From The Stage to the Kitchen: The Struggle of an Unemployed Father

Home Brooklyn Life From The Stage to the Kitchen: The Struggle of an Unemployed Father
Bernard Mc Clain, Stay at home dad, unemployed














In a brownstone building in Brooklyn Lafayette, former dancer Bernard McClain, remote in hand, sways back in forth to a faded 20-year-old recording of himself. With one final twirl, the tape is over and the 54-year old is back in his living room, his ballet shoes replaced by his worn out slippers.

McClain, a former ballet dancer, stopped performing when he was 33, sidelined by an injury and achy joints. . “Eventually your knees, and you body starts to tell you that its time to stop,” he says. “Your body says, “I can’t do this no more.”  To make a living, he became a caterer for Radio City Music Hall, the United Nations and finally, Madison Square Garden, but in 2007 he lost his job in a series of cutbacks. He’s been unemployed ever since and now spends his time caring for his two children, relying on his wife, an obstetrician, for income. It hasn’t been easy for the family, his marriage—or his ego.

McClain’s struggle is a saga experienced by many in this post recession. And according to the latest figures, it’s likely to be experienced by many more. In April, for the first time since 2009, the unemployment rate has risen to 16.62 percent, affecting over 26 million Americans.  Throughout the recession, over 60 percent of jobs lost were male, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

“Everyone is frightened now,” admits. McClain, “As a man I feel the duty of bringing home some of the money, obviously I want to be a father too, but I feel like a failure, having to rely on my wife. Having to wait for her to come home so I can ask for money,” he adds. “Sometimes she will pick up my wallet and put $100 inside so that I can actually do something. I hate it.”

The Mc Clain family

Indeed, with wages at a standstill and child care costs skyrocketing, many families have inverted the original parenting roles, with the father staying at home, like McClain and the wife supporting the family instead of caring for the children.

According to the Census Bureau, 32 percent of fathers whose wives are in the workforce take care of their children one day a week, up from 26 percent in 2002.  The reversal of roles—and the effects of underemployment— sometimes wreaks havoc on families.

“Financially we get by,” he says.  With his wife’s income, luckily, his younger daughter Leila, 8, has been able to participate in tap dancing classes and attend a private prep school across the road while Leo, 9 – a music enthusiast, is learning how to play the guitar. But for McClain, the new reality has been an adjustment to his perception of himself. McClain feels emasculated and powerless by his new position within the family.  “Sometimes my kids will ask me ‘What do you do at home all day?’” – a question that McClain says, he asks himself on a daily basis.

“I spend my days cleaning,” he says. “And when my wife walks home every night, she knows that I will be there and that she doesn’t have to worry about any of that.”

At the same time, however, he feels underappreciated. “She doesn’t miss me,” he says sitting at the kitchen table. “She knows exactly what I do every day, all day, here in the house and she takes me for granted, and that routine is destroying our relationship.”

Indeed, an NPR-Kaiser Family foundation poll of people who had been unemployed or with an insufficient level of work for more than a year, published in November of 2011, concluded that unemployment has highly adverse effects on a marriage. “More than a fifth of all Americans who have been out of work for a year or more report that relationships with intimate partners have changed for the worse,” the study reported. Conversely, divorce rates have slowed down, as couples aren’t capable or willing of supporting the costs of a divorce.

Whether divorce is in the cards or not, McClain cannot say, but his employment situation, he says, has also taken its toll on the couple. “Unemployment is wrecking our marriage,” he concludes. “We are moving around another, instead of moving together. Two tracks in different directions and I have to go back to work for us to find each other again.”

This could prove difficult given that over 21 million jobs would have to be added by 2020 for the economy to return to the 5 percent unemployment rate pre-recession.

McClain’s biggest fear is that this role reversal is permanent,

“It’s complicated because there is a degree of resentment that has also been built-up in me,” McClain says as he polished a bronze figurine of a dancer that sits at the center of the family table.  “I feel like she is the boss, and she is in control of everything. Where do I fit in? Husbands and wives need to have independent lives and come home and talk about their lives together, or what their lives are separately, but together, and we don’t do that anymore.”

With slippers still on his feet, McClain looks, almost wistfully, at the tiny dancer in his hands. “Those days were the happiest of my life,” he says.













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