I can still see the scene: I was sitting in the kitchen, at the kitchen table with my dad. He was drinking his coffee and we were alone. He was giving his sage advice in a very conversational tone. He wasn’t one to lecture, but more often taught by example, reflection, or just some innate wisdom that he was endowed with at birth.
Don’t forget, ever, that the time will come when you will want to retire. Save for that day. It comes faster than you think. Boy, thought I, what do I care about retirement? I just got a job at the Waynedale Drive-In Theater. I only make enough to buy stuff at the refreshment stand, chip in for gas, when Gelaine was driving, or buy movie magazines. Yet, the advice stuck in my head as most of his serious conversations and advice did. Dad didn’t retire. He died. The company kept Dad’s retirement money. My mother had to go to work in a school cafeteria to survive. That left a big impression on me, too. Wisdom comes in many forms. What I learned from that example, is not to sell your soul to the company store (that comes from an old song he used to sing). Dad was so faithful to the company that he would not retire even while his heart and his doctor were insisting. Keep working, because that is the worth of a person. It’s the lesson my siblings and I learned, and were grateful for, growing up.
When, then, do you quit? That was my dilemma. I became a nurse because of him. I intervened on behalf of families because of him. I was good because of him. I realized that I didn’t know how to quit. Should I wait and die like Dad did? Is that when you quit?
All around me, I see horrible examples of how people take advantage of “the system.” Welfare parasites probably irk me the most. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” Dad used to say. I never wanted to be a person who looked for a free lunch and never did. Not even when we lived below the poverty level at Michigan State. There is a pride in living without taking handouts. My parents only had enough money to give us one gift for birthdays and Christmas. They lived within their means, and helped others less fortunate. It was a pride for me that we were able to do something for others. I remember well, though, that there were those taking handouts who had TV antennas, and bikes and such, and that they were seen as parasites. I still feel that way.
There is no shame in honest need. And there is a great pride in being able to help those who are truly down and out. But there is a scorn for those who take advantage of our generous system. I found myself in a terrible conflict of whether or not I should retire. I have worked since I was a child. I didn’t know how to give myself permission to quit. But, as the ant works and builds up a store of food for the winter, I followed the advice of my father, and now know that I can retire and will not now, nor ever, be a parasite.
I also will not work to the death, like my father. Now, I will see what lies ahead without the alarm clock and the pressures of meeting the expectations of the corporate world. It is going to be different. I hope that I can adjust to the newfound freedom. Now, perhaps I can benefit from the words of my father, who told me long ago, at the kitchen table, ” Be sure to save for retirement.” The day I thought would never come, has come.
Blessings to all my friends who have earned retirement,
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