Unconfessed Unemployment

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Peter: 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.
Lois: What's that, Peter?
Peter: Nothing. Ooh, the lost-my-job smells great.
Lois: What?
Peter: Uh, Meg, honey, could you pass the fired-my-ass-for-negligence?
Lois: Peter, are you feeling okay?

Peter: I feel great! I haven't got a job in the world!

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.

They still get up early, put on their business clothes, and leave for work—sometimes they'll 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, until their lies come crashing down with ugly consequences (the ugliest case being Pater Familicide).

Examples of Unconfessed Unemployment include:

Anime and Manga

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Happens in Maison Ikkoku with Godai, who was laid off from his part-time job as 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 he's going to his old job.
  • 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.


  • Tokyo Sonata by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.
  • Sonata by Aoyama Shinji.
  • Mr. Incredible, in The Incredibles—he starts working for Mirage (and Syndrome) after losing 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.
  • The Full Monty
  • 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 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. "D-FENS"'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.
  • Une Epoque Formidable
  • 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.
  • In The Great Outdoors, Dan Aykroyd's character is a pompous and wealthy stock broker, but in the end he reveals that he lost his job some time ago, and his family is actually broke without their knowledge.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Mona in Amreeka does the same thing, pretending to work in a bank when she's actually working in the fast-food joint next door.


  • American Gods: Mrs. Olsen's former husband in Lakeside.
  • 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.
  • The Painter From Shanghai: Pan Yuliang's husband.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • Orson Hodge in Desperate Housewives.
  • A Victim of the Week in an episode of Cold Case was unemployed but kept wearing business clothes every day so that nobody would know.
  • Margaret and her husband in Becker 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.
  • The father in Aliens In America did this once.
  • This is the premise for the two protagonists of The Elephants' Graveyard
  • Gus' father does this in one episode of Psych.
  • In the House 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.
  • This was used in Law and Order. 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.
  • A Japanese man who wanted to jump off a building because he couldn't stand to tell his family in Heroes.


  • The Irish comedy band Dead Cat Bounce reference this trope in their song 'Cheeky Little Wine'[1] 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.)


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, specially as she is a big spender and "treats money like it's water". So he does the reasonable thing and becomes a Phantom Thief while guarding the secret from her. In the end after she discovers all, she tells him that she wouldn't have abandoned him because she truly loved him.

Western Animation

  • The pilot episode of Family Guy, as shown in the page quote.
    • To elaborate, Peter, due to drinking too much at a Stag Party, was suffering from a hangover, and he ended up falling asleep at work. Note, his position at where he works is a safety inspector at the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory, which means he was grossly negligent for sleeping on the job. 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.
  • Variation: Homer's life coach in The Simpsons 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.
  • The Flintstones invoked the trope, only Fred was outright fired.

Other Media

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."

Real Life

  • Happened in real life in France: the Romand case. 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 was an extreme version of this: for some time before he murdered his entire family in 1971, he hid the fact that he had lost his job by maintaining his daily routine, dressing for work, and spending his days either in fruitless job interviews or just reading newspapers at the train station. He attributed the murders to a temporary deranged mental state caused by the disintegration of his family life and financial situation in the wake of losing his job.
  1. In which wines of decreasing quality are described as though women