Job description blues

Most working people have simple job descriptions. Presented with a form that has a blank for "employer," they write in a name and address and go away satisfied that they've done their duty.

For people who work at home, it's not so straightforward. When it comes time to fill out a form, the blank spaces become paralyzing philosophical queries into what we do and where we're going with our lives.

I've fallen into such black holes of self-analysis more than once. Usually, by the time I'm done, I'm ready to go back to a regular job, any regular job, rather than ponder further how I became a househusband and what it all means. I sit at my desk, repeating a mantra over and over, until the bleak depression passes. The mantra goes like this: "Would you like fries with that?"

Sometimes, even the mantra is not enough. When it gets really bad, I go to my bedroom closet and look at the dusty neckties hanging there, leftovers from the days when I worked in an office. That's usually enough to snap me out of it, to remind me why I chose to stay home and eke out a living rather than enjoy the comforts of a regular salary and benefits package. But it's an uneasy peace. All it takes to send me into a mental sputter is to have someone ask, "And what do you do for a living?"

The latest fit of navel-gazing was sparked by an alumni questionnaire sent out by the journalism department at my alma mater, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The department regularly asks its alumni to update their personal data so it can send us semi-annual newsletters that let us check out our old classmates and see how they've become more successful than us. I suspect the school also uses the database to hit us up for money, which is laughable, considering that most of the alumni are journalists or worse, people so poor that their idea of a charitable donation is giving a bum a nickel.

The form poses these questions, all followed by ominous blanks: Business address and phone number, Current position, City where you work, Employer, City where employer is located (if different). It also has spaces that say "Check below if applicable: New employer. Promotion with same employer."

All fine and dandy if the alumnus has a regular job. But those categories don't measure the accomplishments of those of us who work at home. You'll notice that nowhere among the questions is "Loads of laundry done per week" or "Number of months raising children without a visit to the emergency room."

Sure, I have a job, of sorts. Under Current Position, I can write "author and newspaper columnist." That sounds pretty good, though they'll catch onto me once I list the same addresses and phone numbers for Home and Business. And what do I list under Employer? Myself? The honest answer probably would be my two sons. They boss me around more than anyone else.

When I get into these self-absorbed funks, my career as a writer starts to look like a financial sinkhole and I get to the point where I can't even consider it a Real Job. Instead, I focus on the man-hours I put into the household and the rewards involved -- reasonably well-adjusted children, a happy wife, a sometimes-clean house, a business wardrobe built around sandals and gym shorts.

If I want to be truthful on the questionnaire, I should answer "househusband" under Current Position. I can imagine my old classmates snorting at that. But you can bet the school wouldn't ask me for money anymore.

I can't bring myself to do it. "Househusband" just doesn't sound glamorous or interesting or fulfilling. It doesn't reflect how hard I work or how well my job status fits with my wife's career and our household demands. It doesn't say: Here's a guy who's striving, one who's making a splash. Here's a guy whose wife is proud of him.

So I've come up with a different job title. It may leave my classmates scratching their heads, but it'll make me feel better when I receive the newsletter in the mail.

Current position? Trophy husband.

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