At the age of 73, after much resistance, my father finally decided to retire. He tried everything to keep his job as a school principal, including a four-year assignment in South America.
Finally, he succumbed to the understanding that he needed to accept his fate. I've followed him as he transitioned through several phases of retirement throughout the years. I wonder which ones are in store for me.
Stage A was comparable to what the majority of retirees experience. Assessing the new locale, searching for opportunities, and mostly accepting the premise that now that money is not the main drive, a person can invest his time in old hobbies and aspirations solely by virtue of the fact that he has an abundance of free time that he can volunteer. Unfortunately, my father did not acquire any hobbies. His one and only infatuation was his educational work. And so, after stumbling through this stage for a while, he gave up.
Sage B was primarily attempting to take advantage of and enjoy his leisure time by reading and socializing. He always read and wrote in his diary, but socializing was never his strong suit; that was exclusively my mother's domain. He first followed along while acting compliant, but this phase was never successful.
With the passing years, old friends (both by age and time of association) became sick or passed away. The social circle dwindled into nothing, and when my mother died, he was free to return to his old ways.
Stage C mostly involved solitude. It included hours of him sitting in his room, only broken up by periodic consultations with a variety of doctors to discuss his ongoing health issues.
Then my aunt, his youngest sister, convinced him that he needed live-in care, and Elizabeth came into our lives. Young Hungarian woman Elizabeth was a beam of sunshine. bright, perpetually upbeat, and loving of life's little pleasures (food and clothing). She took him for little walks and weekend trips to see my aunt, but most importantly, she became a committed student. The teacher in him came back to life as he taught her Hebrew and current affairs.
In his diaries that I found after his death, he refers to this period as one of his best. It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.
We frequently reflect on our past successes in the workplace or in other spheres of our lives. My father had a lot of those to choose from, but in the end, the simple, no-frills companionship is what gave him joy.
So, here I am, at the same crossroads, pondering the new vista and what awaits me in the coming years. From my fellow retirees a barrage of never-ending positivity. But being my father’s child, I am prone to isolation and moodiness. Where will my joy come from if I'm turning to words rather than people for comfort?