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.
So every time a promising job posting appears on a website or when a prospective employer answers a query or when I leave an interview, Amanda is the first one I call. Her squeals of support sound like the “Theme from Rocky” blaring through our linked cell phones.
At times, neither of us can see past our own anxiety. I see the end rushing headfirst into my present; Amanda sees nowhere to begin. Through eyes separated by a generation of life, Alpha and Omega look almost identical.
“My generation grew up in the boom of the ’90s, when everything was going up,” Amanda told me recently. “Our expectations were only on the positive. We never factored in the negative.”
It still amazes me that my own generation of tail-end baby boomers got caught in the same trap.
When I was Amanda’s age and preparing in 1978 to graduate from the University of North Carolina, I had no workplace fear. I’d already interned two summers at my hometown newspaper and been offered an entry-level reporting position—at a salary greater than what either of my parents earned. I was convinced I stood on the portico to the Promised Land.
In those heady days, career advancement in journalism seemed a given. As I learned my craft, job offers with increased responsibilities and pay came in steady 12- and 18-month increments. By the time Amanda was born at Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital on June 18, 1987, I had done well enough to buy a house. I had written about high school football in South Carolina, oil fields in south Texas and apartheid in South Africa. I had traveled the world at company expense.
My most recent job as a columnist was a casualty of buyouts at the Cleveland newspaper where I worked.
So far, the reinvention thing hasn’t worked out for me. It’s not so easy for sober and serious reporters to Twitter and Facebook our way into the affections of folks Amanda’s age, let alone the editors and publishers now clamoring to win their attention.
My flailing efforts at a fresh start are far from the fatherly example I envisioned as my send-off for Amanda as she enters the real world. Thank God we are not competitors for the same jobs—yet.
I am steeling myself for graduation day. No doubt the commencement speaker will say something corny and trite, urging Amanda and her classmates to be forward-looking and optimistic as they head into the turbulent future. I’ll listen intently, too. For both of us—father and daughter—the pomp and circumstance of her graduation ceremony will be, in the strictest sense of the word, our shared commencement.
Sam Fulwood III is a regular contributor to The Root.
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