After you retire it doesn’t matter who you were or what you did.
He talked with his wife when he first considered it. She said that if they could manage financially and that was what he wanted, then she was fine with the idea. But he also knew that she was at least a little concerned. “Don’t worry, you won’t be a bag lady, if I die,” he joked.
She gave him a serious look. “After you retire, I plan to keep on working,” she said.
“That’s good,” he replied. “You should continue to have something of your own. And you can tell people you are the sole breadwinner of the household. Also, we’ll need to give each other a little space until we get used to the change.”
During his last six months of work, he faithfully went to all of the pre-retirement counseling sessions. He discussed with the business office the disposition of his 401K and, since he was one of the few remaining old timers who still qualified for one, the pension that he would receive. During the months before his retirement date, he felt himself gradually estranged from the discussions and speculations about the company’s operation and future. He had declined to be an ex officio member of the search committee for his successor so that there would be no hint of undue influence. But he was happy when the committee decided to select internally and picked the person from his—correction—the department that he had considered best suited. Still, he felt as if he were gradually turning into a ghost, just an increasingly wispy presence, floating through the corridors he thought or, less morbidly and harking back to when he had run track in high school, like running the third leg of a relay. Now the baton was in another runner’s hand and, while he watched with continued great interest, there was nothing more he could do or contribute to the result of the race. So while he was proud that he was a part of the company and wished it well in the future, for he had been there for half of his working life, enjoying it the most of any of his jobs and doing it well, it was now someone else’s responsibility. The refrain of an old country song came to mind, “And there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
After all, he thought, it was my choice. I could have kept working; I didn’t have to retire. But it’s better to pass on the torch than to have it snatched out of my hand. Like his boss, five years older than him, the CEO who had appointed him department head, and recently “retired.” The one who had turned around the company fortunes by his calm and conciliatory temperament at a time of internal turmoil and fierce external competition but had been increasingly seen more recently by the Board as too cautious. Following a mild heart attack it was “suggested” that now was time to “smell the roses—or pikakes.”
So when at last the November night of his retirement party came around, he listened, with his wife and two children, to the compliments, laughed like a good sport during the roast, and shared reminiscences with those few who had been around as long as he. Almost everyone in his department attended. What used to be his department, he corrected himself. If he heard it once that night, he heard it twenty times, “You’re way too young to retire.” But he had also heard the whispers, and knew that there were those in the organization who considered him a dinosaur and thought that his retirement was overdue. Yeah, it was time, he thought. What was that song? “You’ve got to know when to fold them.”
“What are you going to do with all the time you’ll have? You’re so lucky you won’t have to face the morning commute any more,” and “Lucky you, no more meetings,” were the other frequent comments. After shaking the last hand, sharing the last hug, and hearing the last, “We’ll miss you; come back and visit once in a while,” he and his wife waited, the leis heavy around his neck, for their car outside the hotel, with their daughter, who had flown in from New York the day before just for the party, and their son and his wife.
“Are you okay to drive home after all the drinks and toasts tonight?” his wife asked as they held hands.
“I can drive,” offered his daughter.
“I’m fine. I paced myself.” He kissed his wife on the forehead.
“And just what are you going to do with all your free time?” She said it with a humorous touch; after all they had talked about it when he first brought up the idea of retirement, but he knew she was still worried about the new arrangement.
He replied, “You know. We talked about it. First, I’m going to take off a few months to get my bearings and do some things around the house and yard that have needed doing. And then I’ll decide; I’ve got some ideas.”
“Well, I don’t want you turning the house upside down on me. Promise?”
“You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Dad,” laughed his daughter, “Old habits are hard to break. You’re used to doing things your way at work.”
“And Mom is used to doing things her way at home. I’m no Sinatra.”
“At least they sent you off in style,” said their daughter-in-law. “And well deserved.”
Their son and daughter-in-law’s car came first, which was good since they had to get home to relieve their baby sitter. They all hugged one last time. “Congratulations again, Dad. They’ll have trouble replacing you at work.”
They all ready have, he thought. “Yeah maybe. I’ll call you about dinner tomorrow. Before Sis has to head back to New York. Good night. Thanks for coming.”