'Well Kids, I Lost My Job'

How newly laid-off fathers should break the news to their children.

ByABC News
June 19, 2009, 12:58 PM

June 19, 2009 — -- It didn't take long for Thom Rouse's 8-year-old son to realize something was wrong.

"He caught on pretty quickly that he was seeing a lot of me lately. He wanted to know why he was with me all the time, why I was available to pick him up and drop him off from school," said Rouse, a 39-year-old father of two from New Jersey.

"I knew I could either lie to him or tell him that I had lost my job," said Rouse. "I decided to tell him the truth."

It's a decision millions of parents have had to make in recent months. How does a parent, especially a father whose sense of self is often tied to being a provider for his children, tell his kids that he has been laid off?

With Father's Day around the corner, the largest number of men in a generation are struggling with how to break the news that they have lost their jobs to their children.

The U.S. unemployment rate is the highest it has been in more than 20 years. In May, the number of unemployed people increased by 787,000 to 14.5 million, and the unemployment rate rose to a 25-year high of 9.4 percent, and the rate for adult men jumped 9.8 percent last month.

The Labor Department has yet to break down this year's figures for fathers. In a report released last month that looked at the 2008 unemployment data, out of 35 million families, there were some 2.4 million unemployed fathers of children 18 years old or younger.

Advertisers have tapped the growing market of recently laid-off fathers, playing mostly to their fears about being able to put food on the family table.

In a television commercial for Liberty Mutual, a father interrupts his family's chatter over dinner in a stereotypical suburban tableau.

"Can I speak just for a couple of minutes over something that's going on?" the middle-aged dad says nervously to the table at which his children, wife and elderly father-in-law are seated.

"Things at work are changing a little bit right now," he continues. "There's been some layoffs; I don't know how far that's going to go. Which means the amount of money that's coming into this family is going to be affected. Some of the promises that we made -- your mother and I may have to be put on hold for a while. … As of right now we gotta kinda tighten the belt. So we all gotta work together on this and keep the bills to where we can actually afford them."