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Unconfessed Unemployment

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"Look, I don't want your mom to worry, all right? When she worries, she says things like 'I told you so' and 'Stop doing that, I'm asleep.' So, I'm just gonna tell a little lie. Now not a word to your mom about me getting canned."
Peter Griffin, Family Guy

What do you do when you are Married to the Job, and the job dumps you? Many breadwinners, almost always male, derive most of their sense of self-worth and achievement from their ability to bring home the bacon. The flip side is that getting laid off can deal a devastating blow to their self-esteem, and they may conceal the fact from their wife and kids, sometimes for months.

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They still get up early, put on their business clothes, and leave for work — sometimes they will even complain how exhausting office life is, when they come home at the end of the day. But in the meantime they just drift about, desperately pretending to be one of the gainfully employed, (possibly looking for a new job, but never with the kind of success that might tempt them to brag about it to their family) until their lies come crashing down with ugly consequences (the ugliest case being Pater Familicide).


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Domina no Do!: Takeshi's father lost his job months earlier but his wife and son only find out when Takeshi gets abducted. All this time he pretended to go to the office, when in fact he just spent his days in internet cafes.
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka this happens to the father of Prof. Teshigawara: he was a politician who got disgraced in an unspecified fallout in which he ended up being The Scapegoat. Said father still "goes to work" every day, acting as if he's still a big mover and shaker, and even his son doesn't know the truth.
  • Happens in Maison Ikkoku with Godai, who was laid off from his part-time job as a day-caretaker and couldn't tell Kyoko about it.

    Comic Books 
  • One of Despair's stories in The Sandman Endless Nights anthology is this. It is appropriately horrible. The poor fired guy is so afraid of telling his family that he turns to crime when his money runs out, while still pretending that he is going to his former job.

    Comic Strips 
  • Many of the Alex strips use this joke - frequently, the poor redundant banker spends the first three panels trying to spin the situation positively before breaking the news. When Clive was laid off, he spent the best part of a year pretending to still be employed. His wife figured it out when she was able to spend a whole night without being woken by Clive's boss texting him.
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    Fan Works 
  • In the Hetalia: Axis Powers fic What Your Country Can Do For You, Japan meets one of his citizens, who is too ashamed that he lost his job to go home and face his family. Japan takes the man home, where his wife is just happy to have him back and is sure he'll find another job.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Incredibles: Bob Parr—AKA: Mr. Incredible—starts working for Mirage (and Syndrome) after a complicated mishap gets him fired from his insurance job, and he can't bring himself to correct his wife's assumption that he was promoted. He uses the money he earns from Mirage's group to support his family while spending his time "at work" getting back into condition.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Mona in Amreeka pretends to work in a bank when she's actually working in the fast-food joint next door.
  • An inversion of this trope that makes it, if possible, even more sad: in Billy Elliot, Billy's father, who had been on strike for months, decides to resume work as a scab in order to pay for Billy's dance lessons, without telling his older son who is still on strike. But the latter recognizes his father going to work while picketing the mining facility. It's a heartbreaking moment for both of them.
  • The Villain Protagonist in Falling Down can't admit to anyone that he was laid off from his job as an engineer at a defense plant. William "D-FENS" Foster's reign of terror begins when he snaps while stuck in traffic, on the hottest day of the summer, commuting to a job he no longer has.
  • Gerald in The Full Monty hasn't told his wife Linda that the steel mill at which he worked as a foreman closed down months ago, and still leaves the house every weekday morning in a suit and tie... to go to the job centre. He almost gets away with it by securing an interview for a similar job that will pay him enough money in advance to cover the debts he has accumulated, but after his former subordinates Gary and Dave sabotage his interview, the repossession men start showing up at his house and give the game away. Linda does not take the revelation well. (Ironically, he is offered the job anyway, but too late to save face.)
  • In The Great Outdoors, Dan Aykroyd's character is a pompous and wealthy stockbroker, but in the end, he reveals that he lost his job some time ago, and his family is actually broke without their knowledge.
  • Ashton Kutcher's character in Guess Who quits his job as a successful broker and insults his boss (a racist who insulted the protagonist's black fiancée) but doesn't want to tell his fiancée as they're going to meet her parents. Unfortunately, his pissed-off boss spreads false rumors about him, which means he can't get employment (apparently, no employer fact-checks). Unusually, by the end of the film, he still doesn't have a job, but his future father-in-law accepts him after learning why he quit.
  • In Soul Food, youngest sister Bird's husband Lem loses his job when his employer finds out about his criminal history. He tries to find another job before she finds out, but she does anyway. Then the trope is inverted in that she asks her ex-boyfriend to give him a job, but not to let him know. Of course, the boyfriend being a Jerkass, he tells him anyway.
  • Related to this trope: In House of Sand and Fog, the male lead doesn't want to admit to his family that the only work he can find is as a construction worker. He makes a point of wearing a suit and tie whenever he's at home.
  • Main plot point of Mad City (1997). John Travolta's character lost his job as a museum security guard. He fakes going to work for a while.
  • The premise of the Finnish film A Mans Job (Miehen työ) . The main character loses his job as a construction worker and doesn't dare to tell it to his depressed wife. He becomes a sex worker. Hilarity does not ensue.
  • A variation is used in Overboard. After Joanne washes up on shore an amnesiac and her husband abandons her in the mental hospital where she's being held, Dean goes to the hospital, claims her as his wife, "Annie," and takes her home so she can pay off the cost of the shoe cabinet she refused to pay him. When she accepts that she is indeed "Annie," they get into an argument because he insists on going bowling instead of staying home to help her raise his sons. She follows him and discovers that he works the night shift in a nearby fertilizer factory as a way to supplement his meager income as a handyman.
  • Tokyo Sonata: Ryūhei has a good office job, but is suddenly fired because Chinese workers are cheaper. While attempting to find a new job, Ryūhei encounters an old classmate on the street, Kurosu, who has also recently been downsized. Kurosu uses a feature on his mobile phone that plays the ring tone periodically, so that it may fool others into believing he is still employed. This intrigues Ryūhei, who decides to hide the fact that he has been fired from his family.
  • Une Epoque Formidable: Michel Berthier is a qualified employee in a company specialized in the sale of mattresses, until he is laid off. Absolutely wanting to have a child with his wife Juliette, who already has two children from her first marriage, he tells her nothing of his dismissal, and soon finds himself in a situation where he is forced to leave the family home.

    Jokes 
  • Inverted in this joke from shortly after The Great Depression. Two stockbrokers meet:
    Broker #1: I lost my job, and now I'm selling toothbrushes door-to-door. And what about you?
    Broker #2: Just among the two of us: I'm still at the stock market. But I tell my wife I was playing piano in a brothel.

    Literature 
  • American Girls: Kit, whose stories are set in the Great Depression, initially believes her father when he says he's going out to lunch interviews every single day. Eventually, though, she discovers that the "leftovers" he's bringing home are from a soup kitchen.
  • Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee features a particularly humourous variant. Every time Loll's uncle Sid gets suspended without pay from his job as a bus driver, owing to his chronic drunkenness, he attempts suicide (but always in a manner following which he is assured to survive). His motive?
    Loll: You see, Uncle Sid reasoned, quite rightly, that Aunty Alice's anger upon hearing of another suspension would be swallowed by her larger anxiety upon finding him again so close to death. And she never failed him in this, and always forgave him as soon as he recovered.
  • In Feet of Clay Sergeant Colon talks to a guy who's in this situation. It's foreshadowing as he was fired from the candle factory which has been using a (far too efficient, and insane) golem to make poisoned candles.
  • Old Nick from Room, in the early part of the story. When he finally admits it six months in, it motivates the woman he's been keeping prisoner for years as a Sex Slave to try to escape, by fear that he may use a radical method to cut costs.
  • In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Johnny and Katie Nolan share the janitor work at a neighborhood school, until the night Katie gives birth to their daughter. Johnny, having been kicked out of his own house by her sisters, gets drunk (as per tradition) and totally forgets about going to work. Turns out a pipe burst and flooded the school, and he's gotten them fired. To hide it from Katie, he goes back to singing and waiting tables, which is what he did when they met, and never holds a steady job again. Presumably his cover couldn't have lasted that long (it was her job too, after all), but we're not told when he came clean or how she took it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: A flashback shows a young Liz accusing a Mall Santa of being a fraud, causing him to stand up, rip off his hat and beard, and shout, "You're right, little boy! I am a fraud! My wife still thinks I work at the bank!"
  • Aliens in America: Gary, the father of a family hosting exchange student Raja loses his job. He's too ashamed to tell the family, so he tries to get them to cut costs. Raja, not wanting to be a burden, takes a job at a convenience store.
  • On Barney Miller, a stock broker lost his job and, unwilling to tell his wife, began begging for money in the streets instead. He ended up making more money that way.
  • Becker: Margaret and her husband spent several series having fierce arguments and marital troubles. Eventually, it turned out he'd lost his job but didn't have the nerve to tell her.
  • On The Brady Bunch, after Peter lost his job at a bike shop. Not wanting to tell his family he got fired, he spent his time at the park, feeding the pigeons.
  • Cold Case: A Victim of the Week in an episode was unemployed but kept wearing business clothes every day so that nobody would know.
  • Death in Paradise: One of the suspects in "Murder Begins at Home" claims to have been on a sabbatical from work for three months. However, when the police contact his employer, they learn he has actually been suspended for anger control issues. And he hasn't told his wife.
  • Desperate Housewives: Orson Hodge.
  • The Elephants Graveyard: This is the premise for the two protagonists.
  • George & Mildred: George quit his job as a Traffic Warden, but kept going out each day dressed in the uniform so Mildred wouldn't find out. Mildred eventually found out when George's boss called up to tell her George had not returned the uniform.
  • Good Times: James invites a successful relative to dinner in hopes of borrowing some money, but during dinner, he breaks down and reveals that he lost his job weeks ago and when he says he's at work, he just sits in a movie theater all day long.
  • Growing Pains: Mike is given a car as a gift from his parents. Shortly afterwards, Mike loses his job at World Of Burgers because he took the fall for a co-worker's mistake. Not wanting to tell his parents out of fear of losing the car, Mike got a job at a car wash but continued to pretend he still worked at World Of Burgers, including wearing his WOB uniform when he left/came home, and dumping grease on himself before he came home to really make it look like he'd been working there.
  • Heroes: A Japanese man who wanted to jump off a building because he couldn't stand to tell his family that he was fired. (Turns out he hated his job anyway and still couldn't bear to tell his family he wanted to quit.)
  • House:
    • In the episode "Locked In", the Patient of the Week was doing this, using a friend's rat-infested basement to hunt for a new job.
    • Likewise the Patient of the Week of the episode "Recession Proof" was a wealthy real estate developer who lost it all in the housing market crash yet still maintained his successful facade to his wife by maxing out their credit cards and getting the most highly paid (and disgusting and/or dangerous) janitorial jobs available: crime scenes, septic tanks, mold removal, etc.
  • Inspector George Gently: More like 'Unconfessed Bankruptcy', but the Victim of the Week in "Gently Among Friends" is hiding the extent of his financial troubles from his wife, even while he is pawning their belongings and passing their disappearance off as theft.
  • Law & Order: This was used in the franchise. A technically savvy guy was fired, but rather than confess it to his family, he stole another person's identity, mortgaged that person's house, and used the resulting windfall to bluff that he was still employed. The cops only found out after the other guy tracked down the thief and shot him.
    • Also in another episode where a man was suspected of killing his entire family rather than admit that he'd failed to provide for them.
  • In Law & Order: Criminal Intent one episode focuses on a man who had been posing as a high-level United Nations official for most of his life, having failed to secure either a lasting position or his college degree and instead living a double life to cheat others out of their money to provide for his family. When he kills an ex-con who happens to be the brother of his girlfriend, who is unaware he is actually married with children he tries to kill her to keep his secret safe and attempts to kill his own children out of shame when the police catch on to his actual identity.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: This was used in one episode, where the father had lost everything and killed his wife and was intending on killing his children before it was figured out it wasn't suicide.
  • Major Crimes: A minor character in "Curve Ball". The man is arrested for using a murder victim's credit card. When questioned, he admits that he found the murdered man's possessions in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he had been manager until he was fired several months ago. He apparently had not told his wife and had been scavenging food from the dumpster, and used the credit card to buy a Christmas present for his sons.
  • Francis from Malcolm in the Middle plays it straight when he gets fired from the dude ranch and tells his wife he's on vacation. But he inverts it in the season finale where he admits he's been working for months and pretends to be unemployed to annoy his mother.
  • Mad Men:
    • Don Draper forces Lane Pryce to resign after he discovers that Lane forged a bonus check to pay his taxes. That evening, Lane's wife proudly announces she's just purchased a Jaguar, without him telling her that he's now out of a job. After attempting to kill himself with the car by running its exhaust through a garden hose fails when the car doesn't start, he goes to his office and hangs himself.
    • Don reaches an emotional low and tells an important client about his childhood growing up in a brothel. This does not go over well with the client and the other partners are furious. As Don is a founding partner they do not fire him outright but instead put him on paid leave and hire someone else to do Don's job. The unspoken understanding is that Don will quit the company on his own and everyone saves face. However, Don is unwilling to quit and instead spends his days hanging around his apartment. Megan, Don's wife, is living in California at the time while pursuing an acting career so she does not find out about the situation until months later. Whenever Don flew to California to spend time with her, he pretended that he was still employed and nothing interesting was happening back in New York. Similarly, Sally, Don's daughter from his first marriage does not find out about what happened until she is on a visit to New York and decides to surprise her father at work. Instead she finds a strange man occupying Don's office. Don is able to patch things up with Sally but Megan is furious that Don chose a soon-to-be-gone job over her. Don is very wealthy so he would have had no issue with moving to California to be with Megan full time.
  • Modern Family: Mitch does this for a while, hanging out at a park with other men in the same boat and playing chess with the homeless in between job interviews. He comes clean after being Mistaken for Cheating when Cam sees a text message from one of them.
  • Person of Interest: One episode introduced one of the PoIs as a man who had been laid off and tried to hide the fact from his family while looking for a new job. His desperation made him the perfect patsy for the murder of a politician who had eliminated the PoI's old job.
  • Psych: Gus' father does this in one episode.
  • Revolution: In the episode "Soul Train", a flashback reveals that Tom Neville was fired from his insurance adjuster job the day of the blackout. He didn't tell his wife about it, but it became a moot point later that night, since the blackout occurred and caused everyone to become unemployed.

    Music 
  • The Irish comedy band Dead Cat Bounce reference this trope in their song 'Cheeky Little Wine' by the third verse:
    And my wife doesn't know;
    She thinks I'm still a lawyer.
    If she found out the truth,
    It'd prob'ly destroy 'er.
    (She's gonna find out soon, anyway;
    We're about to lose the house.)
  • One of the needy people in Christian singer Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes" is "too ashamed to tell his wife/He's out of work/He's buying time."
  • German bankd Tic Tac Toe has a song called Spiegel ("Mirror") about two young women and a guy in group therapy. The guy, Bernard (who is the last to get to vent) confesses that despite his best efforts and helpfulness he not only has never been promoted (they said he has no leadership qualities, cannot say no when he should and isn't assertive enough), but has been fired the day previously after 15 years. His last lines are, translated, "And what am I supposed to tell my wife now?! HUH?! I've had it!" - implying that he hasn't told his wife he was fired yet.

    Theatre 
  • In the 2013 musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Bucket loses his toothpaste factory job a week before the action starts. While his wife knows about this, they mutually keep it a secret from their son Charlie and their own parents — he leaves and returns to the shack at the same times he always did, but is looking for work in the interim. They are finally forced to reveal the truth when the Golden Ticket contest is announced and must break the news to Charlie that they won't be able to afford his usual birthday bar of chocolate this year (whereupon Grandpa Joe decides to give up what little change he's saved to make sure he gets it).
  • Death of a Salesman has the protagonist Willy Loman laid off and trying to hide this fact from his family. As the name suggests, it doesn't end well.
  • Laura in The Glass Menagerie drops out of business school rather than being fired from a job, but hides it in the same way.
  • Man in Whos Afraid Of The Working Class was laid off his job some time before the play begins. He spends his days riding trams around the city in his business clothes. At one point he bitterly mocks a young bogan woman for being unemployable.

    Radio 

    Video Games 
  • In Persona 3, a nameless Salaryman you can meet around town loses his job and just continues his normal routine as if nothing happened to avoid the shame of his family finding out that he was laid off. He pulls it off for almost a year. In the Playable Epilogue, he tells you he managed to get a new job before they ever found out about his losing the first one.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, Ron Delite is fired from his job as a security guard, and worries that his wife will leave him if she finds out, especially as she is a big spender and "treats money like it's water". So he turns to freelancing, reasonable. Becomes a Phantom Thief while guarding the secret from her? Not so reasonable. In the end after she discovers all, she tells him that she wouldn't have abandoned him because she truly loved him.
  • In Shenmue, an NPC follows a similar "get dressed for work and walk around the city pretending that you still have a job" routine that the Persona 3 character does, as detailed in his character profile.

    Western Animation 
  • The works of Seth MacFarlane cover this surprisingly often:
    • The pilot episode of Family Guy. Peter, due to drinking too much at a Stag Party, was suffering from a hangover, and he ended up falling asleep at work. Note, he is a safety inspector at the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory, which means he was grossly negligent for sleeping on the job (as it directly resulted in a number of dangerous products in place of regular toys, ranging from a Baby Heimlich spitting up fire, to a Pound Poochie being replaced with a bottle of pills, to a Silly Ball being replaced with an axe). He decided to try to keep it a secret, yet as his phrases indicate, he's doing a very bad job at trying to hide his being unemployed.
    • The Cleveland Show covers this in their episode "Brownsized"- Cleveland agrees to a planned severance at Waterman Cable in exchange for an unrevealed (but in Cleveland's words so large it had a comma in it) amount equivalent to 6 months severance pay. However, the moment his wife Donna finds out, she makes it clear she wants him to spend the time off doing her usual tasks. So he travels back in time to backtrack it to a less advantageous degree, then proceeded to completely blow his severance pay within weeks on extravagant food and novelty items (all the while faking a job search when he gets home at night), including eating at a local restaurant on top of a rotating tower... where Donna got one of three jobs to cover the loss. He quickly realized there was no easy way out, and fakes a protest which almost succeeded... until Mr. Waterman announced all he needed to do was pay back the severance. Which Donna only then finds out about. Needless to say, she is not happy, and punches him off the tower onto a crashpad (which she was unaware was there). He proceeds to sue his wife, and uses the settlement to pay back his boss, with Donna keeping her jobs to pay off Cleveland's settlement.
    • Subverted on American Dad!, several times. While Stan, amongst other characters, ends up losing his job on several occasions, his family seems to understand and he typically finds another job for the episode, and more often than not, gets it back by the end, if not by the time the following episode starts. This worked even when he was forced to relocate to Saudi Arabia after snapping Jay Leno's neck at his boss's roast in the "Stan of Arabia" 2-part special and renounced his family's citizenship. Even after coming back to the States, he's back at his job the very next episode no problem.
  • The Flintstones invoked the trope, only Fred was outright fired.
  • A variation involving teenagers and school occurred in The Proud Family: Penny and her friends ended up suspended from school the day after Valentines Day because of a graffiti mark on the school with Penny's name on it, which neither of them actually painted on. As they were unwilling to admit to their parents that they had gotten suspended from school indefinitely until they found the true culprit was exposed, Sticky instead had created a fake call from the principal regarding them winning an award (which as the last scene revealed, was fake from the start) in place of the suspension call to hold the parents off until they caught the culprit responsible (a crippled student who is later revealed to not be a nice kid) and thus got back to school. It bites them in the butt later on.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Variation: Homer's life coach persuaded him to quit his job at the nuclear plant and apply for a better position at a copper piping company. He didn't get it, but couldn't bear to tell his family and spends all day hanging out at Krusty Burger, filling out the map mazes on the back of the kid menus. He almost got away with it... but as luck would have it, Bart's school class ends up at that exact restaurant after bus driver Otto ruins a field trip to the zoo by taking mushrooms and riding a turtle.
    • Another episode has a different variation. After Homer accidentally loses all their money investing in pumpkins but stupidly hanging on to the stocks well after Halloween, he can't bring himself to tell Marge and in desperation ends up getting a loan from his hated sisters-in-law, who use the loan to extort Homer into letting them abuse and humiliate him in return for keeping quiet.

    Real Life 
  • A not uncommon condition. Many addicts, particularly alcoholics or gamblers, can dress up and go to jobs that they lost months ago.
  • Happened in real life in France (the Romand case) and the story was adapted into a novel, L'Adversaire (later adapted into a movie), and formed the basis for a second movie, L'Emploi du temps.
  • John List is an extreme version of this. When the bank that he worked at closed down, he continued to get dressed and leave home every day (he was actually going to job interviews) and tried to remain solvent by encouraging his children to take part-time jobs and skimming money from his mother's bank account. When his debts got to the point where he could no longer hide them from his family, he shot them all to death and spent the next 18 years as a fugitive from justice. The tragic irony is that the estate home that his family lived in featured a signed Tiffany original skylight; had they given it a look and sold it, it would've brought over $100,000 in 1971, enough to keep his family solvent for several years.
  • John Lasseter got fired from Disney in 1982 for trying to push their animation department to adopt computer graphics, and he told his wife that he quit to pursue other projects. He didn't tell her the truth until 25 years later when he became head of Disney Animation.
  • A variation with Mark Hacking: he had his entire family and in-laws convinced that he was attending college and had been accepted into medical school. In reality, he had flunked out of college and was carrying out a charade so as not to disappoint everyone. His wife discovered his deception when she called the medical school where he had supposedly been accepted and inquired about housing, only to learn he had never even applied. He murdered her (and consequently, their unborn child) when she confronted him.
  • The case of Craig and Stephanie Rabinowitz was similar. Craig told his wife that he ran a business that imported and sold surgical gloves. In reality, he was running a Ponzi scheme, convincing friends and family members to invest in a business that didn't exist. Craig ultimately murdered Stephanie so that he could pay off his investors with her life insurance and carry on a relationship that he had started with an exotic dancer.
  • This was the reason Thomas Bartlett Whitaker had a hitman kill his family. He told them he was about to graduate from Sam Houston State University when he had not attended his classes in a long time and was spending his tuition money on luxury items. After his family had a dinner in his honor, they went home only for a gunman to shoot his mother, brother, and father. It turned out the gunman was a friend of his that he had hired to murder his family so that he could inherit their estate and continue his lifestyle. His father survived the attack and actually defended him, getting him commuted from death row within an hour of his scheduled execution.
  • This man, who also resorted to murder, killing and dismembering his parents when they discovered that he'd been lying to them for years about attending college, working in accounting, and getting an even better job.
  • Jennifer Pan convinced her parents that she got a scholarship to attend the University of Toronto and was volunteering at a local hospital. In reality, she sat in cafés, worked part-time, and kept on dating her boyfriend even when her parents threatened to disown her. When her cover was blown, Jennifer tried to kill her family by staging it as a botched home robbery in 2010. During her trial, investigators called her a Compulsive Liar with the façade of an innocent-looking woman when they poked holes in her testimony. Besides receiving a life sentence, Jennifer was disowned by her father and brother. The murder sent shockwaves in the Asian diaspora and raised awareness about the cons of tiger parenting.


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