On the ninth day of Christmas, my father retired.
I think, when he looks back on it, he’ll see it as a very odd departure. Since he and my mom have been taking part in a five-phase move from Florida to Pennsylvania (yes, the exact opposite of what most people do when they retire), Dad was actually in Florida by himself for his last few days of professional life. Mom was at the house in Pennsylvania. I find it a little strange that, after all those years, Dad woke up without my mom on his last day of work, went into the office, said his understated goodbyes and packed up the few things left in the condo they’d stayed in since they sold their house, loading it into the back of his pickup and covering everything with tarp to drive the 12+ hours to Pennsylvania alone.
As in most lives, not everything went the way my parents planned. Dad got laid off ten years ago, and had to take a job with a rival company. But he got that job because his old friends from the old jobs when they were all starting out had created a position for him in that rival company. He took a big pay cut and worked the job for two years before he got a promotion that would put him back on track. Problem was, it required a transfer. So my parents moved, for the sixth time, just after two daughters had gotten married and another had finished middle school. (Nothing particularly monumental had happened to me.)
The move was hard for my little sister, hard for my mother, and therefore hard for my father by association. Particularly when my nephews were born. My mother counted down until Dad retired and they could move back home. Aloud. She started seven and a half years ago when they moved to Florida and she never stopped. But all Dad’s old friends from their first days were down in Florida now, like the band getting back together. They worked together, ran around playing golf on their days off and busting each other’s chops over beers, just like they did 35 years ago. (And apparently their golf games saw little improvement over that time.) They had each other over for dinner and parties and holidays and cookouts. This week, they got together to berate my dad for leaving them.
“Guys,” he told them. “I’m retiring. I’m not dead.”
Now my parents are back in Pennsylvania, not far from where they both grew up, close to my mother’s 93-year-old father, to three of their daughters, to their grandsons, to their brothers and sisters. They’re back where they’d always planned to be, where they thought they’d come to stay 17 years ago after a series of career-related transfers during my childhood.
I talked to my dad on the phone as I headed into work, myself. “I don’t think it’s really set in,” he said. “I’ve been driving for two and a half hours, and I keep thinking, ‘No one’s called. What’s going on?’ And then I remember… they won’t call me anymore.”
He didn’t seem rueful or regretful, just maybe a little surprised that the day he’d been working toward for 40 years had finally come, and here he was, driving up I-95 in a pickup. I’m not exactly sure how he pictured this day would be, but I’m fairly certain it didn’t involve tarp and tolls.
I’m a little worried about what this retirement means for my dad. Dad’s a doer. He’s not a sitter-around. If he sits down, he falls asleep. Most of the time he’s up fixing something, or scouring something, or landscaping something or… putting something together without the aid of directions and with a bunch of screws “left over.” My whole life, the phone rang in the middle of the night because someone needed to talk to my dad. I can’t really imagine him retired, separated from his phone, unplugged. He says he can imagine it. He says he’s ready. I’m not sure.
I’m also worried about both my parents being at home together all the time without diversion. My mother always said that, when it was time for my dad to leave on a business trip, she was ready for him to go, and when it was time for him to come home, she was ready for him to come home. Now they’ll just… be there. All the time.
Let me fill you in on how that’s going to sound.
“Can you turn up the volume?”
“Hon. Turn up the volume, please.”
“TURN UP THE VOLUME!”
(Turning down the volume) “…What?”
– and –
“You said you were going to do that yesterday.”
“I did not say that.”
“Yes, you did. You said on Friday that you were going to do that yesterday.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Stop mocking me, I’m telling you you said–”
“–I heard what you said. I’m telling you I never said that.”
“But on Friday–”
“–Last Friday three days ago or last Friday ten days ago?”
“Last– what the hell does it matter which Friday you said it?”
Fortunately, my parents have a whole new house to putter around in. Dad can wander into a room, inspect the door frame and the walls, check the way the carpets fit into the corners, heave sighs, swear and go get his tool box. He can fix the two toilets that need their handles held down to flush. He can examine the space between the wall and the brick of the fireplace in the family room and debate the best way to figure out whether there’s a wasp’s nest back there like we thought on Christmas. He can rip out the ridiculous rows (rows, people) of shrubs that the previous owners planted in front of the house. He can debate whether the deck needs to be stained in the spring.
I’m hoping we get to at least April before my parents’ teasing about their identical C-PAP sleep apnea machines gives way to one of them strangling the other one with the tubes.
On the ninth day of Christmas, a good man stopped going to work. And the rest of his family held their breath.