"Hospitality" Could Be A Lot More Hospitable

12/16/2010 08:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Doug French Writer, single dadblogger, vocational itinerant

My last job liked to think of itself as a "community" of people who cared as much about each other as for the work they did. And if you are a person who lives in this world, you might 1) like the idea that a small group of workers could feel this way about their workplace, and 2) think it was mostly crap. And it was, mostly. But some of it wasn't.

For one thing, the old job did have a hospitality fund, into which each employee paid a little something to finance the celebration of "life events." And once a year, when the entire staff gathered to assess The State of Things, the hospitality committee prepared a ceremony and gifts to commemorate all the engagements, marriages, pregnancies, and births over the last 12 months.

I don't want to diminish what the committee did, because they worked their tails off. Basically, they all had to commit a lot of extra time that they didn't have to collect money from everyone, research what was happening to whom, buy and wrap every gift, and recruit colleagues to say a few words in each recipient's behalf. And for this extensive effort, they got paid exactly nothing.

Nevertheless, the overall idea was incomplete. I mean, I was grateful for the gift certificate I received when my second son was born. But two years later, when my marriage imploded? Bupkis. And getting a divorce, especially when you've got kids, is easily as dramatic a life event as any of those others is.

Marriage? I suppose I can still get excited about it, because you want newlyweds to have a fighting chance against the misery they're most likely in for. Half of all marriages might be doomed to fail, but that doesn't mean the other half are in such great shape. One of the ancillary developments about getting divorced (and writing a blog about it) is that you hear a lot more about the horrible things that spouses do to each other every day.

Having a kid is a much huger deal, one that transforms your life forever and totally recalibrates your identity, your life, and whomever you're sharing that life with. It's the most joyfully punishing event a couple can endure, but at least you endure it with someone you're still purportedly coupled with. Divorce is just as life-altering, except you're all alone, and the person who once vowed to love you forever is now dedicated to taking half your stuff. Anyone going through a divorce deserves every bit of human kindness, and whom better to receive it from than the people at the place that serves as the refuge from your riven home?

I understand that life-event gifts are supposed to uplift, and to help us celebrate love and propagation. I also get how bad news makes people feel awkward, because people don't really know how to react. This isn't your inner circle of friends, after all. But dammit, if you're going to call yourself a community, then don't be a fair-weather one. Raise a glass when a life hits a high note, and lend a hand when a life hits the fan.

If you want to keep your work people out of your private business, that's fine. You can suffer in silence all you want. But if the hospitality committee had offered me a gift while I was splitting with my wife, I would have said, "Hell yes." I would have basked in their awkward smattering of support-applause, accepted their check, and proudly used it to buy nine minutes of time with my lawyer.