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Home/Rod Dreher/Here’s What Happened To Alan Beggerow

Here’s What Happened To Alan Beggerow

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about men who refuse to work, I brought up the example of Alan Beggerow, who was profiled in The New York Times. From the Times article quoted in the earlier blog entry:

Alan Beggerow has stopped looking for work. Laid off as a steelworker at 48, he taught math for a while at a community college. But when that ended, he could not find a job that, in his view, was neither demeaning nor underpaid.

So instead of heading to work, Mr. Beggerow, now 53, fills his days with diversions: playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished Western potboilers in the Louis L’Amour style — all activities once relegated to spare time. He often stays up late and sleeps until 11 a.m.

“I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me,” he said. To make ends meet, he has tapped the equity in his home through a $30,000 second mortgage, and he is drawing down the family’s savings, at the rate of $7,500 a year. About $60,000 is left. His wife’s income helps them scrape by. “If things really get tight,” Mr. Beggerow said, “I might have to take a low-wage job, but I don’t want to do that.”

In my blog entry, I called Beggerow a “layabout,” and criticized him for preferring to get through life by taking on debt, spending down his family’s relatively meager savings, and depending on his wife’s very modest income, all because he prefers to sleep late and play piano to the prospect of doing work that he considers beneath him. I wrote:

When I was growing up, a man like that who could work, but chose not to, would have been thought a shameful example. Times change, I guess.

Well, Alan Beggerow found his way to the blog entry last night, and responded overnight. Here’s what he posted to that thread:

Wow, I would have thought that a NYT article printed in 2006 would pretty much be old news by now, but evidently not.

For whatever it’s worth, I have been getting a small pension since I lost my job in 2001, something that was not elaborated on (perhaps not even mentioned) in the original aritcle. I don’t remember. And that small pension, along with my wife’s disability, the money we had in the bank and the jobs she worked at (all of them sporatic and added together was not as much as my pension) was how we got by.

She passed away in 2008 of a heart attack. I had to have neck fusion surgery in 2008 (from an old steel mill injury)and as a result have permanent nerve damage in my arms and legs. I am now 61 years old and along with my pension I am on SS disability. Not a ton of money, but enough for me to get by.

It’s too bad that all of the folks who’ve decided to call me everything derogatory under the sun never really knew my situation. I suppose after some read that I’m on SS disability that the name-calling will start once again. They can take their best shot, I’ve heard it all before.

Those who think that things have not gotten worse for the working class have their heads in the sand. Since the time of the NYT article, things have indeed gotten worse – much worse – for the working class. College degrees don’t much help (let alone guarantee) a good paying job, dedication, hard work, experience and a good work ethic don’t either. With an economy still on the skids, (at least for many workers)things don’t look to be getting better.

At 61, with all the physical problems I’ve got, my life may be winding down. But there’s no complaints from me. Things may not have worked out the best for me, but when I look around (my head is not in the sand), I see so many others so much worse off. Too bad some remain in their ivory towers and choose to criticize and judge people that are in situations they have no idea about.

Rod Dreher isn’t the only one, nor am I upset by his comments. I wish I could sit down with him and have a talk with him. Not to change his mind. I don’t want to do that and couldn’t if I wanted to. But perhaps I could give him cause to at least think things through a little differently. It’s a cinch things aren’t going to get any better in this country until differing sides can sit down and have a dialogue, for each side really doesn’t know each other. There are too many opinions based on sound bites, incomplete information and articles from the New York Times that are seven years old.

That was my original intent when I agreed to the NYT interview and article, to help bring attention to something that I thought was amiss with the older work force. As it was, the article met with a firestorm of disapproval and condemnation from many conservatives, most evangelical Christians, and too many other ‘factions’ to remember.

It was my first (and last) major media exposure. I had no idea how bad it would get. It wasn’t so bad for me. I’ve been in the hot seat before, albeit not in such a large, hot one. But my late wife really took the nastiness really hard. That is the only part of the whole thing I regret.

So carry on. I hope no one has to go through what I and so many older workers have gone through, especially Mr. Dreher.

Be peaceful and prosper,
Alan Beggerow

I appreciate that he wrote, and hope he will engage on this blog entry’s thread with those who want to talk to him. If anybody wishes to do this, I will only post your entry if you criticize respectfully. As you will remember, the rules of this forum and what’s allowed to be said change when we are talking about someone who enters this community. You more or less have carte blanche to criticize, for example, Ted Cruz, but if he came onto a thread to engage with us all, I would insist that your comments about and directed to him be stated civilly.

That said, my response begins with an expression of genuine condolence to Alan Beggerow over the loss of his wife and his more recent health problems. I would point out, Mr. Beggerow, that the original criticism I made of the case you made for yourself in the Times did not depend on pretending that you hadn’t been through a series of painful events (e.g., the loss of your industrial career; you weren’t then on disability), but focused on how you responded to your adversity. You presented yourself in the Times not as someone who couldn’t find work, but as someone who would only accept work that measured up to his own standards of fulfillment. You said you would rather sleep late, try your hand at writing, play piano, and live off of debt and the labor of your wife than do a job you considered beneath you. I said that I find that sort of attitude towards work and moral responsibility to be shameful. I did, and I do. We see in my own town and its environs young men who would rather get a welfare check or sell drugs than do honest paid manual labor (e.g., clearing brush) offered to them — labor that they are physically capable of doing — because they consider it beneath their dignity. This is repulsive to my way of thinking.

Of course if I lost my job as a writer, I would look for work better suited to my talents and preferences. But if I couldn’t find that work, rather than spend down the savings I knew I would have to depend on in my retirement, I would (I hope) have the moral sense to take a job I was capable of doing, no matter how trivial, on the theory that any honest work is morally superior to putting oneself in a position to be the ward of the state. I strongly believe that society, in the form of the state, has a responsibility to aid those who can’t work owing to physical or mental disability. I don’t begrudge you your SSI payments owing to your disability. But when the article came out, the only disability you had was moral: you considered yourself too good to do the work that was available to you.

I stand by that criticism. From childhood, I had it drilled in my head by my father, who was born into rural poverty, and raised in poverty, that honest work of all kinds holds inherent dignity, and that it ennobles human nature. Today, at 79 and beset by all kinds of physical suffering, not a day goes by that he’s not outside trying to do some kind of work — not because he needs to, but because his dignity depends on it. I think he takes that too far, frankly. He’s old and sick and tired, and ought to rest. He is not remotely rich, but he’s saved enough over the years to afford to spend his retirement in rest (or I should say, retirements; when he retired from his job as a civil servant, he trained himself in computer work, and took a job working for the local tax authority doing property assessment and computer mapping). I have no doubt that if he had become a multimillionaire, he would still be trying to find some kind of useful work. That’s how he is.

He is hell on people who won’t work, and raised us kids not only to be ashamed of any laziness within our own character, but to be ashamed of ourselves if we ever looked down on any hardworking man or woman for doing a lowly job. One of the best things he did for me when I was 15 and got my driver’s license was to press me into paid work as a garbageman for a trailer park. There is little that is more beneath the felt dignity of a 15-year-old would-be Eighties hipster than to spend two afternoons a week slinging garbage into the back of his ratty pick-up truck, getting rancid watermelon rind juice scented with rotting crawfish heads and milk spoiled in the brutal Louisiana heat, sloshed all over one’s clothes — this, all for paltry pay. But I did it, even though it offended my elevated teenage dignity. What my dad knew but I didn’t was that the moral lesson in the value of work that experience taught me was far more valuable than any money I stood to earn.

You don’t need to sit down with me and talk, Mr. Beggerow. You need to sit down and talk to my elderly father. I doubt you would enjoy it, but it would probably do you some good, like it did me.

The plight of American workers is a real thing, and a serious thing. No argument from me there. But their general plight and your particular plight did not strike me as the same thing. Your complaint in 2006 was that you were underemployed, given your training and experience. I agree. Your response was that you would rather remain idle than do labor you considered beneath yourself, even though you really couldn’t afford to. With that, I couldn’t possibly disagree more strongly. What you don’t see is that at least some of your critics have a higher estimation of your own dignity and worth than you do.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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