A Personal Note about The Truth

A Personal Note about The Truth

 

Legend has it that decades ago families watched TV together. Dads sat in Dads’ Chairs, dished out their own brand of justice and said little. Moms ran their kitchens with the skill and grace of an orchestra leader. The children, placed strategically around the home to promote peace, similar to the way knick-knacks were placed around a room to avoid breakage, behaved. Television consisted of three network channels and the grown-ups decided which one of the three the family watched.

 

Legends tug at our hearts. We want them to be true. But brains are wired differently. Brains like to shuck legends aside and dismiss them as Hollywood fantasies. This legend, as you’ll see, is worth holding onto for two reasons. The first reason is because it’s true, it’s not a Hollywood tale, and the second reason is below the bucolic surface of our legend lies unseen and profound truths. Let’s use the legend to discover those unseen and profound truths.

 

Picture in your mind’s eye a large recliner aligned perfectly, centerline-to-centerline, in front of a small TV in the corner of a small living room. That was our living room and that was my Dad’s Chair. Every night dad and his chair went mano-y-mano with our underweight TV. The tension was palpable but that man never wavered or even blinked. He had the best viewing angle and my two sisters and me knew that getting between him and that TV, even for a moment, was risky business. My Mom policed that area so airspace violations were rare. She was the best!

 

Mom ruled our spartan 1950’s style kitchen lovingly and, with nothing more than a few well-worn white appliances and an old coffee can half full of bacon lard, she breathed life into one miracle after another. At night, when the crisp scent of cinnamon toast and rich aroma of hot cocoa snuck into our family room, as it often did, I knew Mom’s magic would fill my constantly half-empty belly. Mini-marshmallows were abundant as long as they were “on special” that week.

 

My sisters were much older than me and they helped mom without being asked because cinnamon toast and cocoa logistics were a priority in our household. Dad had decreed long before my ascent into boyhood that food and drink are served hot. All the rules required strict obedience and, while I didn’t like many of them, this particular rule had my full support.

 

We were Germans, after all, so rules were commonplace. I sat cross-legged in my assigned spot next to the TV. My standard uniform was a pair of Levi’s, buttoned-to-the-top flannel shirt and bright white socks. My buzz haircut completed the desired look. Life was good and I was as happy as a puppy with two tails. Plus, I had a great job. My responsibilities as our family’s lone remote control were exalted and the envy of all. I alone, the smallest of the litter, got to touch Dad’s TV. Take that, ladies!

 

My Mom could not only cook, she was brave too. She often spoke when Dad was watching TV. None of us dared to do that…oops. Let’s not go down that path just now. I’ll stuff that one back where it belongs, in the Suppressed Memories file. Whoa, that’s a big file.

 

Anyway, Dad loved travel shows, which were typically just a short segment on Walt Disney’s World, which later became Walk Disney Presents and then, from 1961-1969, Walk Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Yeah kids, this is old school stuff.

 

When Disney aired a travel segment my mom would point at the screen and tease us. She’d smile and say, “I’ve been all over the world sitting right here.” My Dad’s eyes never veered from the screen, and the whole unblinking thing still creeps me out, but right on queue he’d bark, “Katie!” That ended that.

 

Mom faded back into silence until it was time to scrape us all up for the nightly bathing, brushing and bedding wars. I fought all of it with a vengeance but it was our regimen and my weaponry was weak, mostly just wailing, nonsensical threats of future disobedience and every child’s cherished battle cry, “No!” Our routine was neither unique nor creative but it served us well. Our routine got us through one day and onto the next and, as you’ll soon see, that’s the secret to a happy retirement and a successful second-act. Routine is the first truth.

 

As I mentioned, our routines and rituals, boring as they were, contained profound truths and here’s the second, my Mom’s whimsical belief that TV travels could somehow be equated with real travel changed my life. I’ll explain. Even at my tender age I remember knowing that Mom hadn’t really been anywhere or seen anything. I knew she was fooling herself and trying to fool us as well. I laugh easily but never cared much for this bit of foolishness, not then and not now. Truth number two teaches us that happy people don’t sit on the sidelines. What I heard in my Mom’s words disturbed me. There was more to this lady than I had been led to believe.

 

Looking at my Mom in those early years I began to see sadness. Her life was about survival. I wanted mine to be about living. Her life was about scarcity. I wanted mine to be about abundance. Her life was about avoidance. Mine would be about pursuit. I knew as a small child that my life would be vastly different than my parents. That is the third truth.

 

Since we’ve already dug so deep let’s keep going. It took almost six decades to find but, just as I suspected, here’s another truth. The fourth truth, which I only truly came to understand recently, is my parents were incapable of preparing me for my eventual life because my life became something they could have never imagined. That’s not a jab; it’s a fact.

 

We’ll come back to that one later but here’s a personal question for you to ponder, is that true of your parents as well? It’s not my business but “parent-shaming” has become a national pastime so I thought I’d ask. Good luck with that one.

 

My parents were Depression Era babies. My Dad was a bartender and my Mom, when she worked outside the home where she often took in laundry, was a waitress. They were raised to expect little more from life than a long hard slog for survival. I was stunned when my Mom tried to talk me out of going to college because I had a good job as a Machinist. That was my mistake. They had their own view of the world and their own logic. Don’t we all.

 

My Mom and Dad worked hard all their lives. When their health declined they lived meagerly off Social Security. They had few possessions but they left me an enormous fortune for which I’m forever grateful. My inheritance is the fifth truth.

 

I inherited my work ethic and drive from my parents. Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad. Thank you, Jesus! They couldn’t leave me worldly possessions but they gave me everything I needed, and more, to earn an incredible living. Like most parents they didn’t live to see their child benefit or enjoy their final generosity. However I like to think they know that I got their gifts, appreciate them tremendously and used them to the best of my ability.

 

Shorty after their passing I became obsessive about my education and work. A co-worker called me a young-man-in-a-hurry once (it was a long time ago) and I suppose he was right. I certainly didn’t think of myself that way. I also didn’t think much about getting old, retirement or constructing my own personal second-act. Those thoughts came much later, in 2012, the eve of the sixth truth.

 

In 2012 I created a plan that would let my wife and I retire in January 2013. That is when the sixth truth revealed itself to me. The sixth truth is retirement is a lot of wonderful things but it can also be an empty calendar and a lot of time to fill. In a land with infinite possibilities, infinite possibilities can be stressful! I needed help.

 

Help is not a concept that gives me the warm-fuzzies. My helping you is cool. Me asking you for help is, well, more cold-prickly than warm-fuzzy. At 62 I clearly still have some growing up to do. And whom do we all turn to about growing up matters? That’s right, back to our parents.

 

My Mom and Dad both lived to be about a decade older than I am today. If they were here I’d ask them a lot of questions about getting older. They wouldn’t understand how a professional career and one’s personal identity intersect. And I know the concept of a “second-act” would be equally as foreign. But they sure did know me!

 

Insights into myself from people that know me well, I think, would be helpful. The seventh truth, which is key to a happy life and a happy retirement, is to know yourself really well. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Maybe I can help you.

 

Here’s your assignment: Go ask those who know you the best and have known you the longest, “What passions and traits do they see in you today that are the same as the passions and traits they saw in you years ago, perhaps as a child?”

 

For me one answer might be, “You’re still an asshole!” Okay, but that’s a layup and not the kind of answer we’re looking for in this exercise. You want attributes such as giving, creative, loved to cook, athletic, smells everything, dramatic, smart, loving, serious, funny, daring, outgoing, or private. You’re looking for characteristics that are part of who you are that you can translate into activities.

 

The then and now, the time aspect is key because we all possess a transitory-self and a permanent-self. Don’t believe me? Think about your 15-year-old self. Now compare that version of you to your 30-year-old self. See what I mean? You were a lot different at 30 than you were at 15 but, at the same time, you were the same you as well. It’s the similarities you want to understand fully.

 

The take-away from this exercise is the eighth truth. That is, if you’re 45 today I can assure you that you have no idea what you’ll be like when you’re 60. We are all constantly evolving. At the same time we all have permanent-self we are well served to understand and nurture. Identifying your permanent-self in great detail fits perfectly into your post-retirement to-do list. You’ll want a fun to-do list.

 

People romanticize about retirement being this blissful time, a respite from and reward for a lifetime of hard work. Free from the shackles of a job and those life-sucking non-events called meetings, you’ll wake up happy each day and require a full ten minutes just to scrub that stupid smug-ass grin off your face. The ninth truth connects to the eighth. It is the when for the what. The ninth truth knows that your to-do list needs to be tied to time. A blank calendar mocking you is stressful. We don’t like stress so let your permanent-self fill in your calendar. He or she knows the important stuff.

 

Glorious things come alive in retirement. I love my free time with my wife and the freedom to do whatever we darn well please, even if that’s nuttin’. Sleep comes easy, is deeper, and lasts longer since I’ve earned my freedom. But not every day is sunshine, lollypops and unicorn races, however. Retirement is still real life and as such there are good days and bad days. Note: That may be truth number ten but I kinda lost count…

 

On the bad days I miss two things about work – my workmates and my schedule, the structure. There’s something comforting about the time requirements of work. Work provides a bit of a formula for getting through each day, like cinnamon toast, cocoa, and bath-wars. You may not like your work all the time, or at all, but there’s utility in a fixed schedule. You get up at a certain time, drive to work, do your thing and come home. Presto, another day enters the archives.

 

A successful retirement doesn’t come with built-in structure so you have to create it yourself and it’s more than your to-do list and calendar. A successful retirement involves people. Those people should be folks that have a keen sense of who you are outside their profession, outside of what they do, or did, for a living.

 

Happy retirees have self-identities and relationships that go beyond their being a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, and they certainly go beyond being the Vice President of whatever-the-hell-it-is-we-do-around-here.

 

Happy retirees are also aware of their current and future network of friends and tribesmen – fellow cooks, woodworkers, writers, gardeners, golfers and volunteers. You’ll need to decide if you’re going to grow a new circle of friends or bring your old friends along for your second-act journey. Of course it will be a mixture of the two. I gravitate toward the old. New friends can be a lot of work and mistakes are bound to occur. My advise is to try to recycle your old friends into your new you and work hard to enjoy each day.

 

Speaking of friends, your feedback on The Left Handed Study was incredibly helpful last year. They made me a better writer. Thank you so much.

 

In the coming weeks I’ll post the some draft chapters from my next book, The Apocrypha, and ask for your input again. I have about 60,000 words committed to The Apocrypha and, while not all of them will survive the editing process, that word-count feels about right.

 

Steve

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