For a man, not working is not okay

not working is not okay

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“Girls, come downstairs! Mom and I need to talk to you.”

Our three teenage daughters bounded down the stairs and took seats in the family room two summers ago. Christy and I launched into our carefully planned lecture.

“Don’t get involved, girls, with men who won’t work. There is something deeply wrong with a man who will not earn a paycheck. I know you all know kids whose dads are lazy, and who always have an excuse for why they won’t get a job. But this is not normal, it’s broken. If you ever meet a man who tells you he’s ‘looking’ for work, wait until he finds it and see how long he keeps working. Don’t ever hitch your wagon to a man who won’t work. Avoid that like the plague. There is a brokenness to men who refuse to work that goes far beyond simply not working. It shows a complete lack of self-respect, and a man who does not respect himself will not — cannot — respect you.”

There is something wrong with a man who won’t work. 

As I prepared to write this post, I realized how infrequently anyone is willing to put this in writing. (I did find this outstanding piece on the topic.)

Please note: I’m not talking about a careful and deliberate plan made by a couple, together, where the woman works and the man stays home with children. That is up to each couple to decide and there can be good reasons for doing this. (Besides, who says raising children at home isn’t work?). Nor am I talking about a man who has worked hard all his life and then gets a serious injury and spends several months at home recovering, or who suddenly finds himself laid off. I am talking about the kind of man who is a chronic bum —  you know the type. If you’re a man and you are getting super angry at me right now, I’m probably talking about you.

Men like this often have excuse after excuse for not doing anything productive with their lives.

*”I’ve tried.” Part of getting work is continuing to try until one actually secures a job. At no point does a healthy man just give up and decide he’d rather be a parasite (pejorative term, but refers to a creature that lives off other creatures).

*”I have a ‘condition.'” This can, of course, be legitimate, but a track record makes a big difference. A man who is truly not working because of his condition will usually be able to show a long and rich history of employment before he was injured. By the way, most good men will go to work even if a leg falls off in order to support their families, so be deeply suspicious of the one you know who doesn’t.

*”I’m not qualified to do anything.” This can be various degrees of true. Sometimes additional training is needed. But there are many places that barely require a pulse in order to be an employee there. Anyone who knows where the soap is and how to use it, and will look an interviewer in the eye, and speak up, can get a job at a lot of places. The wage may not support a family, but honest work is honorable. Being honorable matters.

*”If I go to work, I’ll lose my unemployment.” In most cases, unemployment is money that was paid into the system by hundreds of thousands of people who never get anything out of it. It’s there to help those who need it, and there are good and honorable people who sometimes will, but it is not to be taken for granted. If one job at McD’s or Target doesn’t earn a living wage, time to find job #2. Some men would argue, “Why should I work two or three jobs when I can make almost as much with my unemployment?” Answer: First, if you’re getting unemployment, that’s not money you’re making, it’s money you’re taking. Take it while you need it, and don’t be ashamed. But get off it as soon as you can, for your own sake. As a man, you cannot thrive without honor. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then chances are good you have never known what it feels like to earn the money you are living on. I hope you get to feel that as soon as possible, and unemployment benefits might actually hinder you from getting out there and getting it done. When that starts happening, that money has become your enemy.

*”I’d work if the right thing came along, but I’m not scrubbing no toilets.” Honor is not found in what you do, it’s found in doing whatever you must to support yourself and those who depend on you. Ironically, the man who thinks he’s above certain work can probably count on spending his life below the poverty line. You only get ahead in life by being willing to do whatever it takes. Everybody starts somewhere and if you’re not willing to start by doing work you don’t care for, you’ll probably never earn money doing something you enjoy.

*”I was looking for a while, but now I’m depressed and discouraged.” This happens a lot. But now you have two problems. You are both unemployed and depressed, two things which often go together. So, to be honorable, you must do what you need to do to deal with both issues. Talk to your doctor or a counselor about your depression. Get that taken care of and get back in the game. People are counting on you.

Guys, only severe illness (mental or physical, chronic or terminal) is a sufficient excuse for not working. Everything else you tell yourself and others is a head game.

I am not naive about how hard finding work can be. It can be brutal out there. But don’t live off your wife or girlfriend, or a friend or family member. Don’t surrender the fulfillment of supporting yourself and your family. Don’t settle for sitting at home playing video games and watching television. Your life was meant for far more than that.

My next post will be about women who get mixed up with men who won’t work, and become their supporters and enablers.

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  • Out of curiosity here, where do you feel at home parents fall on this spectrum? If you had had all boys, would you have lectured them on not marrying a woman who just wanted to stay home and take care of the kids?

    • Hi Loren. I hope all is well. The answer to your question is contained in my post about men who don’t work. And if it helps, I stayed home with my girls for a while. I am very much in favor of anything a husband and wife decide to do together. I am not in favor of one spouse sapping off the effort of the other. That is what my post is about and that is stated clearly.

      If you thought that my post was saying that men should never stay home to raise their children, or that couples should not have the freedom to make that decision, you misunderstood big time.

      BTW, my wife stayed home with our girls for years.

  • Jan

    Your girls are so blessed to have such wise parents! A dangerous combination is a guy like you wrote about with enough charm & wit to take advantage of a gal who mistakes the charm & wit for love. Hopefully, the gal has a strong enough self-esteem to recognize it!

  • Jess

    I have seen it more with “men” living in their parents’ basements playing video games all day while Mommy does their laundry and pays all their bills…

    • Yep. There are tons of ways to live off the generosity, and often codependence of others.

  • Excellent post. Keep talking! And I’m keen on the next post ‘about women who get mixed up with men who won’t work, and become their supporters and enablers.’…

    • Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m looking forward to that post as well.

  • This post really hit home because when I was younger, I was that guy! One of my biggest regrets is how I treated jobs. I would quit any time it became inconvenient. I really wish my parents had a talk with me about this issue.
    I work hard now and it’s motivated by how disgusted I am with my past, but I still deal with the consequences that I created for myself in bad credit and reputation. I was irresponsible with my jobs and money and it’s really hard to recover from that.

    • Great thoughts, Jerry, based on experiences that are now painful. I appreciate your candor. I hope you have forgiven yourself for the errors of your youth. You can have a powerful ministry among young men because of your background with this and the perspective you now have.

    • Karen Eglinton

      I believe that you have done a brave and unusual turnaround; and, you have had the open spirit and desire to change work for you. That should pay off in many ways. I’ll bet you put in some real effort. You have learned some lessons that many others never do. You are now farther ahead!