Jobless Father, Autistic Son: Now What?

Jobless Father, Autistic Son: Now What?

“The proportion of people jobless for six months or more has accelerated in the past year and now makes up 46 percent of the unemployed. That’s the highest percentage on records dating to 1948.” – Washington Post.

I think it was The Washington Post. Who can remember? I’ve fallen through the cracks, entering my fifteenth month of unemployment. I was laid off in May of 2009 from publishing, a field that had been driven to its knees by the Internet long before the economy kicked it in the head.

“You couldn’t have controlled either of those factors,” friends tell me.

Now my workday includes browsing online job boards, e-mailing resumes into the void, and going down at 3:25 to get my autistic son Alex off his school bus because he can’t be trusted to come in by himself. I’m looking up at those with jobs, trying to ignore the every-man-for-himself glint in their eyes, trying not to see myself in the phrases of economic news like “long-term unemployed.” Trying to not pay attention to the dispiriting trends, just like I didn’t pay attention to them when I came to New York City alone from Maine in 1984. Back where I’m from, nobody came to New York alone! To live!? I was unemployed for a while then too, but a different kind of unemployed, an energetic, brave unemployed that I’m still proud of and that was somehow in my control.

It’s now seventeen months. A blip these days, a stint that for almost seven million Americans threatens to stretch into an era.

Last time I was unemployed, Ronald Reagan wasn’t half-way through his first term. Back then, those without a job were not as likely as today to stay without a job, turning into the professionally unemployed. Back then you didn’t have online job boards, ads reading “The unemployed need not apply.” I wonder in the empty afternoons if our society has turned a corner: For most of my adult life, we’ve been, if not comfortable, at least accepting of have-nots in our landscape. In doorways, in food bank lines, on park benches. They used to be the down-and-out; now, I think, they’re more the down-and-unemployed, and they’re mushrooming.

Oh, I’ll find work—maybe not a job in the sense I’ve come to understand a job, but work—and so will my wife. Problem is, I never thought I’d have an autistic son, either, another trend I’m riding that robs me of any wisp of control.

Alex is 12 now, suddenly just 10 or 15 fiscal years from heading into the world. His school suddenly talks “job training.” The top of his head reaches my shoulders. He rocks in his seat on the bus or subway —or on the park bench—and demands “Music!” or “Pretzels!” or “Cookies!” at the top of his voice. The other passengers often look. At home, he sticks his hand down his shorts; he shaves a little now, and still watches Elmo a lot.

A have-not in training? Throughout my adulthood money has really only flowed, like oil from the bottom of the sea, for corporate retail. I try to not think how the next decade may swell populations even further beyond the cash to care for them, and how after a time no one will even bother looking anymore.

Photo from FDR library

Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives with his wife Jill and their two sons in New York. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Fam ...read more

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