leaves children with wonderful memories about their fathers.

    "When I was a young girl my family did not have much money. My father worked hard to get us what we needed, but with four small children and not a big income we did not have many extras. One Christmas when I was about eight or nine I really wanted a play stove. My parents told me that Santa tried hard to get every little girl all that she wanted but it didn't always work out. I remember thinking I really wanted that stove, but even if Santa could bring me some dishes or play food it would be alright. On Christmas morning there was a big white stove under the tree for me, and some dishes! I was so excited. It had turning dials and everything.

    "I'd never seen a stove so neat--I was so lucky! In later years I came to know that my Dad had built the stove out of a piece of plywood and bottle caps for dials. He painted four black burners on top and it even had an oven with two shelves inside. He spent very little money and probably not all that much time, but to me it meant more that he'll know. My stove was the best and most original on the block, and the one made with the most love. "

    ConclusionFatherWork in economic hardship calls for creativity, sacrifice, and resourcefulness. Sometimes a father might feel like he is running the Boston Marathon as a three legged race. When he steps up to the starting line, his partner, financial stress, ties a rope around their legs. In the distance, this father can see the finish line that inspires him--caring for his children's needs. The gun goes off and everyone else seems to be sprinting by leaving him in the dust. As a father works to manage financial stress, he is able to move more quickly and can even lose this partner. It might take longer and have to be run (or even walked) in a different way, but the finish line can be met.

    His children's loving faces will cheer him on to cross the finish line and join them in celebration. Fathers then will receive the reward of knowing that his children have a chance in life because of his committed work. Hard work, simple acts of love, and sacrifice will show your children that you love them as you struggle to overcome economic hardship.

    More metaphors about fathering

    Learning and Application ActivitiesPlease complete one of the following:

  1. Think of a story, personal or professional, related to fathering during economic hardship. Submit that story to us.
  2. Interview a father going through economic hardship. Send your brief (about one page) "report" about what you learned from this experience to us via email.
  3. Think of three no-cost, fun activities for fathers and children to do during times of economic hardship to help create a stronger relationship between them. (Be sure to include age specific activities.) Send your activities to us via email.