Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Beginning

This blog is intended to help couples out there who have been married for two or three, or more, decades and find themselves all of a sudden thrown together all day, every day….for the rest of their lives!

That sounds more like a "sentence" rather than something my husband and I have worked toward all of our adult lives. We met in 1967 and we never would have gotten together if the San Diego Zoo wasn’t so darn big. I was a Delta flight attendant and he was a naval aviator. One of the other flight attendants had a date with a friend of his and she called me to be Joe's blind date. My first reaction was to tell her to ask her roommate who was on the same trip. She explained that her roommate had gone to the zoo and she didn’t know when she’d be back. I told her I would go but only if the other girl didn’t get back by 5 pm. She didn’t get back and the rest as they say “is history.”

If you read my profile, you saw that I made a fatal verbal error while on our honeymoon. I said I couldn’t wait to “serve one passenger instead of 100.” Over the next 40 years of marriage that one slip of the tongue came back to bite me a thousand times. The "busy years" consisted of me raising the children, working part-time as a travel agent. Later when life dealt us some hard times, I went back to work full-time. “Serving” wasn’t my top priority; often I was just happy to have made it through another day. A friend advised me against retiring first. She said the ideal situation is to let him retire at least a year earlier so he could become acquainted with things like the dishwasher, the vacuum, and the washing machine. But, since that was not to be, I worried that Joe would expect me to revert to the "let me serve you, dear" mode of our newlywed days.  I had to have a plan or I would succumb to servitude forever after.
Retirement should be a time to fulfill the unfinished dreams of your youth while you still have the physical/mental health to do it. So, when I retired in 2004 I set out to pursue the main item on my “do-before-I-die” list. I went back to college to finish my BA. It was a wonderful two years (that deserves a post of its own so I'll save it for later). Joe was still working and I was attending classes at CSU San Marcos full-time. When I wasn’t in class, I was up to my ears in homework and life went on much as it had when I was working full-time. During that time Joe loved telling everyone he was married to a "college girl" (I drew the line at knee socks and pleated skirts). I had several months a year when my old employer, MiraCosta Community College, called me back to help with new student registration so I still had some extra income coming in. Life was good and I didn’t look like I had “nothing to do” so there were no unrealistic expectations heaped upon me.

I graduated in 2006 with a BA in Literature & Writing and experienced real retirement for the first time. Meanwhile, Joe had been dragging his heels about leaving his job with the government. Every time he set a date, something came up and he had to move it “just a few more months” down the road. After writing in three annual Christmas letters that “next year” Joe was going to retire, only to have to explain why he was still working the next December, I told him to give me 30 days’ notice when he was really going to do it.

April 30, 2008. That was the day. He finally packed up his desk, closed the door to his office, got on the Coaster commuter train for the last time and came home "retired". If you are reading this as the wife of a recent retiree (or a soon-to-be retiree), you know that unlike women, men ARE what they DO. Let me say that again. “Men are what they do.” Women are wives, lovers, daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, and a myriad of other things as well as what they do to earn cash. But men hang their self-esteem, their value to society, their value to their significant others, and their ability to navigate through the world of testosterone solely on how they spend their working lives. When you take away the answer to: “What do you do?”, they are like lost souls.

It has taken me several paragraphs to get to this point and it is the point of this blog. When their identity is suddenly unclear to them, it’s up to us to coddle, cajole, mold, humor, coax, and love them into the identity we can live with for the final decades of our lives. Big job…you bet it is!

There are self-help books for men as they enter the “twilight of their lives” (gag me) and self-help books for the women who are married to them. I haven't found one that dealt with the day-to-day of going through this metamorphosis together and, hopefully, coming out the other side as soaring butterflies and not caterpillars. I’m starting this blog a couple of years down the road so I have the clarity of hindsight to share my thoughts.

If there is one lesson I want to share at this site, it is how to get off to the absolute best start. Don’t give up on me as you read the following paragraph…promise! Rule #1 – Do not ask him to do anything for a year! That’s what I said. For one year – all 365 days – you are not to nag, whine, cajole, beg, or demand that he do anything. Here’s the premise. He worked for the last 30, 40, sometimes even 50 years. He has had to get up every weekday (and some weekends); put on his suit and tie or coveralls or uniform; go to a job he sometimes hated; work with people he often felt smarter than; kiss up to bosses who rarely empathized with him; and he did it for the most part without whining (men don't whine either). Why? Because ingrained in him from his father and his father’s father before him was the premise that he was to “take care of" his family. He was provider, helpmate, and sometimes sparring partner. But, he stayed "for better or worse" and you survived it all and maybe you raised healthy caring children (if, like us, God blessed you a lot) and now you have both earned your reward.

It was a revelation when I came up with the idea of a year “off”. I told Joe that if he wanted to sit in his recliner watching TV like a slug for a year, that was okay. If he wanted to play golf five times a week, that was okay. If he wanted to take fishing trips with the guys every month, that was okay. My exact words were, “You’ve worked hard all your life; you deserve a year off. I will keep a list and give it to you at the end of this year.” After the look of shock vanished, he immediately started to negotiate the terms (some things never change). We planned a party for the end of May and there was some yard work that needed to be done before then so he asked that his year begin the day after the party. (This is a good place to add that compromise is crucial to surviving retirement.) If you leave this blog and never come back, but you remember this “year off” hint, I promise you won't be sorry. You may think it’s impossible, but I did it so I know it can be done. I am here to say no one ever died from biting their tongue. That’s the only physical hazard involved. Every time you start to say “When are you going to clean the garage?” you have to bite your tongue.

So that I don’t come across sounding like St. Catherine, I have to admit that I hoped there might be something in it for me if I took this unselfish leap of faith. And believe me, there was. I’ve written enough for a first blog…probably too much. I’m going to wait and see what happens (not having blogged before I don’t even know what to expect), then I’ll add to the story of that first year. Joe had a surprise of his own for the first day of mutual retirement.

So, welcome bloggers. I’m curious to see whether my readers will be wives like me or husbands who hope I’ll start a trend. Either way, I welcome you and look forward to writing again. (It's been three weeks since I started this project. I've been reading "Google Blogger for Dummies"...very appropriate in my case. I've also had the writer's equivalent of stage fright. I will post again sooner than three more weeks.)


  1. LOL, you are marvelous Cathy...Your humor and your writing skills are in tact and I will follow your updates!!!

    Take Care and remember...servitude is a one way deal....i prefer being the one receiving my coffee in the morning and etc etc etc.....!!!

  2. Very interesting , so far.... Dick A.

  3. Steve and I have followed your romance from "early on", including your
    surprise of a NEW BABY who arrived a couple of weeks early and we
    (neighbors) had been gone a few days. Of course, I KNOW tht, contrary to public opinion, playing BRIDGE together with your young friends helps the marriage stay strong!!! CONGRTULATIONS! KayM

  4. Responding to Kay: What a treat to hear from you and remember the "surprise" we gave you when our first-born appeared five weeks early and you came over after a two-week vacation expecting to see me still "expecting". Great memory!

  5. I find your blog interesting to read for me, too, even though I'm not married and not going to be retired for a long time.:-) Keep writing!


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