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Good Parents Never Retire

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There are a lot of things I love about my parents.  I love that they never pull out a tape recording of all the things I said I’d never do as a parent when I do exactly that.  I love that they are flush with great advice but wait until it’s asked for.  I love that, as I begin to understand their point of view on so many things, they never say, “I told you so.”   And I love, that at the ages of 70 and 72, they’ve never really retired – not from their jobs or from parenting.

My dad knew he wanted to be a doctor pretty early in college.  He’s been in medicine in one way or another for most of his life (not just his adult life – his life).  His career has changed over the years, taking him and us around the country and even the globe.  What never changed was his drive to learn.  My mom started her career as a history professor when my sister and I were a little older, and, while her job didn’t involve as much globetrotting, she had the same insatiable lust for learning as my dad.   

When they got closer to their retirement age, we expected they might slow down and transition into being full-time grandparents.  My dad, however, kept traveling for one lecture or research project, and my mom kept reading and writing and teaching.  They did have tentative plans for after retirement, but they constantly seemed to get pushed further down the road.

My dad announced his retirement first.  I wondered how long it would take this man who was constantly traveling to go stir crazy (or make my mother crazy).  But he already had plans.  He barely seemed to stop for a breath before launching himself into a different incarnation of his love of medicine and learning and service.  He may have left his job, but, even now, years later, he is still a medical man.  It was not just a job or even a career, it was and remains a passion.  

My mom continued this pattern.  Her job ended, but her work continued.  Like my father, her retirement was marked by the end of a paycheck and the beginning of projects.  She joined another history organization, investing almost as much time on research and writing as she had before retiring.  She’s been retired for several years now, but she is still every bit a historian, and, with my dad is still busy teaching me some valuable life lessons as she navigates this phase of her life.

They don’t work as many hours as they did when they were employed, but even when they’re on vacation, they will retire to their office/bedroom for a little research or writing.  Most days I like my job very much (absent a winning lottery ticket or  writing the next Harry Potter, I’ll probably be doing it till I retire).  Only unwillingly, however, do I let it intrude on my family vacations, and it wasn’t until recently that I ‘got’ why my parents invited their ‘work’ into their holidays and their retirement.

What helped me ‘get’ it was finding the Writer’s Project at Hubbard Hall led by author Jon Katz.  I always loved writing, but there had been times when life got too hectic and I let it fall by the wayside.  The Project demanded that everyone who was intent on staying with it needed to write and share regularly through our blogs.  At first, this was as an act of  discipline.  Then it became my regular indulgence in ‘me’ time.  It was not until we went on vacation with my parents, however, that I began to realize that it was giving me a brand new perspective on my parents and on work.

Determined to have a real vacation last year, I only took my iPad and left ‘work’ at home.  But from the moment we left our dirt road for the paved highways, I wrote.  Every place we stopped I wrote.  At night, I wrote after everyone else was in bed.  When the kids were busy with their Tinker Toys or at the beach, I wrote.  And, as I watched my Mom and Dad withdraw each day to their office and invite their lifeworks into their vacations, it struck me that, for the first time in my life, I had done the same thing.  

Finding the Writer’s Project was serendipity, and it would have been worth selling blood and organs to join had it been necessary.  But watching two people living their passions as I rediscover mine has enriched the experience in ways I couldn’t anticipate.  The workshop encourages us all to follow our passions.  My parents are showing me how to thrive on them for the rest of my life.