What I learned from being destitute

This blog post comes after having read this article: This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps.

Although I did not have a Mercedes, shortly before Thomas was born, I lost my job. Little did we know that our son would be born early, a whole month early. That put my wife on leave from her job one day shy of a year at that job. When she could not return to work in 4 weeks (she had a c-section and was ordered to remain at home for a minimum of 6 weeks), they fired her.

We applied for unemployment, I could not draw because the church I worked for did not pay into unemployment. She could not draw because she, “Voluntarily refused to report for duty”. Even though the doctor said she could not return, they took that to mean she did not want a job that bad.

We appealed the decision on my wife’s unemployment. A woman we went to church with worked for the unemployment office and she fought us tooth and nail to stop us from getting unemployment. Then she smiled, tried to chat with us and act so Christian at church on Sunday morning. It made us sick at our stomach.

We ended up for almost a year living off of what the church would give us, what family would help us with and what I could make working like a slave at the Roman Catholic Church. To give you an example, I would work 8 hours picking up cigarette butts all over the 10 acre complex, shovel mulch around plants, take out the trash, Pledge the pews in a 200 seat church, vacuum the rectory, church and offices and the priest would give me $20 for the day. If I was a good boy and worked like that all week, he would give me $100! This was not in the 1960’s, this was in 2000!

Everyone saw us walking around in decent clothes driving a 1995 Chevy Cavalier (that was in great condition) and treated us like we were liars and fakes. I had many church people tell me that they were sick that I was scamming the church. Poor people don’t have good cars or nice cloths. What they did not know was that all my clothes either came from the discount racks at Wal-mart or were my dad’s old clothes that he did not want for one reason or another. My wife’s wardrobe consisted of clothes that she had been wearing for almost 10 years! We were not hard on our clothes and took very good care of them. We could not afford to replace them.

We did what most people do in hard times, we lived off of credit cards until they would not let us anymore. Once we had jobs again, we worked very hard to pay off all the credit cards and collections agencies, but when my health took a nose dive a few months after my wife found a good job, the medical bills finished us off. So we ended up filing for bankruptcy.

I cannot tell you how bad I felt about that, but I am going to try to find words. I was a failure. You know, the man is supposed to care for his family. He is the protector, the breadwinner, the rock of the family. I was none of the above. My health left me unable to take care of my family. I had a heart attack and then found out I had arthritis in my spine. I was barely able to walk without stabbing pain in my back. I walked with a cane and slept very little. It was killing me. And then the depression set in. The pain, lack of good sleep, the constant calls from collection agencies and credit card companies, the stare from people who either pitied us (most of them pitied my wife and thought I was a horrible person) or they thought we were scum, did not help that situation at all. I got to where I could not even leave my house. (This would reoccur later as well when the local priest tried to have me arrested for becoming an Independent Catholic. But that is another story.)

Now my wife was having to work to support the family. I was being the stay at home dad and the failure as a man and husband. Then our families turned on us. Bankruptcy was not the answer, they claimed. My wife’s family tried to convince her to leave me and find a real man. You know, a man that was not lazy. To this day I battle that image of myself.

And the process for bankruptcy was humiliating. The stark reality of how badly in the hole we were coupled with the questions about why we did not get on food stamps (the lady at the food stamp office told me I did not qualify) or unemployment (umm…see above). Then came the review of all our possessions to see if there was anything we could sell to cover the debts. And with that came the realization that everything we owned was crap. The car, although it was in good shape, was not worth enough to bother with trying to sale it. The car I had owned, an 1982 Ford Granada was dead. So it was not even worth anything for scrap!

The one thing that made us feel a little better was the judge at the hearing. She looked quickly over the file, asked if there were any creditors present (there were not) and looked at us and said she was sorry that we had to go through all this and ordered the bankruptcy to be completed. We felt so much better walking out of the Federal Court in Kentucky. That is until we got home and all the crap hit us again.

Like the lady in the above article, we were probably harder on ourselves than anyone else was. However, our families did work very hard to break us up. To this day, they still think I am lazy. They believe being a minister is not a real job. They constantly tell my wife that I should get a real job and support my family. There is nothing in this world I would like to do more.