Friday, 23 January 2009

Dad Men

My dad, having lost his job before Christmas, is back in the job market for the first time in twenty years. Times have changed but his memories of his old profession still remain the same. Since 1988, the advent of computers and the internet and paperless offices and hotdesking and outsourcing and freelancing and consulting have all entered the sphere. The type of profession my dad used to do has expanded exponentially to the point where the new young bucks doing the job he used to do are the ones reaping half a million pound bonuses and gentrifying places like Spitalfields. The old ways are dead. This parallels with Mad Men, which I’ve been watching recently, about advertising men in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of the charm of the show lies in its depiction of old office life in a high-flying environment. The typing pools; the hand-drawn presentations- it’s all so different. It feels like history, like an antiquated vision of the past. Computers and the internet have been changing the office environment so much in the last ten or so years and more change. What now for my father? What can he do? He certainly can’t go back to his old high-flying life. That world has passed him by and he’s gotten older than his previous young buck self. He’s an antique. A relic of the 80s. With English as his third language.

I’ve been helping him get updated. We go to the pub with a laptop and we go through the job markets today. I show him websites to sign up to, how to sign up, how to write a semi-flashy CV and how to sell himself. And most importantly, how to write emails. Dad hasn’t ever really had to cold-contact people on email. He hasn’t ever had to really write email after email. He doesn’t really know how to cut and paste the same generic text and be mindful enough to change the appropriate contact details. He is working out of an office that has been resigned to nostalgia-porn on television. I worry. I receive emails from him on a daily/hourly basis asking my advice on certain things to do with the job application process. He writes to me in a formal manner, making his requests in full sentences with proper sentence formation, signing off ‘With kind regards and best wishes’ like he isn’t my dad. I continue to worry.

No one takes his calls. No one knows why a guy who ran a failed small business for 20 years and is 5 years from cashing in his pension and is overqualified for the simplest of tasks in his profession wants to get back into lower level work. No one even looks at his CV. There is an ageism going on here. People don’t want to take on someone close to retirement, because he’s only a commodity to them. The last thing a recruitment consultant wants is a commodity with a definite lifespan.

Last night, I sat with a friend and we talked about our fathers, both reminiscing on trips we had taken with them to revisit their humble beginnings, how they had worked so hard till their fingers bled and their heads throbbed to ensure we were comfortable as children. My dad was working class so I didn’t have to be, he always told me. And he gave me the best possible start in life. Now I can only help him so much. He is still broken after the business failed and I don’t know how to mend him and where to begin. I don’t feel duty bound or honour bound to help him heal but as his son it’s the only thing I want to do. I’ve taken to applying for jobs on his behalf.

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