In the world of jokedom, the 12:30 AM phone call is the teenager out after curfew with the family car, calling to say there was an accident. Dad immediately asks “How’s the car.”
It’s not a funny a joke, but it is telling about what the Dad of Jokedom fears more than the potential loss of a child or even injury to that child: Loss of the family car.
Why? Because without the car Dad has to go to work on Public Transportation, which may add an hour or two to his day. (My personal record: 5 hours on public transportation back and forth for a 4-hour work shift.) But also the cost of repairing the car on a tight budget may mean “no vacation this year” or “no meals out this month” or “no mortgage payment this month” which leads to living in smaller and smaller apartments for possibly even more per-square-foot than the house.
The reaction “how’s the car” comes out of fear. Fear of so many things that could happen because despite our best intentions, our scrappiest living, our careful planning, bankrupcy and homelessness is one or two paychecks away.
Imagine the phone call isn’t from the teenager, but the hosiptal, or the police, with news that the child is in the ER. All those fears are even worse because fixing a car may only cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Hospital bills, even with insurance, come in tens-of-thousands. Dad can’t do what Dad wants to do: be near their child all the time to be sure everything is okay, because if Dad doesn’t work, Dad doesn’t get paid, and the house is sold to pay the hospital bill.
I cannot speak for Dads through direct experience, and I sure as hell can’t talk from Mom’s point of view, but I imagine all these fears carve even darker and deeper scars into her soul.
The bit that actually matters, the important thing, the life, health, and well-being of a child is low on the parents’ list of priorities because of fear.
This is not a healthy state for the American Commons.
What if we had, in general, better public transportation so the loss of a car wouldn’t be a major inconvenience (or even a job risk) and time sink. What if we had tax laws that made it easy and desireable to deduct medical expenses for every tax payer? (Yes, you can deduct medical expenses but only if you itemize deductions which most people don’t do.) What if they didn’t have to deal with the fears of losing everything because a simple mistake?
What if Mom and Dad in Emergency Mode could focus on their child and know that things are going to be okay in the end?
Our Commons would be stronger.
To get there we need employees to have guaranteed paid time off for medical emergencies.
We need medical costs constrained to human scale.
We need laws to protect people’s homes in dire circumstances.
We need social safey nets.
We need to not live in fear.