So how many of you remember the movie Mr. Mom starring Michael Keaton? It was a pretty big hit in the 80’s, and still holds up pretty well today upon viewing. For those of you who’ve never seen the film (or those who don’t remember it), Keaton plays a husband and parent who finds himself suddenly unemployed, as he loses his engineering job at an automobile manufacturer (talk about staying relevant!). In order to make ends meet, his wife (played by the subtly hot Teri Garr) gets her own job at an advertising agency, leaving Keaton’s character Jack as the stay home parent in charge of running the household — which he does with a varying amount of success.
The movie is a comedy that ends with a pretty traditional, old-fashioned happy ending — Jack gets his old job back (with a raise), and his wife returns home to her role as homemaker because, as good as she was at her job, she missed spending time with the children. Twenty some years later, the ending is the only thing that probably wouldn’t fly in a remake if it were made today; the idea of the strong-minded female character giving up her career as easily as Garr’s character did wouldn’t fly with modern audiences, who would be more likely to want to see a “she does both career and home” solution (even if it wouldn’t be necessarily practical).
The movie has hit home with me recently as my wife and I have undergone a similar situation as the characters did in the film. It’s not an exact parallel, as my wife has been working non-stop in her own career since we first were together. That, and we don’t have any children yet — unless you count our four dogs as kids (and frankly, sometimes caring for them seems to be as exasperating as taking care of a child might be).
Sure, she looks cute just sleeping there -- but she's a handful. Trust me.
But my own career path has hit the proverbial fork in the road as I near my fortieth birthday next year. While I worked in the retail world for a long time, I moved into the real estate business as an agent a short time ago — just in time to have to duck for cover as the market came crashing down around me. While I did manage some pretty productive years sales-wise, 2008 was an ice-cold endeavor for me; frankly, I made as much income moonlighting as a sales associate for my wife in the year’s fourth quarter at her former job at KB Toys than I did selling real estate.
So as 2009 began, and my seasonal work in retail came to an end, I made the difficult decision to try something completely new for me. While I’m still licensed to practice real estate and while my real estate company still has me employed, I decided to put my practice on hiatus for the time being and join the ranks of the essentially — gulp — unemployed. Instead of seeking out new clients, I’ll only be referring my former clients to other agents in my office for a percentage fee (which I’ll get only if anything results from the referral). In essence, while I’m still an agent — I’m just not a practicing one, which means that my income from real estate will be next to nothing for 2009 (or for as long as I go this route).
My office manager encouraged the move — she thinks highly of my skills as an agent, and she didn’t want me to leave the office outright — and I didn’t want to quit real estate either, as I have enjoyed my time in the industry (though there were a lot of things I didn’t like about it or had philosophical issues with, I imagine that can be said about nearly every profession) and I didn’t want to close that door entirely, just in case. But I wanted to — no, scratch that — I needed to follow up on what I’ve put on the back-burner now for nearly ten years, my writing.
This website is part of what I’m trying to do — put the myriad of ideas and thoughts and concepts that flow in and out of my head on a regular basis down into a permanent form, allowing me to feel like I’m actually creating something that will have some permanence or impact. This is building towards me finishing once-and-for-all the novel I’ve been working off-and-on for more than a decade (I started it back in college, which feels like eons ago). For all intents, the novel is finished, but I wasn’t completely happy with it, and I’ve been rewriting certain parts and tweaking other passages to get it as close to my vision as I can (though I’ve come to accept that, no matter how much I work on it, it’ll never be “perfect” in my eyes, so at some point I need to just get the damn thing published).
Seeing the novel in print has been the defining moment in my life I feel like I’ve been building towards, and a lot of what’s happened in my personal life over the last several years (a few serious illnesses, the passing on of several family members, my own advancing age) has made me more determined than ever to do this while I still can, rather than face a mountain of regrets in my future about what I failed to do.
My wife has been very supportive of that goal, encouraging me to take the time off this year to finish the book, work on this website, and work on the house. Meanwhile, I’m in the unfamiliar role of “homemaker”, for the lack of a better term. It’s a strange feeling, not being the breadwinner; for almost the entire time we’ve been together, my yearly income has always exceeded my wife’s, yet now she’s not only going to blow my meager earnings away, she’s going to make more in a year than I ever did. I tell myself this shouldn’t bother me — I’m very proud of my wife’s accomplishments — but deep down, it’s a tough blow to the ego to accept.
The worst part is wondering how the people we know — particularly our immediate families — are going to react to this new reality. The process of writing is one that’s hard to understand unless you actually do it, and I admit I wonder if my wife’s parents, for example, look at me and see “artist” — or if they’re silently thinking “freeloader” instead, no matter what they say out loud.
NOT an actual depiction of our home
So how’s this story going to end? Unlike my novel, I’m first to admit that I have no idea. While I’m hoping otherwise, the scariest thing to me is the possibility that when the year is over, I’ll be right back where I started at — with no real, discernible progress made on my writing, and me just a year older. That uncertainty, though, pales to the thought of not doing what my gut is telling me I need to do. Thankfully, so far I have the support of the people closest to me — and if all else fails, I have Mr. Mom as my guide to how to get things done right with a happy ending to boot.