Unemployment, the New Bonding Experience

I never thought I’d be looking for a job at the same time as my graduating daughter. But the recession has made us quite a team.

Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Root/The Washington Post.

When Amanda Fulwood accepts her well-deserved sheepskin Sunday at the University of Virginia, I’ll be the proudest father on campus. Since the day my daughter was born, I’ve dreamed of this moment, when I could look through teary eyes at her toothy smile and send her off to find a career and make her way in the world.

I never in a million years thought I’d be out there trying to make my way with her. Like many seasoned professionals hit by the recession, I am out of work. By one reliable account, nearly 16,000 journalists—including me—lost their jobs through layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers in 2008. So far this year, almost 9,000 more have been let go.

Amanda’s job prospects are similarly discouraging. Just as she entered her senior year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of unemployed people with college degrees rose to 1.413 million from 1.411 million the previous month.

So now Amanda and I find ourselves in the job market together, each consumed by our bleak prospects. This isn’t exactly the kind of father-daughter bonding I thought we would be engaging in at this point in our lives. But, oddly, it’s not too bad. We’ve actually become quite a team.

Not a week passes that doesn’t find us prepping, practicing and post-gaming our search-and-interview efforts.

We exchange job ideas or leads. Amanda, who aspired to a career in foreign policy, calls me to discuss interview strategies with campus recruiters. I edit her résumé for every prospect and proofread her follow-up thank-you notes. For her part, she gives me advice on interview outfits and calls from campus to check on my progress. She sends frequent text messages of encouragement like “hang in there” or, my favorite, “lv u papa.”

Like so many young people entering the job market in a recession, Amanda is freaked out, as she puts it, about her inability to walk directly from her bright green campus into the dull gray workplace.

“What’s the point of going to college, if you can’t get a job after all that expense and hard work,” she said in one of our frequent conversations about the future.

It was one of the few times that I was at a loss for how to respond to her. With print journalism in free-fall, and new Web models dominated by 20-somethings, at 52, after a three-decade career, I feel my options are more limited than hers.

Of course, I don’t dare show this. Amanda is just getting started and the last thing I want to do is project defeatism before the ink dries on her well-earned diploma. I stress the positive to keep her motivated to keep trying. And, truth be told, it pumps me up, as well.