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I’m a child of the 80s, meaning I was born as the role of a father was beginning to undergo a metamorphosis. My dad was in the room when I was born. He read The Hobbit to my sister and me at bedtime, chapter by chapter. But he worked full time and my mom stayed home. The day-to-day stuff I remember from my childhood is all my mom.
My parents divorced when I was 11, and my sister and I stayed with my dad. He was working an hour’s commute away each day so the household stuff, like cooking and cleaning, became mine and my sister’s responsibility.
I remember family vacations and weekend activities (when we weren’t visiting my mom), but remember being alone a lot during the week.
When I became a parent, we admittedly spent much more time with my mom. She had a closet full of baby toys and a fully baby-proofed house before my first child was even born. A night visiting my dad’s house ended in tears when my toddler daughter pulled a vintage bottle of wine off of a low shelf.
The last 10 years or so, my dad worked every weekend. He missed my kids’ dance recitals, band performances, and their first musical. He was at the hospital when each one of them was born, but work took him away from us constantly.
Then he entered retirement, and everything changed.
More Hands On
Retirement gives people more time. When you’re working, it’s easy to get into a rhythm of identifying and completing tasks.
Now, my dad can take the kids for a walk by the lake in his neighborhood just to see what they see. There’s no longer an eye on the clock, making sure to get to bed on time in order to wake up the next morning in time to make it to work.
Since retirement, he’s installed a Solo Stove in his backyard and brought the kids over to teach them how to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. We sat around the fire and told stories about our family and our childhoods.
He has been invaluable in my transition from creating art to marketing my art. He’s been my hype man on social media. Retirement has allowed him to be present.
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In advance of my first big art show, he spent days inventing a method of hanging paintings in a tent so that they’d be even and level. He figured out a way to light the tent, made a sign, and had t-shirts made from one of my pieces.
Three days before the show, we did a test run of the tent. We knew that winds would be high the day of the show, and we wanted to see how the tent would hold up in those conditions. It didn’t. It collapsed and broke. He spent the next two days designing and building a booth out of wood that would withstand the wind. He was up early the day of the show, renting a truck, and building the structure in the street.
He stayed the whole day to help with customers. (I am shy and would be content sitting in a room painting forever; he likes talking to strangers and connected with so many people at the show.) That night, he was there till midnight, taking the booth down and loading everything up.
When life’s pace slows during retirement, you’re given the chance to catch your breath and look around you. You see how much you’ve missed, but how much there is to still experience too.
I remember when my dad went searching for a game that his family had played on camping trips when he was a kid and, finding it had been discontinued almost 40 years ago, designed a replica of the game board himself and had it printed so we could play it with my kids. The first night we played, he had each of them sign the back of the game board. My kids love that game now, too.
When he was working, we’d sometimes go weeks without speaking, both of us being so busy. Now we have a good, long phone conversation at least once a week.
The Time to Change
Retirement allows family members to be present for each other. For most of our adult lives, capitalism robs adults of valuable time needed to be with families. Seeing how much this has impacted our family (in a positive way!) makes me wonder if we are serving our lives and families well with our current model of full-time employment.
Now that my dad is in retirement, I think a lot about how surprised I am at how much a relationship so foundational to my life can change, even after so much time. I think a lot about other working parents and how their relationships with their kid are impacted by the need for them to work.
>> RELATED READ:: My Grandparents’ Legacies <<
I wonder if our current work/life balance is sustainable or even healthy. (And not just for working parents, but for all workers, but that’s another article for another time.)
But I’m mostly grateful that I’ve gotten to experience this other side to my relationship with my dad. I feel lucky he was able to retire when he did. There was still time for us to enjoy each other, and that my kids have the opportunity to experience life with a grandfather who is now able to prioritize them.