Ricky-Bobby is an attractive lanky youth, 20 years old, who slouched into the interviewing office and spent much of the first part of the interview writhing in the chair and running his hands through his hair and declaring that he ‘didn’t know if he could do this’. I had considerable difficulty getting a handle on him while he expounded at length and with emotion about the challenges of entering the work force. There was an abrupt change of physical demeanour and engagement at the point in the interview where he says “Wow”. At the end of the interview, he stood up, initiated a formal and serious shaking of my hand and thanked me for the ‘really good’ interview. While we were waiting for his narrative to print so that he could take a copy with him, he indicated he intended to make amends with his step-father in order to get the guidance he needed to get unstuck.
FM: Let’s start by you telling me a bit about how you were raised – where, the size and composition of your family, what they did to pay the rent, etc….
I was raised in a small town community. I lived in Westville and Eastville and never really went anywhere else. My parents split up when I was five and therefore I lived with my Mom and saw my Dad on weekends. My mom worked at a grocery store and went to college while she raised me. My dad worked at a lumber yard.
FM: Any brothers or sisters?
My mom, when I was around six or seven, she found a new boyfriend and they had a child when I was ten, so I have a little brother.
FM: What did your mom study at college?
She studied general arts and science. I’m sure it looked good on her resume but she never really used it specifically. But she did eventually go to college and become an Education Assistant who works with kids with autism.
FM: Okay, let’s go now to the first time that you left home. And I’m going to number your various places that you lived and that will be a kind of backbone to your story, and at each number, I’ll explore each of those sectors that we talked about having a responsibility to youth like yourself when their personal resources aren’t adequate for whatever reason.
The first time I left home I don’t remember because I used to stay at my cousin’s house when I was little.
FM: Are you saying that your ‘home’ was not necessarily where you lived with your mom, but you had several ‘homes’, one with your dad on weekends and then maybe others as well,
No, home was with my mom.
FM: Let’s talk about school for a bit. Did you stay at home until you finished grade 12?
I still live at home with my parents.
FM: All right. You’re the first participant who hasn’t left home, and that’s also what we want to explore, is how you decided not to leave home. What went into that decision?
I still want to leave. I don’t plan to be here forever. I just finished school, and I was at Bridgeville for 3 months, so I guess that counts as leaving home. And then I came back and I hope to leave here soon.
FM: Okay, let’s say ‘home’ means the place where you were raised, instead of family home. So talk a bit about Bridgeville; what were you doing there?
Actually I didn’t get to experience paying for the rent and everything; actually the rent was free. I got lucky, I was supposed to be paying $175/wk but my instructor at the welding school, he let us stay there without paying because, I dunno, we were from the [work preparation program] or something.
FM: I know what you’re talking about, I think, but readers might not. So explain a bit more about what the welding school was about.
Okay, the welding school. I feel like I jumped into it. I didn’t do enough research because I came out of it and I’m empty handed for three months without a job. They said they had a 98% placement rate and I graduated with four people and I don’t think they have a job yet. I wanted to go out West because that’s where I hear all the work is. And it’s hard because I need money to start up with and therefore I’m stuck here. I feel obligated to pay rent and that also makes me feel restricted, slowed down. Because it’s hard for me to get a job in this town. And in order to get a job out of town I need money to pay for a vehicle to get me there.
You may ask why it’s hard for me to get a job in this town, and I’ve worked everywhere – at Subway, a gas station, Mr Sub, [a landscaping company] – I’m just saying I’ve worked at a lot of places and I’ve applied at a lot of places and had interviews at enough places.
FM: And why no job, do you think? You present really well.
Maybe it’s a bad attitude. A bad attitude about myself, maybe.
FM: As in lack of self-confidence?
No, I don’t think it’s that. It’s that I don’t want to work at Subway, I don’t want to work for minimum wage when I have college and school. I see so many people go to university and college and they don’t have the job or the career they want.
FM: Was that one of the reasons why you opted to take a welding course instead of something at university?
I figure it was the duration of the course and the facts that they presented to me. The statistics.
FM: About the probability of getting employment out of the certificate?
Yeah. I would assume that those tickets that you pay for – I can’t say that you can expect to get a job. I did apply at many places
FM: For welding jobs, you mean?
Yeah. I have applied out West but nothing comes back.
FM: What we haven’t talked about it is whether there are any welding jobs closer to here -
I did have a welding job but it was horrible. Because they wanted me to drive to [a city 140 km away] every day for $11/hr, even though the job was at [a village located in between, 50 km from Eastville]. I thought it was going to be a car pool, but they called me. It was only two weeks of work; there was nothing after that. The jobs get me frustrated – I’ve been speaking about it for six months now.
FM: Let’s do the chronology. So you graduated grade 12 last June?
No, I didn’t get my grade 12 until this year, but I left high school in 2010. I only failed one credit in my high school career, and that was my last semester in grade 12. I’ve been floating since I left high school. And I feel better now that I went to college.
FM: When you say college do you mean the welding school?
FM: So how was the welding school as a learning experience?
It was good, I enjoyed it. Made friends. I learned a lot. I just wish I could apply it.
FM: Do you think your inability to get a job – well, not just yours, also fellow students – is about the downturn in the economy and jobs drying up, or the qualifications aren’t well received in the labour market?
I think they see it just as a kid who just went to school for ten weeks and sees himself having a welding career. There’s also a high amount of baby boomers, I’m assuming, that have welding careers – I’m not saying that’s a fact, but – do you know what I’m saying? The trades died off and then it came back.
FM: I’m hearing you say that there isn’t room in the labour market for someone your age with your qualifications?
My amount of experience.
FM: So the dilemma of not being employable until you have experience and not being able to get experience without a job?
Yeah, unless I want to work for free, I guess.
FM: Are there jobs where you might not be paid properly but at least you’d get experience which is valuable in the long run?
I just feel with welding shops that are going to pay you less, it means they’re dirtier and worse for your health. I guess it’s up to you to make sure to protect your health. Even some of the industrial, larger industrial welding shops don’t have proper ventilation.
FM: And so the choice, as you see it, is to balance getting a job with jeopardizing your health?
I chose the career, I suppose, knowing the effects.
FM: Did you really choose the career, or was it the only thing on offer?
I think it was the only thing on offer. It was the only thing I could see myself doing; it seemed practical at that time.
FM: What do your folks think about this dilemma?
They wanted me to go out West. Seemed like it was a good idea. I’m not really sure what they think any more. I’m just floating, I don’t know what else to call it.
FM: Are they on your case to do something, anything, or -
No, they know I’m looking for a job, it’s just at a standstill now.
FM: Well, the West is the government’s solution to unemployment among Ontario workers – or so it sometimes seems. What are you experiencing as the impediments to getting work out there? What have you done and how has it worked for you?
I’ve created accounts for the leading companies in the oil sands to apply resumes for, only to find out that you need extra money for oil sands safety tickets. My only problem is getting out there, start out money. I have a friend who is out there who’s willing to room with me. Then it’s just difficult because I have to save money to get out there, while maintaining here.
FM: Would your folks give you a break on room and board if they thought that would do the trick?
Yes. Insurance that needs to be paid, and I would need a car once I get out there and therefore I would need to drive out there, need gas money.
FM: So have you got your licence?
FM: But no vehicle?
I have a vehicle. I still have debts to pay for school, that’s another dilemma, I guess we can call it.
FM: To whom do you owe debts for school?
Personal loans from my grandmothers, bank loans, student loans.
FM: For the welding school?
FM: But you said you got a deal and didn’t need to pay the $175/wk?
Just to stay in the residence. The course was $10,000. I was lucky enough for most of it to be paid for by my grandmother. But the extra loan that comes from my car breaking down while I was going to school. I had to buy a new one and that took up most of my student loan and now the interest payments are following me.
FM: So you’re car rich and pocket poor?
FM: Sometimes people say that not having transportation is the biggest impediment to getting employment, because they’re stuck in a small area. But that isn’t an impediment for you?
Yeah, I guess it’s always just the first couple of weeks of getting a job in a different town, that would be difficult. As in paying for gas to get there because you have no money, and making sure your car is insured – that’s expensive, being a young driver.
FM: Is there something else about not feeling comfortable in a strange town? You said at the outset that you’d never been much of anywhere except Eastville and Westville. Anything there?
I like that question. I like meeting new people and I’d like to see more of the world. I feel restricted just staying in one town, like I’m missing out. Because even Bridgeville was a new town and I met people and I got along fine. The biggest thing would just be meeting new people and being fine with new surroundings.
FM: But maybe the difference is that in Bridgeville you were going to an established schedule and someone was there to tell you what to do and what not to do, whereas with a new job, you’d be on your own.
Umhmm. Yeah I can see that just because you don’t have to – I still had to get up on my own and everything – and the structures weren’t that hard, they didn’t tell us everything to do. We still had to get to school on our own, it wasn’t right beside the residence and everything.
FM: Okay let’s go this way: often, they say, you get a job not because of what you know but because of who you know.
I’ve heard this so much lately. All I can say to that is I must have to meet new people.
FM: What about your buddy who is out west; could he help you get –
Yeah he went out there to do an apprentice[ship] with his father, a person who installs heating and air conditioning units. I’m assuming that it’s a family company at this point and it would be up to me to find my own job, but he’s offering me a place to stay.
FM: And maybe introduction to people who might point you toward a job?
Yes, that’s true. He referred me to a couple of welding shops that were out there.
FM: That didn’t require the extra oil sands tickets?
Yes, because they’re in a city or a rural area. It wasn’t as industrial.
FM: Because everyone thinks West = oil sands, but in fact many parts of the economy out there are hiring, not just the oil patch.
Yeah, I see that. I just have to broaden my criteria.
FM: And maybe set your sights a little lower, for starters?
Yeah, you have to start at the bottom.
FM: But you don’t want to.
No, I don’t think many people do. But the people who realize they have to are the ones that eventually make it.
FM: So what stops you from being one of those?
Nothing is stopping me from being one of those. I understand what it’s like to be a labourer.
FM: Did you get good refs from the jobs – the fast food and gas station jobs – that you had before?
Here’s the thing. I haven’t had a job for long enough to get a reference that counts. The only one would be here at the [work employment program]. I worked at Subway for the longest but there’s no way for me to contact somebody because I lost the numbers.
FM: And you said the ownership had changed. But you said they let you go before your probation had ended -
That wasn’t there.
FM: Are there any services that you can think of that would help you out of this stuck place?
I heard of one, I didn’t know how legitimate it was. Someone said that social services or welfare offered a start-up fund for people who were willing to leave but I looked into it and you had to be on welfare already for that to happen. Which makes sense or else everybody would be looking for money for free.
FM: What about Employment Services?
I signed up for the staffing connection, like a temporary employment services, and they never really called me back or let me know if anything was going on.
FM: How long do you think your folks will be satisfied to have you live at home if you don’t get a job? What do you think they might do?
I’ve been through this, I dunno. This is my whole life problem right here.
FM: Parents saying get a job and you can’t get a job?
Umhmm. I guess I better get a job. I don’t know any more. I’ve talked about it. I’m sitting here, I guess I could be handing out resumes right now. I’m willing to work. I enjoy working, getting up and having a routine. So I don’t understand. There’s people who do nothing all day and they seem to get by ‘way better than I do.
FM: You seem to have what I’m going to call ‘middle class aspirations’. Do you think that’s a problem in this time and place? That if you were willing to settle for less, you might be more successful in finding something?
What do you mean by middle class aspirations?
FM: I mean wanting a job that pays a ‘decent’ rate, that gives you some probability of staying in place, some satisfaction derived from the work itself, that kind of thing
I would feel better about myself with that. And then settling for less, I’m fine with settling for less, I just don’t want to be stuck here. I don’t mind the home town – in fact the only thing that made me question it is this survey.
FM: So am I responsible for your angst?
FM: Whew! You just sound so stuck, to me.
Yeah, I do feel stuck.
FM: We never talked about your dad and I forget what he does.
Me too. He stopped working a long time ago and lived more of a criminal life and me and him are distant. He’s on welfare now and I just can’t see myself doing it, seeing how he lives. I just can’t do it. My mom raised me different.
FM: So he’s not a resource.
No. It’s hard because me and my step-dad didn’t get along, it’s still kinda rough. So sometimes I felt that a father figure was lacking. Even a figure of guidance was absent.
FM: So that, in an odd way, is that the missing ingredient in making the move out of the security of your mom’s home into being on your own? At a really basic level, you don’t feel ready for it?
Yeah I feel as if – my Poppa passed away when I was in grade 6 and I think he would have been a better father figure. I wish I had gotten to know him better when he was still here.
FM: Were there any other contenders for a father figure in your life, like a coach or Scout leader or church person, anything outside your family – or uncles?
Yeah I was going to say my uncle, my mom’s brother. He enjoys fishing and hunting. I want to learn to hunt with him.
FM: But he wouldn’t be able to be helpful in getting a job, making that transition?
FM: I’m feeling as stuck as you are, here. … I have some finish-up questions that take a little different tack, shall we go there?
FM: So, for the reader of this story, to give it a bit of focus or shape: What would you say in your story is the Most Important Event? Or non-event – could be something that didn’t happen, as well as something that did.
To wrap it up, I think the end is very clear that I was lacking a father figure in my life. So we can call that a non-event. If I didn’t distance myself from my step-dad I’m sure that he would have been a solid father figure.
FM: Do you take responsibility for the distancing, or was it shared?
I think it was shared just because of some of my attitude as a teenager. And my absence from the home, just being out on the streets until late at night, that kind of stuff. That is my fault, I can’t blame anyone else for that.
FM: Do you think that relationship might be repaired?
Yes, I can see it getting repaired as soon as I figure things out on my own.
FM: But there’s the dilemma – you need to do what you can’t do without help before you can get the help. What are the options there?
I’ve tried taking a different approach, like talking to my grandmother. I don’t like taking money off people any more. So I’m stuck. I have to keep handing out resumes. I have to want a job.
FM: Even a crappy job?
FM: For starters.
Yeah, gotta start at the bottom.
FM: And you have some strengths. You’ve got an education, you’re literate, you present well, you’ve got a car (maybe no insurance?) but you’ve got something to build on.
FM: Okay, next finish-up question. You’ll like this one. The judgement question. People who read this story will want to know, at some level, how does it turn out. So what’s your judgement about how this story will unfold going forward? Are you optimistic?
Yes, I know I’m going to have a job soon. Whether it pays well or not, I’m going to feel grounded by just having a routine balanced by that. Tell the readers that.
FM: Okay, two advice questions, the first one is: What advice would give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that would increase the chances of this story having a better or easier outcome?
I’m going to summarize it because basically saying that me staying out caused a difficult relationship, I’m going to say that I should have chosen my friends better because they may have been the reason for my absence from home. And school.
FM: I was wondering whether taking to the street began to happen about the time your Poppa died.
Yeah. (long pause) Wow!
FM: Did anyone realize how important he was to you – or maybe you only realized how important he was when he wasn’t there any more.
I’d say I’m the one who realized how important he was to me.
FM: No help with grieving his loss? Was it permissible in your house to -
My mom was upset for a long time. I never thought about him being my only reliable father figure.
FM: This is beginning to be a bit of a theme as I hear stories, that the importance of death to children is not really realized and their grieving isn’t recognized as such, they just ‘go off the rails’, and if they’re teenagers, it’s blamed on ‘that age’, not what’s happened. I think I’d like to see more awareness of the importance of grieving.
Someone could write a book About Death for Children, somebody could write a booklike that.
FM: Or have teachers become more aware. And parents.
FM: Okay. Second advice questions, we’ve kinda gone there already maybe, or maybe there’s something else comes to your mind… question: What advice would you give to people like us who would like to be helpful to youth like yourself, what advice would you give us that would help us be more effective?
Well, if you want to get technical, you could have a radar out for every elderly person that passes away, maybe or I don’t know if there’s certified councillors for that, but maybe they could ask the spouse of people who pass away if there’s any close grandchildren who may need someone to talk to, or maybe just a little bit of a grip on why things like that happen.
FM: Is the grandmother that you talked about, is that Poppa’s widow?
FM: Your mom’s parents?
Yes, there’s another one, my Poppa and my mom’s mother split up and he remarried the same year I was born. But they’ve both always been there, both grandmothers.
FM: So lots of positive women in your life but a shortage of men?
FM: And no sibs.
Well I have a little brother, well a half-brother, not that that matters. He was born when I was ten.
FM: So not really the same generation.
No. Very different.
FM: I sometimes think that – well, there’s some evidence – that siblings, even though they’re a pain in the butt, are protective when bad stuff happens, and that the lack of them can make it feel very lonely.
FM: Okay, that’s the end of my questions. Anything else?
I feel really good about this. Thank you.
FM: Thank you. And now we need to choose a name for this story - so think about it.